At the end of slavery in 1834, the slavemasters, who retained their lands, were given free, so-called “Apprentice Scheme” slave labor for four years, Also, they were given over 2 billion pounds (at today’s value) by the British government to “free” their slaves. The slaves were given nothing. The parasitic existence of the slavemasters continued even after slavery was finally abolished in 1838 with the ending of the “Apprentice Scheme.”
After the abolition of Black slavery in 1838, the supply of British-made clothes and protein foods for slaves, such as linen clothes and salted fish, respectively, declined suddenly. The ex-slaves in the Caribbean had no jobs or incomes to keep them alive and the inheritors of the benefits of British slavery showed no concern. The slavemasters pocketed the government’s compensation of 20 million pounds (1833-1834) for the loss of their human properties (slaves) and left their slaves to starve.
Requests by ex-slaves in 1865 for fair consideration of their plight were dismissed with derision by the government of Queen Victoria and enlightened “racists” such as Carlyle. This was the cause of the great loss of life in the Morant Bay Rebellion of Bogle and Gordon in Jamaica in 1865, which ended the neo-slavery of the descendants of slaves in Jamaica. Bogle, Gordon and many other Jamaicans were hanged. The power of the slavemasters was removed finally when Jamaica and the other slave colonies became Crown Colonies, ruled directly from Britain.
– pg. 33, THE ENLIGHTENMENT ABOLISHED: Citizens of Britishness, by Geoff Palmer, Henry Publishing, 2007
Belize will be marking Emancipation Day this week in a really significant way for the first time in my memory. Emancipation Day has been a big event all over the British Caribbean for a long time. At least, this is what I have been told.
Emancipation Day is a time when mulatto Belizeans should look themselves in the eye. “Mulatto” is not a term used much in Belize. All people who have any kind of African ancestry here have been called, or called themselves, “Creoles.” There have been Belizeans with dark skin and tight hair lumped under this general heading along with light-skinned Belizeans with European features.
My late paternal grandmother, Eunice Locke Hyde, used to refer to darker-skinned Creoles as “able Creoles.” Then there was a general reference made in Belizean society to lighter-skinned Creoles as “royal Creoles.” There was still some ambiguity in the “royal” designation, however, because there were some dark-skinned families who had been very British for generations, and I think they fell under the “royal” heading. It is all quite confusing sometimes.
In this column, con permiso, I will refer to Creoles who have obvious European ancestry as “mulatto.” All Belizean mulatto families of any long standing originated with European men lying with African or “colored” women. The circumstances under which such “lying” took place are not discussed in “decent” circles, because this is a controversial matter. Actually, if pursued seriously, this is probably a matter embarrassing for most mulattos.
Throughout the centuries of unmitigated white supremacist power in this settlement of Belize, all mulattos emphasized their European ancestry and ignored or actually condemned their African side. As far as I know, the first organization here which publicly attacked this paradigm was the United Black Association for Development, which declared in 1969, “Black is beautiful.” In other words, our African mothers counted for something, big time, whereas before they had always counted for nothing in this settlement. (Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association in the earlier part of the twentieth century first waved the banner of black pride and African redemption in Belize, but Garvey, it seems to me, did not pay any attention to mulattos. For sure, most of them weren’t paying any attention to him.)
The color question was, of course, always tied to economics and social standing. In this settlement, most children with European fathers and African mothers had a head start in life over the children of African fathers and African mothers. The minority mulatto class which developed in British Caribbean possessions was also referred to as a “buffer” class, because mulattos were used as such by the white British rulers, who recognized and emphasized their differences from the black slave masses.
The case of Haiti, a French Caribbean colony where a slave rebellion broke out in 1791, is very interesting. The French Revolution which began in Paris in July of 1789, had declared universal ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity,” and the Haitian mulatto class quickly sent emissaries to Paris to see how they fit into this new revolutionary framework. Violence broke out in Haiti between the white colonists and the mulatto class, and it was that uproar which created opportunity for the black slaves to explode. The mulatto Haitians ended up fighting against the black Haitian Revolution, and this is a socio-political divide which remains even until today.
Please understand, I’m only sketching broad pictures for you. I have no academic qualifications in these matters. It has been an area of frustration for me that some Belizeans can still consider themselves “educated” when they know nothing about the Haitian Revolution and nothing about the Caste War in the Yucatan. It is absolutely amazing, but then, this is Belize, a settlement which has been a classic study in subtlety mixed with hypocrisy, even until today.
As far as I know, the mulatto class here never rose against the white Baymen. There was no French Revolution in London and no Haitian Revolution in Belize, you see. There was only the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, and Centenary one hundred years later, which sealed the “shoulder to shoulder” deal. All a wi da one! Are you serious?
In the United States, there is no mulatto class, except maybe in provincial parts of Louisiana and South Carolina. The United States did not allow for the birth of a “buffer” class. They declared every person with the smallest drop of African blood to be “black,” thus eligible and destined for slavery, and all blacks were legally only three-fifths of an American citizen. On American plantations where white slavemasters were impregnating slave women, white wives were present, so the white slavemaster had no choice but to condemn his mixed progeny to the slave life.
Not so in the Belize settlement. There were no white women here. So then, a mulatto class emerged which fought with all their hearts and with all their souls to be as European as they could be. Emancipation Day is a time for mulatto Belizeans to look themselves in the eye, Jack, because we had ancestors who were slavemasters and we had ancestors who were slaves. This represents a classic existential confusion for the mulatto. This is one of the main reasons, I submit, why Emancipation Day was not celebrated in Belize, only Centenary.
The thesis has been in enlightened modern times that all men, hence all Belizeans, were and are created equal. This was never true, is not true in Belize. Mulattos were generally created superior to their black brethren and sistren. The mulattos of Belize have supported the European power structure in rejecting any and all talk of teaching African and Maya history. The mulattos do not want to be reminded of the advantages we received from our slavemaster fathers here. In a sense, this is understandable. No one likes to deal with embarrassing truths.
Still, the real Battle of Belize is now upon us. Defending Belize from western aggression will be a task for all able-bodied Belizeans, regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, and so on. We need more equality of opportunity in Belize. We have to address color prejudice, and the historical reasons for it. That is our thesis at this newspaper, and it has been our thesis since 1969.
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Fight for Belize.