The imperial power to review colonial legislation had in the past been used to regulate the relations between the two societies, Jamaica and England; now after emancipation it was being used to regulate the relations between two groups within the Jamaican society, ex-slaves and ex-masters, In the earlier period the superior power of England had been exercised to maintain an economic relationship between Jamaica and herself according to the principles of political economy then in vogue. Now British power was being used to establish social relations between ex-slaves and ex-masters according to such humanitarian principles as survived political expediency.
But although British power was now informed by different principle and used for different ends, its exercise served to reinforce the state of dependence of the society. Emancipation brought the blacks into a relationship with the British Government which was analogous to the one which the whites had long had.
The society then was comprised of two communities living cheek by jowl; one white, rich and small in number; the other black, poor and numerous; dependent each in its way on an outside power for protection against the other. The whites were protected against the physical force derived from numbers and the blacks protected against the physical force derived from wealth and political power. This arrangement was on balance to the disadvantage of the black poor.
It is difficult for an outside power to protect the poor effectively, while the rich are allowed to exercise political power over them. Moreover, the presence of the alien power denies the poor their one advantage. For if they resort to force, it is unlikely that they will do so in the full strength of their numbers; and in the circumstances, inadequately armed, they can be speedily curbed. It needed more concern for the society, greater moral stamina than the British power was able to summon, to protect the poor effectively from the rich.
The machine of British imperial administration could, and for the most part after emancipation, did prevent the white community from using the law to fasten the blacks to the plantation; but that machine was ill-designed to promote the interest of the black community in more positive ways. Why did not the black community exert itself to correct this imbalance in the society?
We noticed earlier white accommodation to English superior power and its effect on that community and the whole society. Now we notice black accommodation to local white superior power. To discuss those who accommodated is not to deny the existence, or the importance, of the rebellious, the suicide and the saboteur. It is only to discuss the majority: and it is also to discuss less than extreme attitudes. We do not wish to make Uncle-Toms of the majority of the slaves, but wish to notice the existence of patterns of behaviour, simulated at first, but later becoming ingrained, becoming authentic elements in the personality.
The blacks lived in a society which was composed of a congeries of petty domains, the plantations and pens. But these were not merely forms of economic organisation, not merely farms and mills for producing sugar. They were also to some extent isolated, self-sufficient social and cultural systems. Within their confines the authority of the master was hardly trammelled by law. Beyond its gates all depended on the whim of the master and on the whim of those appointed to authority by his grace. The kick and the caress were equally arbitrary. This was the system of authority that a slave lived with, frequently imitated, and transmitted to his children.
It was on the plantation too that the slave was de-tribalised and slowly made into a creole. Into this creole culture his children were born. Later in the history of the society, if they lived on a plantation which permitted missionaries to instruct and baptize slaves, they could become Christians. But of necessity Christian instruction concentrated on redemption, love, obedience. It was the price missionaries paid for being allowed beyond the gates of the plantation.
It was not merely that the predominant values transmitted by the plantation to the slave reinforced the subordination to power inherent in his status. Men can and do reject some of the values of a social system not organised for their benefit. But, more important: conduct appropriate to a free society is a social habit, an art which can only be learned in a society which is engaged in the never-ending process of helping all its members make themselves free men. There was hardly opportunity for black or white to learn so to conduct themselves before emancipation.
It is therefore no surprise that the black population did not seek power through political means to redress the imbalance in the society. It is more surprising that they did not attempt to do so by force. Riots there were; but when one considers the bitterness engendered during the period of apprenticeship, and the economic deprivation and injustice suffered afterwards, surprisingly few riots occurred. Explanations which refer to the geography of the island and to habits learnt during slavery do not seem adequate. Taken by themselves they are not. But add to them the freedom to starve, guaranteed by the British Government after the apprenticeship period, and we may have a clue to the absence of widespread violence and agitation. The blacks did not seek to change the political system because so many of them could ignore it. And of those who could not ignore it? Did they cling to some belief that the Missus Queen would protect them from the worst?