Question: How would you characterise the contemporary Caribbean, taking into consideration the issues of inequality, multi-culturalism and poverty.
Often enough the Caribbean is portrayed as the untouched paradise, with its’ crystallised waters, hidden getaways and lavish landscapes with enriched flora and fauna. However, the image projected is not without a tumultuous past. It is a past based on colonialism, slavery, indentureship, assimilation, the mixing and diffusion or borrowing of many cultures which have characterised the region as one that is in flux. One may even stake the claim that the constructs of contemporary Caribbean is largely or significantly as a result of nearly five centuries of European policies. These policies legitimized the imperial’s power and control that enforced domination and exploitation that have given rise in many ways to the perceived Caribbean structure from a socio-cultural and economic level.
As a result there have been theoretical attempts written in the 1970s that have highlighted or sought to explain the repercussions such as inequality, the advent of multiculturalism and poverty that seem to add to the characteristics of contemporary Caribbean. Many view the mention characteristics are as a result of a lingering concept referred to as “Plantation Legacy.”1 This can best be explained as a case in which plantation-esque institutions still prevails and is manifested in the socio-cultural, economic and political structure of the Caribbean. In comparison with the plantation society, every aspect of the socio-culture was dictated by the plantation owners that created distinction of inequality in the Caribbean. In that every levels of the social hierarchy were separated from one another and the characteristics of inequalities such as race, class, skin colour, status, sex, gender and economic power determined a person’s social position in the hierarchy.
In the contemporary Caribbean, academics contend that the upper class continues to be the whites who are the decedents of the old plantation society. Lloyd Brathwaite (1953)2 noted that the social structure of Trinidad in the 1950’s was based on a positive view of the whites and a negative view of the blacks in society. He identified that the dominant value system of Trinidad was organized along ethnic and colour lines which according to him exhibited features that he termed as the plural society. This was based on ethnicity and class divisions, separatedness among and between the ethnic groups and the ranking of the groups in terms of superiority and inferiority, where the inferior group would only be elevated by adopting the values of the whites. The inferiority complex, can be evaluated by Errol Miller (1969)3, through his study of Body Image, Physical Beauty and Colour among Jamaican Adolescents, where he noted that the perceptions of Jamaican school girls when asked their view of beauty and self-worth. The majority held the view that beautiful girls were those with long hair, straight nose and fair skin, whilst the handsome boy would also have the phenotype of straight hair, straight nose and fair skin. Within contemporary times this view is widely posited by media houses and a number of beauty competitions.
1Beckford, G. 1972. Demographic Charateristics of the Plantation Economics. In Persistent Poverty: Underdevelopmnet in Plantation Economies of the Third World. N.Y. Oxford, pp. 56-83 2Brathwaite, L. 1953. “Social Stratification in Trinidad,” Introduction to Sociology Course Material The University of the West Indies, pg198. 3Miller, E. 1969. “Body Image, Physical Beauty and Colour among Jamaican Adolescents” Caribbean Sociology, Edited by Christine Barrow and Rhoda Reddock, 2001
Selwyn Ryan (1991)4 have acknowledged that though there is still a lingering caste like system that Brathwaite noted, it however have largely disappeared and is replaced by a system of meritocracy based on the emergence of new...