Topic Three

Lectures 4-

Robert Buddan


An important foundation of the politics of any country is, of course, its people. Politics is fundamentally about how society and its people are organised in and for public life. A people is best understood by their culture and that culture helps to define and be defined by politics. To understand the politics of a society therefore requires understanding its culture, that is, the ways of life of its people - their beliefs, practices and values - and how these impact on politics. (1)

However, a people is not a uniform group. The diverse racial and cultural origins of a population and its experiences might create social tensions and difficulties in integrating various groups into a nation. Caribbean societies are historically constructed out of colonial conquest and by immigration policies that were designed to provide for the labour needs of slave and plantation societies. Out of this has resulted a tense mix of races in the region as a whole and within each society, overlapping with class structures and expected to be woven into a national culture. In a sense therefore, the history of Caribbean societies is a history of race/ethnic/class/cultural relations and how these interrelate with power relations.

Modern Caribbean politics has inherited this historical structure. A major task of modern Caribbean political systems now is to manage the societies so that social relations conform to post-Independence nation-building.

The term 'culture' is defined as the way of life of a people determined by their social environment. It is transmitted through a value system. That value system changes over time but generally reflects the dominant ideology of the society and the institutional practices and values that it perpetuates. In the Caribbean dominant ideologies have been reflected by slave society and the plantation system and the challenges posed by nationalism and nation-building.

The critical aspects of culture are:

(1) The nature and ideology of nationalism and its success in or failure to create socially integrated and patriotic societies.

(2) The class and ethnic character of group loyalties and how these translate into power, justice and equality and the extent to which citizens are treated non-discriminately despite racial, class and cultural differences.

(3) The cultural practices, attitudes and values that define the perception and tolerance between social groups, their relative social and economic status and behaviour in politics, individual psychology, self-image and self worth.

Franklin Knight refers to the Caribbean as artificial societies, (2) that is, ones where people, territory, government and economy are not integrated but were contrived to serve foreign powers that denied the people the right to a collective consciousness, civil and political rights to develop as a people, to manage their own governments, to practice their own culture, and to construct their own identity. Because of this Caribbean nationalism suffers from incomplete and delayed development. The history of Caribbean peoples has therefore been a history of struggle to develop their own nationalism.

Conceptualising Caribbean Cultures.

How can Caribbean cultures be characterised? Carl Stone contrasts a paternalistic culture of the old social order with a more assertive culture of the modern social order in reference to Jamaica. (3)

The paternalistic culture existed in the post-emancipation period of the plantation system. It reflected the closed racist nature of society. Life for the ordinary person was built around isolated rural villages, family, school, church and small scale agriculture and trading. The social order was rigid and conformist so that everyone was expected to know and accept his role and place. Codes of behaviour were developed to distinguish the classes and races. These codes included, speech, dress, marriage patterns, church membership and social distancing. The poorer people sought redemption through folk religions and moral principles by which they aspired to be God-fearing, honest, independent, thrifty, humble and docile. The rich sought progress through education, business, political power and social networking.

This social order was stable and controlled. The core social and psychological aspects of the life of the ordinary person were:

low Black self-esteem; deference to superiors; conformist behaviour; the definition of status and worth by ascription rather than by achievement;

- rigid moral and behavioural codes and a rejection of deviance;

- a preoccupation with social status and recognition;

- Eurocentric values and a strong psychological identity with Britain, where the symbols of colonial authority reinforced an association between "civilization" and things European; admiration for the few who take risks to 'beat the system,' through clever and cunning ploys and being streetwise enough to find loopholes through the system;

- great admiration for education and educators but tempered by the notion that only a few Blacks had the brains to learn and get ahead.

A new social order emerged, especially after the second world war, reflecting nationalist aspirations, local political power centred around new political parties and labour movements, more access to university and secondary education, ideas learnt from abroad through travel, new political ideologies of social justice, a new generation more urbanised and more in tune with notions of 'black power' and socialism, and a stronger Black working and middle class along with industrialisation.

New and more assertive values and attitudes arose to challenge and upset the paternalistic social order. Out of this came more open conflicts between values and the social, economic and political structure. However, aspects of the paternalistic values continued to exist resulting in a mix of contradictory norms, both positive and negative. On the one hand, there are greater expectations for better and for newer forms of politics, economics and social arrangements. On the other, there is the sentimental and socialised attachment to the old ways and the belief that things were better in the past under colonialism and when white men ruled. The new order is characterised by:

strong strivings for upward mobility and improved life chances being expressed in a more competitive milieu and with less deference to superiors and authority;the growth of a Black professional and political middle class yet to win full legitimacy and acceptance from the Black majority; greater Black self-esteem and more aggression in their dealings with the upper and middle classes; a flowering of creative talent in sports and entertainment, promoting local culture and positive Black images; overwhelming demand for opportunities which run ahead of the ability of the system to deliver, leading to frustration; rampant individualism that have weakened family and community bonds and the traditional mechanisms of social control such as parenting, religion and collective values; exposure to new ideas abroad through travel and the media which challenge the older conformist ways; new notions of egalitarianism that challenge the old master-servant ideology between social classes and races; strong identification with political leaders who have most identified with the Black majority (like Michael Manley and Portia Simpson) and cynicism towards those who are perceived to be a part of the traditional establishment; the increasing use of violence and aggression to justify responses to injustice and oppression, resulting in increased social violence and the weakening of authority in the traditional institutions of the school, church, home, workplace, political party; greater diversity in the modes and styles of behaviour and a tendency towards experimentation and deviant behaviour in opposition to the rigid and conformist modes of the past, but leading towards lawlessness and indiscipline; money and wealth have become more important status markers to Blacks in contrast to skin colour, school ties, speech patterns and dress; more immitativeness by the middle class of the lower class' culture, such as in music, cult and slang especially among the younger members, whereas the reverse was true before. This is a byproduct of the acceptance of this Black culture globally; a new and parallel system of culture and authority in the inner cities arising from the massive growth of the underground economy/marginalised society (the 'two-society' phenomenon) in which prestige and the display of the symbols of success are derived from a culture of crime and garrison-style community power structure;

This new social order has ironically spawned a new ideology of racism - one that blames the breakdown of society on Black aggressiveness and lack of discipline and the inability of Black politicians to govern.

Culture and the Psychology of Slavery.

Akbar addresses the psychological aspects of slavery and what he finds about black Americans has been said of Caribbean blacks as well. (4) He speaks to a set of attitudes towards:

- work, where because work was forced under the threat of abuse and as a form of punishment and because the slavemaster, not the labourer benefitted, work has come to be despised, to be equated with inferiority and 'slave labour,' to be shunned and not to be done with pride;

- property, where because it was associated with the power and status of the slave master, there is a resentment towards and inner desire to attack and vandalize property which provides underlying feelings of gratification. At the same time, because property was equated with power and status, there is a desire to imitate the style of dress and other symbols of wealth of the former masters, leading to consumerism in impractical, showy, expensive clothes, cars, houses and so on as sign that 'one has arrived.'

- leadership, where during slavery, good potential leaders were eliminated, isolated, killed or ridiculed and others selected and trained to do the master's bidding. The result is that blacks have come to be suspicious of their own leaders seeing them as trouble-makers, uppity and arrogant. Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King suffered this rejection and often it is only when black leaders receive acclaim from whites that they begin to gain acceptance from blacks.

- clowning, since the slave was expected to provide entertainment for the master and suffer humiliation and mockery for the latter's sense of superiority and for his favours, the personality of the clown or the fool emerged. It now finds expression in black music, dance and the arts in the form of buffoonery.

- personal inferiority, taking the form of self-hatred and low self esteem since the slave was constantly brutalized and humiliated and kept in hovels and a state of half nakedness, denied family, language and religion, taught that he was half-human and that all things good, not least of all God, was white. The personal habits and feelings of the ex-slave towards himself, family and community suffer from a lack of self-respect and feelings of self-worth and for the worth of others.

- community division, because the divide and conquer strategies of slave masters promoted fear, distrust and envy between slaves in order to control them. Illegitimate offsprings, field slaves, coloureds and whatever divisions existed were exploited. Division rather than unity has become more common if not natural among blacks and since slavery was a violent system, it is not unnatural for violence to be accepted as a mode of division and control.

- the family, since the slave was valued only for his labour and not for his membership of and responsibility towards a group, he was separated from family and since the slave had no rights, he had no right to marry. In fact, the idea of the family was antagonistic to the system of slavery. The slave was encouraged to produce children only as future labourers and so the image of a stud was important. The virtues of parenthood were not valued.

- colour discrimination, since skin colour was a code for social positioning slaves who more closely resembled the powerful race had more positive traits assigned to them. Light skin, 'good hair','straight nose', etc. are not only more valued (including in the offspring) but persons with such features are associated with authority, intelligence, beauty and moral superiority.

Social Integration and Caribbean Societies.

Given the condition of the Caribbean as a multiracial, multireligious, multilingual and multicultural region, Caribbean sociologists and anthropologists have wondered what accounts for social integration of the different societies and what the prospects might be for disintegration. Considering the racial and ethnic varieties and hierarchies in Caribbean societies, they wonder, what holds these societies together and how successfully integrated they are. The Caribbean has therefore been conceptualised in theoretical terms. From the 1950's the important conceptual schools have been the plural society school, the school of social stratification and the school of creolization.

Plural Society

A plural society is one composed of such varying ethnic groups, each with its own subculture, that only a few cultural symbols are shared by all. Under these circumstances there are consequently tendencies toward disintegration. Loyalties are stronger towards the primary group - the family, the race, the ethnic affiliations of language, religion, marriage, food, dress - rather than to secondary groups such as community, region or nation. (5)

In the plural society, diverse groups share the same physical space such as when they interact in the economy but keep a social distance or are kept at a social distance by laws, customs or social pressure in interpersonal relations. For instance they might attend different churches, schools, social clubs or affiliate with different political parties.

The plural society is kept together as a society by an authoritarian political system that regulates the social distinctions and distances between groups while maintaining a certain order of society to prevent total breakdown. An open, democratic society releases the contradictions and antagonisms so that societal breakdown becomes possible.

The plural society has no common moral and social will. Members of society enter into transactions primarily for economic purposes but not out of any moral sense of belonging to the same human society since each social group places a different value on the human worth of the other groups. There is no social will because members are not bound together as one social community.

This conception describes slave society in the Caribbean, an earlier phase of the United States and South Africa under apartheid. However, some scholars believe that it describes Caribbean societies for much of this century as well, especially countries like Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname - the most ethnically diverse Caribbean societies. In fact, the social anthropologist, M.G. Smith, applied this conceptualization to Jamaica which he thought held up to the 1950's at least. (6)

The main problem that a plural society creates is its inability to forge nationalism. There is greater loyalty to the ethnic group than to the nation, and the absence of a moral sense of a common humanity or interest in a common welfare of society undermines the goal of nationalism. Groups see themselves as having little by way of a common bond to constitute a nation. In fact, there has been the practice in the Caribbean to use the term 'nation' to mean race rather than national citizenship. The plural society school holds that there is no consensus on norms and values in society and that each cultural section maintained its own institutions, distinct and separate from the institutions of other ethnic groups.

Social Stratification

The sociologist, Lloyd Braithwaite, holds a different view of Caribbean societies. He admits that they have pluralistic features and so might be called plural-like societies. However he believes that the main problem with the Caribbean is social organisation or social stratification rather than cultural pluralism or cultural segmentation. In other words, these societies are stratified by social class and class status more than by cultural differences. (7)

Braithwaite agrees that Caribbean societies are multiracial and multicultural but that it is difficult to find any society that is not so to one extent or another. Even societies as ethnically diverse as Trinidad can only exist with a certain sharing of common values and social will. All societies display groups with different values and attitudes and the existence of pluralistic cultural traits do not necessarily threaten the social order. The existence of attitudes of racial prejudice and discrimination does not mean that racial groups cannot coexist. Different groups have their own sub-cultural practices but there is a danger in over-emphasising these and missing the common values that they share. Society is held together by a consensus on norms and values. (8)

Braithwaite, however, does see a problem concerning national identity or nationalism. Caribbean societies constitute a subordinate social system due to colonial domination. The cultural system of the superordinate power - the metropolitan power - has been encouraged and assimilated. As the colonial population becomes sufficiently acquainted with the values of the superordinate society those values are incorporated into the colonial society.

Braithwaite points to an interesting irony that develops. Some members of the colonial society will question the values of inferiority/superiority and form anticolonial or nationalist movements. But then, as political independence is won the very colonial values that integrated the society begin to breakdown before a new set of truly national values can develop and command the respect of the people. As colonies move towards self-government the local sub-cultural groups become more antagonistic towards each other. This is so because the values of respect for a 'superior' order ceases as that order withdraws and the local value system that replaces it is the very system that colonial propaganda regarded as inferior and so it does not win respect.


Edward Brathwaite adds a different perspective on Caribbean societies. (9) Rather than conceiving of any dichotomy between European and African cultures, he sees these in their mixed and combined form. It is this mixture that he calls the creole culture. Creole culture - language, beliefs, dress etc.,- is the adaptation of foreign culture to local origins. The Caribbean is a product of two main cultures having to adapt themselves to a new environment and to each other. There is friction between these cultures arising from the initial cultural clash. However out of this friction is a creative tension. Creole culture is creative. This is often overlooked by the stress on the imitativeness of some cultural practices. Creole culture is not mere mimicry of European culture. There is a rich folk culture, that is, folk wisdom and practice. This wisdom expresses itself in local proverbs, forms of speech, Afro-Caribbean religions, health and healing, music and entertainment, cuisine, and literature - all of which become part of the popular culture.

Challenges to Development.

Problems of Nationalism.

Nationalism is the basis for the nation-state. It leads to a demand for self government and political independence. Nationalism is the principle that underlies citizenship and citizenship entitles one to national and constitutional rights regardless of race or culture. It is also a feeling of loyalty and duty to a state taking the form of patriotism. It is a sentiment of pride in a country, its reputation and achievements. It is a sense of belonging to a culture and promoting the identity of a people through its culture.


The identity complex of the Caribbean has been framed by the 'white bias'. This describes the racial and associated features of colour, hair, nose, speech and even dress that approximate European features and style. Thus, "skin-colour, hair and facial characteristics (the straight nose, the thick lip) are used to form an over-all composite judgement of the individual...The closer the approximation to European features the more likely is the get acceptance and to achieve mobility." (10)

At the point of Jamaica's independence in 1962, Katrin Morris wrote: "Though a Negro with money and education was socially acceptable to a point, women would straighten their hair and bleach their skin and men did what they could to compensate for their dark colouring by adopting other British attributes, such as a very exaggerated Oxford accent, a formal dark suit in the hottest weather, pompous speech and mannerisms and ultra-British names for their children and houses. Every opportunity was taken to mention any white ancestors, and though the majority of Jamaican folk were non-conformist, this British-oriented class worshiped in the Anglican Church." (11)


Caribbean nationalist movements promoted an ideology of multiracialism and multiculturalism in the search for national identity. In this regard it rejected competing ideologies such as the 'race first' slogan of Marcus Garvey and the perception of Jamaica as an alien land of captivity or 'Babylon' and the accompanying repatriationist 'back to Africa' philosophy of Rastafarianism. (12)

Trinidad has also struggled to create a national society and find an ideology of nationalism. As long ago as 1848, just after emancipation, the Governor of Trinidad, Lord Harris said:

"As the question now stands a race has been freed but a society has not yet been formed." (13)

Over one hundred years later, Eric Williams of Trinidad, spoke in very similar words on the eve of national independence: "On August 31st 1962, a country will be free, a miniature state will be established, but a society and a nation will not have been formed." (14)

This explains why Trinidad's National Anthem contains the lines: 'Here Ev'ry Creed and Race, Find an Equal Place'.


The assertion of racial and ethnic identity has long competed against national loyalties in the Caribbean and ethnic competition has served as a divisive force. In Trinidad it was already found by 1968 that race was the most important predictor of voting behaviour. In Guyana, the first mass party, the People's Progressive Party ( formed in 1953) was a class alliance of working class Afro and Indo-Guyanese expected to act as the basis for nationalism. But by 1955, race had become the dominant factor in the formation of political attitudes of Guyanese. As early as 1961, the two major parties were campaigning with the slogan, 'vote for your own race.' (15)

Race relations suffer from negative stereotyping. Much of this was started by the planter class and adopted by subordinate races against each other. In Trinidad and Guyana, East Indians see Blacks as being lazy, irresponsible, having a liking for drinking and conspicuous consumption, being sexually promiscuous and corrupted by Western culture.

Blacks, in turn, see East Indians as miserly, prone to domestic violence, submissive to authority, clannish, and 'heathen' for not adopting 'Western' ways. (16) These images are used to make judgements about a race's industriousness, ethics, ability to manage government and economy and act in the national as against racial interest. This is made worse by the competition for political power and to control scarce resources. The low regard they have for each other lead to mutual attitudes of distrust, perceptions of political incompetence, corruptability, victimizing and violent in their respective efforts to obtain power, wealth and status.


In the Caribbean the idea of the nation-state must be understood against the background of the colonial cultural and political legacy. Both nation and state have suffered incomplete and delayed development. There is neither the confidence in culture, nationalism nor the state that is required for nation-building. At the same time, there is a sufficiency of shared and common values that keep the societies functioning and which prevent social disintegration.

Economic development is frustrated by the negative values attached to labour and the class divisions that deny economic capital to the majority. It is only now that the concept of social capital has gained currency, one that emphasises how the positive cultural traits of people might be transformed into economic enterprise.

Politically, there are divisions in countries like Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname along ethnic lines. But in virtually all territories there are parties that attract the classes more strongly associated with the certain races leading to an ethnic/class lines of political/party tribalism.

National political leadership suffers from low levels of respect not unrelated to the absence of a post-colonial consensus on the value of 'blackness,' 'Indianess,' and 'Caribbeaness'.

1. Ronald Chilcote notes that the study of political culture came into prominence in the 1960's and relates to the beliefs, symbols and values that define situations in which political action occurs and reflect the psychological and subjective orientations of people toward their national systems. The concept is related to nations or national cultures. See, Theories of Comparative Politics,1981, p.8.

2. Franklin Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism,1990, p.307.

3. Carl Stone, "Values, Norms and Personality Development in Jamaica," 1992. A detailed reproduction of Stone's typology is presented because it captures so much of what is generally felt to be true.

4. Na'im Akbar, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery,1996.

5. The main proponent of this theory was J. S. Furnival. See Colonial Policy and Practice, 1948.

6. M. G. Smith, The Plural Society in the British West Indies,1965.

7. Lloyd Braithwaite, "Social Stratification and Cultural Pluralism", in Horowitz, op. cit

8. Gordon Lewis, The Growth of the Modern West Indies, 1968, is one very important work which was influenced by the social stratification perspective in opposition to the plural society view. It also shares the sentiments of the creole culture perspective below.

9. See, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820, 1971. Brathwaite's views remained important enough to influence Diane Austin-Broos, Jamaica Genesis: Religion and the Politics of Moral Orders,1997.

10. Daniel Segal, "Race and Colour in Pre-Independence Trinidad and Tobago," in Kevin Yelvington (ed.), Trinidad Ethnicity, 1993, p.87.

11. Katrin Norris, Jamaica: The Search for an Identity,1962, p.10.

12. This doctrine has been criticized as 'tragic escapism' and 'social withdrawal', in Gordon Lewis, op. cit, p.177.

13. Raymond T. Smith, "Culture and Social Structure in the Caribbean: Some Recent Work on Family and Kinship Studies," in Michael Horowitz, Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean,1971, p.448.

14. Smith, Ibid.

15. See Edward Greene, Race vs Politics in Guyana,1974.

16. Kevin Yelvington (ed.), Trinidad Ethnicity, 1993, p.9. Stereotypes of Indians in Jamaica is also provided by Verene Shepherd, "Indians and Blacks in Jamaica in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: a Micro-Study of the Foundations of Race Antagonisms." in Howard Johnson (ed.) After the Crossing: Immigrants and Minorities in Caribbean Creole Society, 1988. On Guyanese stereotyping see, Elliot Skinner, "Social Stratification and Ethnic Identification", in Michael Horowitz, op. cit.

Fourth topic Political Leadership

Political Geography | Political History | Political Culture | Political Leadership | | Democratic Traditions | Caribbean Civil Societies | The Decolonizing State | The Caribbean Abroad