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The Caribbean Identity Essay


Nowadays, it became quite fashionable sociologists and political scientists to discuss the essence of Caribbean people’s existential mode as such that derive out of their possession of strongly defined ‘Caribbean identity’. In its turn, this identity is being defined as something that has very little to do with the qualitative essence of native populations’ tendency to assess surrounding reality through ethno-cultural lenses.

Apparently, people in the Caribbean are being assumed capable of adopting an open-minded perspective onto the very concept of identity, as opposed to be concerned with exploring the subtleties of their individuality in essentially tribalistic manner. After all, since most Germans, Brits and French do not have objections against being referred to as ‘Westerners’, why should Dominicans, Puerto-Ricans and Haitians, for example, have objections against being referred to as simply ‘Caribbeans’?

And, once the existence of a distinct Caribbean identity is being confirmed, it will provide the advocates of such an identity with a legitimate justification to look into gaining additional academic credits by designing ‘theories’ as to how ‘Caribbean identity’ should be explored by those who are believed to posses it, in the first place.

After all, according to multicultural paradigm, regardless of what ethno-cultural identity’s qualitative subtleties might be, it should never ceased being celebrated: “Visibility establishes who we are. It supports the naming of the Caribbean identity in America; it gives context to our being and history to our belonging… So my fellow Caribbeans, my fellow Americans, let us celebrate [identity] together” (Nelson, 2007, p. 3).

Nevertheless, the actual realities of Caribbean living point out to the fact, unlike what the proponents of a strong ‘Caribbean identity’ would like us to believe, the natives in the Caribbean proper continue to think of their existential identity as something quite inseparable from the color of their skin and their culturally-religious affiliation. And, given the fact that the color of people’s skin in the Caribbean, ranges rather dramatically from country to country, the very idea of a unified ‘Caribbean identity’ appears conceptually fallacious.

As Schmidt (2008) had pointed out: “With regard to the multiple dimensions of Caribbean culture(s) one has to accept that culture can no longer be defined as a self-contained entity but as something full of discontinuities, repetitions and contradictions” (p. 2). In our paper, we will aim to explore the validity of an earlier articulated suggestion at length, while arguing that, as of today, there are no objective preconditions for people in the Caribbean to posses ‘trans-ethnic’ sense of identity.

In his book, Anderson (1991) came up with particularly valuable observation, in regards to the discussed subject matter: “Nationness is virtually inseparable from political consciousness” (p. 135). What author wanted to say is that, the subtleties of how one perceives its national/social identity cannot be discussed outside of what defines such individual’s ability to indulge in abstract reasoning.

For example, prior to French Revolution of 1789, Europeans were not even aware of such notion as ‘nation’. And, the reason why, during the course of 19th century, this notion had obtained a politically legitimate status, is that Europeans’ ability to rationalize life’s challenges, had led them to realize the sheer outdatedness of system of social stratification, based upon artificially drawn lines between ‘nobles’ and ‘commoners’.

Alternatively, due to realities of Globalization, more and more Europeans now grow to realize the outdatedness of the concept of ‘nation’ – the fact that, as of today, there are no borders between countries of E.U., confirms the validity of an earlier suggestion more than anything else does. Nowadays, more and more people in Europe are willing to refer to themselves as simply ‘Europeans’, as opposed to being referred to as French, German, British, Italian, etc.

What had made such a situation possible? The partial answer to this question is contained in Lynn and Vanhanen’s (2002) book. While being endowed with rather heightened ability to operate with abstract categories, Europeans were naturally predisposed towards assessing their identity in intellectually flexible manner – hence, their tendency to think of it along social rather than ethnic lines. The same, however, cannot be said about the majority of people in Caribbean countries.[1]

And, as history indicates, people’s lessened ability to indulge in abstract reasoning is being reflective of essentially tribal workings of their psyche – hence, these people’s preoccupation with exploring their ‘ethnic uniqueness’ as the actual source of their identity. In part, this explains why, for example, in Caribbean countries, there were no incidents of local populations having revolted against intellectual oppression of Catholic Church, as it used to be the case in other Latin American countries.

As Sued-Badillo (1992) had put it: “Contrary to what occurred in many other regions of America, the Caribbean experience has had far shorter breathing space for the exercise of intellectual liberty” (p. 601). Therefore, the very concept of ‘Caribbean identity’ cannot be thought of as anything but an indication of a simple fact that, those Western ‘sophisticates’ who invented it, simply do not understand the basic laws of biology.

The same can be said about the quality of these ‘experts’’ understanding of what accounts for one’s ability to adopt an open-minded outlook on its own identity, in sociological context of this word.

Apparently, these people have a particularly hard time, while grasping a simple fact that, in Caribbean countries, there are no objectively existing preconditions for local populations to adopt intellectually advanced perspective onto what constitutes their individuality.

The reason for this is simple – Caribbean societies are essentially agricultural. And, the mentality of rural dwellers differs rather dramatically from the mentality of urbanites who reside in large megalopolises.

Whereas; the foremost psychological traits of an urbanite are his or her perceptional flexibility, respect towards secular and impersonal law, and willingness to adjust its worldview to correspond to highly technological realities of post-industrial living, the foremost psychological traits of a ‘natural-born-peasant’, whose rate of IQ does appear particularly high, are his or her strong sense of tribal belonging, intellectual stiffness and hypertrophied sense of religiosity. As Benet (1963) had noted: “Urbanism constitutes a separate moral order” (p. 5).

What it means is that, given the fact that in Caribbean countries, the majority of citizens never cease being depended on land, while trying to make living, it leaves them with little time to indulge in abstract thinking as to what should they be considering the source of their identity, outside of what their elders tell them.

And, as we are well aware from classical anthropological studies, the representatives of ‘authority’ in rural areas tend to endow younger people with tribal loyalty towards their particular village/tribe, while acting as if outside world simply did not exist.

In his book, Lévy Bruhl (1928) was able to define the qualitative essence of rural (primitive) perception of surrounding reality with utter precision: “Identity appears in their (natives’) collective representations… as a moving assemblage or totality of mystic actions and reactions, within which individual does not subjectualize but objectualize itself” (p. 120).

Even if people in the Caribbean were capable of adopting some form of collective identity, the very fact that most Caribbean countries are essentially islands, separated by hundreds or even thousands of nautical miles, would prevent them from doing so.

What also refutes the soundness of an idea that there can be a unified ‘Caribbean identity’ is the fact that Caribbean societies can be the least referred to as ethnically and culturally homogenous. According to Premdas (1996): “[In Carribean] There are Whites, Blacks, Browns, Yellows, Reds, and an assortment of shades in between.

There are Europeans, Africans, Asian Indians, Indonesian Javanese, Chinese, Aboriginal Indians, and many mixes” (p. 2). And, even though that in theory, the multicultural fabric of Caribbean societies should not undermine these societies’ inner integrity from within, it does so in reality. The proof to this suggestion’s validity can be found in Korom’s (1994) article.

According to the author, it is not only that the Shi’ah of St. James, which he defines as “one very small Islamic community within the Trinidadian East Indian population”, lead socially withdrawn lives, but they are being often looked upon by other Trinididians as enemies: “Their (Shi’ah) view is a minority opinion challenged by virtually every other cultural and ethnic group on the island” (p. 1).

The strong animosity, which defines Dominicans and Haitians’ attitudes towards each other, is also being quite illustrative, in this respect. This animosity extrapolated itself in Dominican refusal to provide aid to earthquake-stricken Haiti in 2010.

As it was pointed out in Martinez’s (2003) article, Dominicans think of Haitians as nothing less of inferior beings: “Many Dominicans believe themselves to be utterly different from and incompatible with their neighbors from across the island… Haitian immigrants have been victimized and denied basic rights” (p. 82).

These two examples alone expose those who theorize on the existence of commonly shared ‘Caribbean identity’ as dreamers, at best. Therefore, we cannot agree with people who, due to the specifics of their political engagement, find it appropriate to speculate on the subject of what defines the formation of one’s existential identity, without backing up their opinion by references to scientifically proven facts.

It goes without saying of course, that such theoreticians of post-colonial identity as Homi Bhabha, have proven themselves rather efficient, when it comes to indulging in sophistically sounding but essentially meaningless rhetoric, as to what accounts for the formation of such an identity.

In fact, Bhabha’s theory of ‘hybrid identity’ indeed raises a number of legitimate points.[2] After all, it cannot be denied that the representatives of second and third generations of Jamaican immigrants do act in rather ‘ambivalent’ manner, while ridiculing the colonial past of European countries where they came to live. Nevertheless, what advocates of ‘Caribbean identity’ do not seem to understand is the fact that one’s existential distinctiveness cannot be referred to as something ‘constructed’ but rather ‘inborn’.

The irony lays in the fact that, while theorizing on the essence of ‘hybrid identity’, individuals like Bhabha try their best to avoid mentioning the actual source of such an identity – the racial hybridization of those who are being assumed to posses it, in the first place.

And yet, as Park (1931) had rightly noted: “It is evident that man’s biological and his cultural interests are not always in harmony, and that social and political organizations are frequently either a compromise or, to speak in sociological terms, an accommodation in the attempt to reconcile them” (p. 536). As practice indicates, the extent of just about any empirical research’s validity exponentially correlates to the extent of its political disengagement.

Therefore, it comes as not a particular surprise that the concept of ‘Caribbean identity’ does not seem to correspond to the objective realities of today’s living – pure and simple. After all, Soviet anthropologists also used to promote the idea that, due to having been subjected to Communist propaganda for a while, Russians had embraced the identity of ‘Soviet people’. The sheer fallaciousness of such an idea, however, is being clear to just about anyone capable of utilizing his or her sense of rationale.

We believe that provided earlier line of argumentation confirms the validity of paper’s initial thesis. There can be no unified ‘Caribbean identity’, simply because the existence of such an identity would violate the objective laws of history, biology and sociology.

Therefore, the arguments of advocates of ‘Caribbean identity’ cannot even be considered seriously. Apparently, people who believe in otherwise, simply lack intellectual honesty to recognize a simple fact that, just as it is being with animals and plants, the representatives of Homo Sapiens specie continuously evolve.

And, it is namely the most intellectually evolved individuals, who are being capable of attaining socially rather than ethnically defined sense of self-identity. Unfortunately, the fact that, for duration of centuries, Caribbeans have been subjected to the process of racial hybridization, while becoming increasingly marginalized, in intellectual context of this word, prevented them from adopting ‘trans-ethnic’ sense of identity.

This is exactly the reason why these people’s perception of self-identity is being essentially plural – that is, the representatives of just about every ethno-cultural group in the region consider themselves being absolutely unique. All that Western proponents of ‘Caribbean identity’ would have to do, in order to be able to come to terms with this fact, is to take a trip to the region.

References

Anderson, B. (1991) Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Benet, F. (1963). Sociology uncertain: The ideology of the rural-urban continuum. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 6 (1), 1-23.

Bhabha, H. (1984). Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse. October, 28, 125-133.

Korom, F. (1994). Memory, innovation and emergent ethnicities: The creolization of an Indo-Trinidadian performance. Diaspora, 3 (2),135-155.

Lévy Bruhl, L. (1928). The soul of the primitive. (translated by Lilian A. Clare), London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Lynn, R. & Vanhanen, T. (2002). IQ and the wealth of nations. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Martinez, S. (2003). Not a cockfight: Rethinking Haitian-Dominican relations. Latin American Perspectives, 30(3), 80-101.

Nelson, C. (2007). June is Caribbean-American heritage month. Americas, 59(3), 3.

Park, R. (1931). Mentality of racial hybrids. The American Journal of Sociology, 36(4), 534-551.

Premdas, R. (1996). Ethnicity and identity in the Caribbean: Decentering a myth. Caribbean Studies. Web.

Schmidt, B. (2008). Caribbean diaspora in USA: Diversity of Caribbean religions in New York City. New York: Ashgate Pub Co.

Sued-Badillo, J. (1992). Facing up to Caribbean history. American Antiquity, 57 (4), 599-607.

Footnotes

  1. Lynn, R. & Vanhanen, T. (2002). IQ and the wealth of nations. (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group), 85.
  2. Bhabha, H. (1984). Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse. (October, 28), 126.
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"The Caribbean Identity." IvyPanda, 24 June 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-caribbean-identity/.

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IvyPanda. "The Caribbean Identity." June 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-caribbean-identity/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Caribbean Identity." June 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-caribbean-identity/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Caribbean Identity'. 24 June.

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