Is There Racism in Grenada?
Of course there is . . . and because discussions of racism are so touchy this is an opinionated essay by Ann Wilder.
The good news is the dynamics of divisive attitudes is shifting towards melding. The complicating factors in Grenadian society is a class brownocracy based on old families, East Indian permeations into class divisions, and the town and country polarities apparent in some preferential attitudes. The late Gordon K. Lewis writes about class in his "Growth of the Modern West Indies:
Skin colour determines social class; but it is not an exclusive determinant. There are many fair-skinned persons who are not upper class, and many dark-skinned persons who are. The real divisions of the society are the horizontal ones of social class rather than the vertical ones of colour identification.
The essay at hand will focus on racism.
And, I suggest, and this is a very important suggestion, that racism does not exist except as a figment of political reality. What is racism anyway? What is one's racial identity?
Needless to say, the continuing discussion of racism compels us to proceed. Racism holds power and many people, some of those who classify themselves as white and some of those who classify themselves as black have much invested in it. The biggest investors in the concept of racism lies with those people who see a value in the divisions of categorization. People continue to group others into their own preconception; some insisting on seeing the Others in a demeaning way.
Personal observation during multiple trips to Grenada since the year 2000 lead me to form the opinion that discrimination is focused in the perception of class and privilege, not to speak of the very real divisions of Grenadians based on class and privilege. This division of privilege and class seems more prevalent than what I observe in the United States. Granted, this may be because Grenada is small and one can observe the compressed example of the class and privilege division.
I see people of all shades in Grenada - no matter class or privilege. Granted, there is race-based discrimination in Grenada, but the division of class and privilege takes priority in a major way. The social structure of Grenada appears to show the tilting of bias towards the lower classes, and isn't that how things go?
When talking about race, be aware that a person may be discussing ethnicity, culture, color, gender and/or class. For example, after the horrors of the 2005 Katrina Hurricane flooding, a former black restaurant manager, Tyrone Hall, said:
There is a racial problem in New Orleans, but it's not all about black and white—it's about green.
When talking about racism, be aware some may redefine racism as they please. That's the way things go so watch out for this move. Be aware racism's definition may have changed with the passing of time.
White guilt is powerful. Consider this quotation from Walter Rodney in 1969:
. . . what we most object to is the current image of a multi-racial society living in harmony--that is a myth designed to justify the exploitation suffered by the blackest of our population, at the hands of the lighter-skinned groups.
Gairy and Black Power
It is in all probability that racism did not play as large a role in the Bishop Government than racism did during the Gairy regime.
Gairy made the charge as far back as 1951 that in the Grenada civil service the doors were closed to dark-skinned Grenadians.
Gairy loved to scoff at the young intellectuals who thought they had discovered Black Power. The man Gairy himself went on the radio 3-4 May 1970, and quite possibly again 23 May 1970, with a speech titled Black Power in Grenada.
Gairy's speech occurred after the February-April 1970 'February Movement' in Trinidad with its line of continuity extending from the United States Black Power Movement. At the same time, according to Tafari,
For [Walter] Rodney—--as for [the Oilfield Workers Trade Union] OWTU and to a lesser extent, [National Joint Action Committee] NJAC—the notion of 'black' actually corresponded more broadly to 'non-white,' and hence embraced both East Indian and African workers and peasants, whose common interests sprung from the fact of being dispossessed classes.
Gairy was Black. According to Pryor,
. . . Gairy seemed to bear a special animus against the browns, whom he characterized as cross-breeds incorporating the worst features of white and black.
Gairy knew the Garveyite Movement and its impact on Grenada. Gairy was of the Working Class.
Eric Mathew Gairy unwittingly made a huge difference in relation to Black Power; i.e. his example was a fact of the power of blacks and the working class, but his concept of Black Power was not the consciousness of the Black Power Movement. And that made the difference.
The Black Liberation Movement
Where was the beef on the part of Black Power advocates opposed to Gairy? Gairy did not think within the concepts of the Black Power movement, except for hitting his 'enemies' up as Commies. His was not the new consciousness of Black Power. Gairy took his power and played with his form of power to turn it towards his personal wealth and advancement.
Black Power carried more assumptions than supposing the movement was solely based on skin color. The Black Power movement was about shifting the one-drop theory of blackness from a negative to positive position. Once people truly got into their spirit that 'Black is Beautiful' and all that phrase meant, they began to sound the alarm bells for the guardians of White Power. A changed attitude and world view sent a loud message to the self-perpetuating elite of Caribbean governments and neo-colonial society that playing the race card was a way to define class divisions and that just wasn't going to work anymore.
The leaders and writings of the Black Power movements in the United States, from 1955-1975, carried assumptions that were anti-capitalist, anti-class division and anti-imperialist. This was a massive multi-racial U.S. Left - the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Black Panthers, for example. World-wide, the struggle for liberation of the peoples of Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and other African countries was in process.
Political and ideological patterns emerged with the growth of the Black Liberation Movement. One such pattern was the Black Muslims and for a time "white devils" were the manifestation of the world's evils. In Jan Carew's book '"Ghosts In Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean", we find Carew meeting up with Malcolm X:
I wanted to pursue this question of how he [Malcolm X] perceived black/white relations since his break with the Black Muslims . . .
After a couple of paragraphs on p. 24 of the book, Malcolm responded. Carew writes:
Malcolm threw up his hands . . . right now I see 'Black' and 'white' as political and ideological terms. I probably have as much mixed blood as you do, but politically and ideologically we're both Black.
The U.S. Civil Rights Movement was part of a black liberation movement which was part of the world movement for national liberation and social revolution. The subject, Black Power, and its role in the Caribbean demands another essay and continuing study.
Remember celebrating African Liberation Day in March of 1973, the day, according to Hector, the Mighty Swallow set down in his song We Go March in Peace?
Grenadian Working Conditions
In the history of Grenada of the 1940s, according to Brizan, this is how race matters were:
To be socially acceptable one had to have either fair skin, straight hair and good looks, or a reasonable amount of wealth. Blacks, who for the most part had bad hair and bad looks, and those who were poor, were socially ostracized and consigned to the lowest social strata. One was to know one's place.
If you were a 'country-bookie,' as the description goes, you most likely worked the land, had minimal education, barely eeked out a living wage, and were predominantly dark-skinned. If you were 'in town' and owned a business with a healthy income and you were generally better educated, you most likely were part of the lighter skinned 'elite.' The urbanites seemed to form a clique. They seemed to make or aid in government decisions. Many felt the city sophisticates held the power.
Social stratification was pronounced; certainly in 1965 when M.G. Smith wrote his book "Stratification in Grenada." Smith writes:
"We can define the basic cleavage in Grenadian society as that between the majority who are black, mainly rural, ill-housed, ill-educated, poor, of low status, and who have a 'folk culture', and a small majority who are of light of mixed pigment, mainly urban, having fair housing, education, wealth, and so forth. I shall describe the 'illiterate' majority as the 'folk' and the minority as the 'elite'."
Brizan goes on to describe conditions under which the working class laboured around 1940.
Fundamental contradictions existed between the life of the labourer and that of the main employers of labour: employers' extravagance opposed to employees' poverty; employers' general literacy opposed to employees' illiteracy; many social activities for employers opposed to few for employees; employers' master-image, and labourers' subservience (an attempt to prolong the slave-planter syndrome); upper-class prestige opposed to working-class degradation; employers owned most of the wealth and enjoyed all social privileges as opposed to workers' exploitation and state of social atrophy; employers developed a superiority complex by virtue of their education, their money and, at times, even their physical appearance, while, lacking these, workers developed an inferiority complex.
Grenada's 1951 social disruption was led by Eric Gairy, President-General of the GMMWU. Brizan makes this observation:
Both the Governor and E.W. Baltrop considered the crisis as not simply a labour dispute, but a social revolution, with unpredictable repercussions. The class structure of Grenada had been overturned; for the first time in its history, the Blacks had successfully asserted themselves and successfully revolted against their status of 'peonage'.
Maurice Bishop and his allies upheld, within their view of Grenada, the country's history of oppression in a close combination with Black Power concepts. There may have been contradictions within the reality of the NJM, but the rhetoric was pure.
According to EPICA,
Grenada's racism went deeper than the plantocracy's reaction; it was a class reality practiced by the colored middle class as well as the white elite.
Out of this thinking came the concept of the hierarchies inherent in a brownocracy - the if you're brown, stick around sense of things. High brown was considered, by some, as elite. Light, bright or damned near white, is a phrase from an old saying. Brown man politics was the name of the game.
As with discussions of racism anywhere else in the world, including the United States, the delineation between shades becomes a finely-tuned concern of some people, especially on a small island like Grenada with a colonial history that includes slavery. Race has played a monumental role in human history and racial difference has played its part in Grenada's story. Even popular fiction set in Grenada, such as Alec Waugh's 'Island In the Sun,' captured the issue of 'colour' in its novel form and in the subsequent Darryl Zanuck motion picture.
Color was such an issue before the French Revolution in Saint Dominigue [now Haiti] that Moreau de Saint Mery in 1797 devised a classification of races called "Description Topographique, Physique, Civile, Polique et Historique de la Partie Francaise de I'Isle Saint Dominique." The result was around 200 classifications of combinations of colors - Combinaisions du Blanc, Combinaisions du Nčgre, Combinaisions du Mulâtre, Combinaisions du Quarteron and so on. Skin colors in their assumed purity and combinations were ranked in ways that resulted in social barriers.
Words describing racial characteristics take on fluid meanings, according to time and circumstance. For example, V.S. Naipaul uses the words "white, fusty, musty, dusty, tea, coffee, cocoa, light black, dark black" in his book "The Middle Passage." Words are often loaded with explosive implications. One can use the words as derived from a purely etymological basis - the origin of the word. One can use the words derived with historical socio/political implications. One can use the words related to current socio/political implications.
In the example of Virginia, a Law held, up until 1910, that if a person had less than one-quarter of Negro blood and was free, that person was legally white. The Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 deemed anyone with a single drop of nonwhite blood as being colored. Native American Indians were exempt from this ruling.
Not everyone is pleased with one's reference to "color mixing," as it was called. The concept of miscegenation has a long history. Consider that in the United States, in a statistic for the year of 1967, 3/4 of U.S. citizens opposed inter-racial marriage.
That same year, in 12 June 1967 Mr. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the Court in the Loving Et Ux v. Virginia case. Before 1967, Virginia was one of 16 States prohibiting and punishing marriages on the basis of racial classification. The punishment read like this -
If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one or more than five years.
The Supreme Court ruled that
to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
During the case one heard echoes of the harsh words of "corruption of blood", "mutt" and "mongrel breed" and even the "obliteration of racial pride." This shameful history is one facet of the history of the United States.
There always was the dark fear, of some people, that a child of mixed blood would revert "back" - is how the thought process worked - to a wild, coal-black child of the jungle. The fear behind this kind of language and thought is based on a believed concept of the one-drop theory. The so-called tainting of white blood has long roots, especially in the history of the United States.
The preacher wisely says, "Under the skin our blood is the same color. Love your brother."
Language is an apt indicator of attitude. For example, a word like mulatto can be argued as neutral in that the word simply denotes a mixed-race community. Discovering the origins of the word or the Grenadian word "mallatta" is a challenge, but this discussion will use the off-hand popular meaning. Mulatto has taken on a derogatory effect because of the history of the context of its use. Consider it use by a September 1956 Montgomery, Alabama Klan member who spoke about 'a conglomerated mulatto mongrel class of people.' The meaning of the word mulatto changed. If a word like mulatto is rejected without some kind of replacement, for example, we lose the ability to refer to this community as a separate entity. Currently, the word being used in the United States is multi-racial. But it does carry a history of hate. How does that sit with you?
Even the use of the seemingly sensible phrase people-of-color is loaded with the connotation that this is a European phrase used to exclude the rest of humanity. Using the one-drop rule, all Grenadians are of mixed race. Within Grenada, one can find a representative type of almost every race on earth.
Grenada, from as early as the 18th Century, has had racial populations that span a range of skin color from pale white to blue-black. Grenada also has a history of varying ethnic and cultural identities - European, African, East Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean Indian, Far Eastern, to name a few. Grenada is also home to people who ascribe to religious identities that surpass race - Rastafarian, for example.
Working With The Words
One thing we can do, in the Grenadian context, is to work with words others have used. The word and color red has often been associated with persons having European ancestries in Grenada; whereas in Jamaica, the word and color used is brown. In America, there is an older tradition of using the word and color yellow or high yaller. In Grenadian society, the aim of some was to be of 'high color' or marry into 'high color' [light or dark honey color].
White Creole used in the Grenada context does not match its meaning in the history of Haiti, for example. Coloured also has varying meanings. We all know the derogatory words used towards Africans and the history of those words.
Because many Grenadians believe, even subconsciously, in the concept of the one-drop rule, there has developed what is called an attitude of brownocracy, a kind of pigmentocracy. The belief is held by some that the lighter one's skin is [and the better one's hair], the rank of that person in society is higher. In 1974, one critic referred to those attending independence conferences and aligned with the University of the West Indies as Afro-Saxons.
On the other hand, one does see, among some redskins and reds in Grenada an attempt to identify themselves as African because they themselves believe in the one-drop rule, even though they may look Caucasian. They uphold that the one-drop rule preserves a proud African ancestry, no matter how remote or undetectable, and consequently that they hold a specific cultural character. A premium is put on being African in some youthful circles; whereas in the old days, a premium may have been predominant on being Caucasian.
A core sense of inferiority is a predictable by-product of the one-drop rule. Grenadians may divide society into skin-tone sub-sub groups. The process of delineating people into higher to lower groupings may be bred into their bones, so to speak, under the pressure of the prevailing culture. You have to be carefully taught, but not outright. As elsewhere, like in the United States, if you're white, you're right; if you're black, stand back; if you're brown, stick around. You are taught this as a young child and the clues around your world tell you this is so.
Race and Culture and Class
The confusion of identity between race and culture and class is widespread in our world. The observation of class differences meshing with racism calls for deep thought about disparities in income and privilege. This writer realizes this business of classism is not fully addressed herein. Class division is the broad-spread, deep-tap rooting of racism. This most important issue of class calls for its own essay.
Consider this observation of present-day reality in the United States by Glenn Loury in his recent book "The Anatomy of Racial Inequality" -
Dealing With It - Nativism
Nearly a century and a half after the destruction of the institution of slavery, and a half-century past the dawn of the civil rights movement, social life in the United States continues to be characterized by significant racial stratification. Numerous indices of well-being-wages, unemployment rates, income and wealth levels, ability test scores, prison enrollment and crime victimization rates, health and mortality statistics-all reveal substantial racial disparities. Indeed, over the past quarter-century of the disadvantage of blacks along many of these dimensions has remained unchanged, or, in some instances, has even worsened.
One trend in this matter is "black nativism" - in the context of Grenada, and other West Indian countries, the strict identification with African ancestors, including victims of West Indian slavery, elevates the identity of the islander. And likewise, in the United States, worthwhile heritage comes from American slavery by way of being Black Africans. Malcolm X elucidated this when he would give speeches about the dilution of the Black race. The ideal of integration through racial mixture, according to Malcolm X, dimishes the blackness of Africans, resulting in a kind of genocide. The assumption is that all Africans are black-black. One could argue you can't go back to black-black Africa but understand the point. With 'black nativism' the flip side of 'white nativism' is active self-segregation, not to be like the Other and forget integration. When two or more flavors of "black nativism" meet, they often diminish the Others' value even though most all have ancestors from Africa no matter the amount of pigmentation.
Dealing With It - Excellence
Another way to deal with a perception of racism in one's society, according to Shelby Steele, is to grind down racism by excellence, to be obsessive about merit, and maintain an attitude of considering oneself and others as singular individuals.
Dealing With It - Struggle
There is racism this very day in the United States. "Racism is more powerful than facts" runs the commentary of "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," from a DVD documentary. This was a case of injustice from 1984 through to Darryl Hunt's exoneration after 20 years of incarceration - all because of negligence coupled with racism. These trials were not in "Civil Rights Time" but in our time in North Carolina courts. Hunt's case was turned down for a hearing by the Supreme Court of the United States, 16 October 2000. The struggle continued and Darryl Hunt, since 6 February 2004, is a free man today because of a lucky random DNA match. Many supporters worked over the years with constant struggle to free an innocent man. Stories like this continue to this day, especially with the introduction of DNA testing.
Dealing With It - Talk
A current way to deal with the reality of racism is to talk about it. Over and over, people relate that once they know people who are Other to them, their attitude changes.
Dealing With It - Flux
Another way is to fix a median road between assimilation and separation; not to make a division in settling of the matter, but to keep both extremes in a state of permanent tension.
"This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again."
James Baldwin from "Stranger in the Village," a chapter of "Notes of a Native Son," ©1955.
James Baldwin's prescient prophecy reinforces the truth of the global landscape.
Another great U.S. African-American writer, Albert Murray, wrote this in his 1970 book "The Omni-Americans":
Dealing With It - Dissolving Hierarchies
American culture, even in its most rigidly segregated precincts, is patently and irrevocably composite. It is, regardless of all the hysterical protestations of those who would have it otherwise, incontestably mulatto.
The promise of the evolving present, in some places and in certain people, and of the future, is that this attitude of racial hierarchy is being muted and will dissolve. The reason for this is linked with the dichotomy between globalization and nationalism of cultures. This dialectic calls for another essay.
Nevertheless, we observe young people and their culture. Quite truthfully, many youth care little about an elder generation's concern for cultural heritage, including racial divisions. There is promise and dismay in this state of affairs.
Lifestyles are in flux as the former generation's thinking about race differs from the drift of a youth culture that is driven by large corporations primarily based in the United States. The ever-present international logos of large corporations are but symbols of the power of signs, the deadening of cultural differences, the seeming dictatorship of international markets and the lines of American-style consumerism which turns people into commodities.
The celebration of identity as mixed race has not become a national virtue yet, but attitudes are changing. There are profound changes. This movement brings immense fear of losing one's identity. One personal identity we have had historically has been race. But the kids - they are going in another direction. Perhaps current youth is burdened with no identity, but that is another subject for discourse.
A long, long line of a European-American Caucasian, WASP, family in its youngest generation is now mixed racially. Same goes for a blue-black, Haitian family - a line back to Dessalines - with racial and nation-blending in the family's youngest generation. A non-social differentiation of races in Grenada is a losing proposition because "mixing" has been going on since Colonial days; i.e. you look like a black boxer from the hills of Grenada, and there he is - your white Irish grandfather.
One can argue nationalism, racism, classism, internationalism or cop-out thinking about mixed bloods - whatever - but the truth of the matter is to take a common sense look about of yourself and your family. Things are in flux.
National Sovereignty and Globalization
Look at how important national sovereignty was to the Peoples Revolutionary Government compared to sovereignty's lesser importance today. National sovereignty is losing its boundaries with globalization, like water taking away the soil on the shore. Not a pleasant thought, but look at the real world.
Nationalism is retreating into an arena of consideration where young folk are viewing elders on this matter as old-fashioned, whistling Dixie. And these young people really don't seem to give a buck about dealing with the issue. A boy in Rogersville, Tennessee chats online with his Internet buddy from Scotland. A fellow in Scotland cells up his girlfriend in Italy. The fellow in Grenville 'chats it up' with his friend in Paris. People are making global alliances and erasing old boundaries and they are not terrible concerned about race.
The Youth Culture
A U.S. Census Bureau statistic for year 2000 reveals 41% of youth under 18 are of mixed race. A blended racial identity has grown as a virtue within the youth culture. Look around. You may or may not like what you see, but the vision with your own eyes cannot be denied. This acceptance of blended identity is not discussed, but tacitly assumed. Observe what you see on popular television for young people; consider an author, for example Zadie Smith, where the racial melting pot is an established fact; or the politicians Barack Obama, Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, Adrian Fenty, among others.
Orlando Patterson, who refers to those under 40 years of age as being part of 'ecumenical American culture', speculates:
Orlando Patterson, John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Harvard University, from Salmagundi, Winter - Spring 2002, No. 133-134, p. 186
"All the surveys indicate that among younger Euro-Americans there is very little of the racism which was held even by their parents. . . . I suggested in a piece I did for The New Republic that one possible future in the early 21st century is that hip-hop may become the basis of a lumpenproletarian oppositional culture of both whites and blacks who get left behind in the post-industrial economy."
The writer of this editorial looks to young people for stabilizing and strengthening this change in vision.
Columnist Stanley Crouch writes: " . . . among young people, the old taboos about race and interracial dating mean very little. Certain things have had their day."
You are you and I am me, but we are us and us are we, and we are altogether.
or the Zulu ubunto -
I am because we are; we are because I am
The media keeps calling him 'Black" - could be the one-drop theory is the persistent baggage of history.
Nevertheless, see the forward evolution . . . change . . . and now we have a first multi-racial President, the 44th President of the United States of America. Now they can call him 'Mr. President' -
Not a Black America, not a White America, not a Latino America, not an Asian America, but the United States of America.