By Oliver Mills
Throughout Caribbean history, there has been this division on colour lines, with a dark complexion being associated with certain lacks, in certain areas, and in others it is regarded as somewhat exotic, and a source of pleasure.
Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
We all know how in the 60s, black consciousness arose as a reaction to many of these negative, and often belittling concepts, and we also know of episodes where often persons of high colour and other “desirable” traits were seen at front desks, while darker skinned employees were confined to areas which were not so public. This created the false perception that colour determined status, and opportunity.
All this is changing, but we still see glaring examples of its persistence in many Caribbean countries, particularly where certain ethnic and socio-economic groups are concerned. And in politics as well, where the observation is made that some political parties choose persons of a predominately lighter skin colour as cabinet members. The need to liberate our minds from mental slavery therefore, becomes even more urgent.
One Caribbean observer noted that there are situations where middle class men of colour interact with the ghetto to fraternise with females with the darkest complexion because of the historical notion that they are better at what they do than those with a lighter colour. Of course, this is a hangover from slavery, which has shaped a particular psychology that, along with other mental notions, Bob Marley calls mental slavery.
Connected to this, is the fact that, in a sociology class where gender was discussed, a female with high colour boldly stated that dark skinned women were sexier than the other shades. This plantation shaping has embedded itself even in higher education, where reasoning and intellectual skills should have long dispensed with this orientation. Mental slavery is therefore a warped perception of the power relationship that existed under the plantation system, and which has been perpetuated in the present about the two main races that revered one race, and demonised the other.
There is the further episode, where a black woman approached a man of the cloth, who did not look like her, asking for intimacy, saying she wanted to have a child with fair complexion to facilitate social mobility. Here, a certain high colour is seen as desirable for social and economic reasons.
Most glaringly, in one Caribbean country, a black female referred to her three-year-old child, as “an ugly, picky-headed, black son of a bitch.”
Again, there was the situation where a person of fair complexion got a job, and was told by a senior manager from the metropole, that “at least you have the right complexion.”
Here the idea of mental slavery lies in the lingering concepts of the plantation, transported into the post-plantation era, and is still actively used to create social and political preferences, and other practices, irrespective of how demeaning, or impolitic they are.
At another level, there is the case of a black woman who was married to an individual far from resembling her, who claimed that she was only invited out in official circles because of her husband’s ethnic origin. This female seems incapable of bringing herself to think that, most probably, they were invited because of her, and the content of her character, rather than the colour of her husband.
It is always the other person with high colour who is seen as responsible for certain things happening, or whom it is thought could run things better. It is the continued existence of mental slavery, with its origins in plantation society that generates these thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. There are no serious efforts at re-education to change views and perspectives, and so liberate people’s minds from this warped thinking, so these practices and behaviours continue to have legs.
In a non-independent country, a successful political leader is referred to as “the yellow man.” He is, of course, of fair complexion and, presumably, this is why he has won every election since his first entry into politics, although his constituency and his country have very little to show for it. The important thing, it seems is that a person with a lighter skin colour is the parliamentary member for this area, and therefore some psychological prestige and status is felt by his constituents because of this.
Plantation slavery and its offspring, mental slavery, are alive and kicking. And Caribbean society at one level seems to have no problem with it. It’s what they’re used to, so it is seen as the natural order of things. A natural order in an unnatural situation, awaiting liberation.
There is the further case of a principal of a high school who is married to a black, local woman, who says that his wife has white blood. The probability is that he took the risk of marrying her, because his calculations showed the risk would pay off because the children had a high probability of coming out with high colour. Again, mental slavery takes as its victim the descendants of the owners of the plantation system, some of whom who still think in these terms, and who perpetuate plantation values.
We have to remember that both the slave, and the plantation owners were victims of plantation slavery, and the descendants of both groups, up to the present, still have embedded in them the values of mental slavery. Both groups therefore, are in need of liberation.
So in the strategy for the liberation of our minds from mental slavery, provisions have to be made for the descendants of slavery, and the descendants of the owners, or those who directly or indirectly benefitted from this practice. Both are victims of this process. And interestingly, many might not realise it, and claim they were not around in that era, so somehow, they are not responsible for what happened. Even many blacks, whose ancestors were the victims of plantation values, insist all that stuff is in the past.
This makes it urgent that some form of political education be embarked upon to educate the descendants of both slaves and slave owners, or those who profited from it. But what kind of education should this be? Such an education should begin with exposing those with plantation values to Caribbean history, written by progressive Caribbean historians.
They would need to know more deeply what happened, what kind of values existed, how these impacted on people, what this did to their psychology, and why and how they have persisted in a subtle manner today. Also to liberate people from mental slavery, we need to give them sensitivity training so that they would recognise when plantation values come to the forefront in their dealing with each other, and so quickly correct their thinking, and what they intended to say or do.
There should also be workshops on the experiences of people, and role plays on different episodes rooted in the plantation experience, so that people practically become aware of their behaviours towards each other, become conscious concerning its psychological impact, and so undergo a change in their psychology, so that they see things differently.
But as Bob Marley said, “None but ourselves can free our minds.” He is right, since the onus is on us to change the way we look at things, and so change ourselves, and see the results differently and more positively. But we also need the benefit of a sensitive education to put things in context, and by the use of intellectual and rational skills, see the defects, myths, and prejudices of our inherited belief system, and so liberate ourselves from the mental slavery that has held us captive.
With the use of will power, and an enhanced consciousness, our minds would indeed undergo transformation, so that when we liberate our thoughts, and minds, we also mentally, liberate each other.