By Oliver Mills
Most Caribbean people are not aware that our political ideas and preferences have been shaped by many influences we are normally not conscious of. Some of these include the school, which teaches values through the various subjects it offers.
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
These values stress appropriate conduct, inform us about the political system and how it works, along with numerous rules and regulations, designed to shape and foster a certain type of politically correct behaviour. This is often presented as helping us to get along positively with each other, without stepping on the rights and freedoms of others.
However, others see this orientation as shaping us into a particular kind of person who conforms, whose character is desirable, and whose behaviour is such that it fits the preference of those with power and influence, so that it is not threatening to them.
The Caribbean mind is also shaped by parental values of respect, doing the right thing, loving the country, having faith in its institutions, and generally, being a good citizen. And connected to this, is the political party preference of our parents, which in most cases becomes ours as well, although as some of us mature, we make our own choices. But many political writers see this shaping of our minds as fostering a mind-set that accepts, but does not question.
Political parties themselves shape the Caribbean mind through their manifestos, and campaigns, with the intention of mustering support. This causes further division on party lines, and antagonism among opposing sections of the electorate.
But there are other factors in Caribbean society that shape our attitudes, even among the politically sophisticated. For example, Dr Eric Williams, in his various historical writings, describes attitudes towards him by certain individuals from the metropole.
While working with the Caribbean Commission, he gave a number of lectures on history and politics, the aim being to enhance the political consciousness of the people. But some Commission members were uncomfortable over one of his books, The Negro in the Caribbean, even suggesting it should not have been written, and when he expressed interest in a certain appointment, from the responses he got, he suspected an attempt to make the post so unattractive that he would resign.
Here, political shaping came from direct experience with colonial officials with a certain attitude towards colonial subjects. This, and many other experiences shaped his desire to enter politics, and he eventually became prime minister of his country for a number of years.
The experiences of Caribbean people are therefore important in shaping their political mindset. This is further shown in a recent article in Caribbean News Now, where the writer says that due to colonization blacks suffer from disunity on multiple levels. He mentions that this is seen where each Caribbean island thinks the other is less than it is, blacks with light skin are thought to be better than those with a darker complexion, blacks in and from Latin America see themselves as Spanish, not black, some Caribbean blacks do not value Africans, some Africans see Caribbean blacks as rejects, and that blacks do not support each other enough where business ventures or social events are concerned.
Many Caribbean people behave towards each other this way because of the historical political shaping they experienced not only during slavery, but up to the modern period, but, as the writer says, we have no one to blame but ourselves by continuing the colonial mindset of internal division amongst ourselves.
Even quite recently one person from a certain Caribbean country described the people of another as being small island minded, and went on to state that people from his island are continental minded. These observations we make of each other have become a part of our psychology, and we have yet to deconstruct them through reasoning, and arrive at the truth of who we are, and not deal with each other from our inherited prejudices.
One talk show host recently said that we were indoctrinated in our history to hate ourselves, and love those who indoctrinated us.
In reference to one metropole, one Caribbean political scientist says that its form of colonialism, measured by any lasting standard, remains wanting. He notes that it cared little about the artistic and aesthetic background of colonial life and experience, and gave as an example the official suppression of Carnival in Trinidad. It prided itself on its imperial manners, and imparted the code to the small groups of educated West Indian classes.
This is the political shaping process, and meant, according to the political scientist, the incorporation of these groups into the local colonial establishment. These groups continued the behaviour that shaped them, towards their own people.
It could also be said here that colonial officialdom also banned Junkanoo in the Bahamas. The political aim was to discourage any form of togetherness by local people, and also to deprive them of the one form of joy they experienced after having to cope with what they saw as the demeaning nature of the system. Officialdom, saw its actions as maintaining law and order.
But the scholar notes that the acceptance of the metropole’s constitutional system and its values would help to lay the foundations for a wider West Indian democracy. And that this metropole evoked respect and loyalty from the majority of its West Indian subjects. He also states that officials from this metropole, as reported by a visitor, were coldly impersonal. “They go out to rule, and nothing swerves them, and in their code, there is always socially, an abyss between natives and rulers.”
These experiences by local people, called natives, provided the ingredients for the shaping of their minds politically, and these very persons, and later their offspring began the kind of political activity that would result in their countries achieving their independence and sovereignty.
Yet, there are some official circles in many independent Caribbean countries who still say that officialdom from the metropole left too early. Some also claim there was more security, and that Caribbean economies were healthier when compared with the current independence era.
Just recently, in a former Portuguese colony, a local citizen also said things were better under the Portuguese. And in a yet to be independent country, people are still saying the current metropole is needed.
The political shaping of the Caribbean mind takes different forms based on the level of political consciousness of this or that group. Are these contradictions, represented by admiration for the colonial system, and efforts to attain, or strengthen sovereignty the end result of the ongoing, subtle political shaping of Caribbean minds by historical forces still actively at work?