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Letter: St Vincent and the Grenadines - a culture of poverty?
Published on April 26, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

When renowned anthropologist Oscar Lewis coined the term culture of poverty in his 1961 book The Children of Sanchez, he based his thesis on ethnic studies of small Mexican communities and a few other communities in the Bronx, New York. At that time Dr Lewis did not think that he would be describing small island nations in the English-speaking Caribbean. In the course of his studies he drew attention to approximately 50 attributes shared within these communities. Among these attributes were: frequent violence, a lack of a sense of history, a neglect of planning for the future and immediate gratification in various forms, including sexual gratification.

Because Dr Lewis studied very small communities, he was highly criticized for extrapolating his findings to suggest a universal culture of poverty. Almost 55 years later, the premise of the culture of poverty paradigm remains the same: that people in poverty share a consistent and observable culture (Gorski, 2008)

From what we have seen in Caribbean nations in the last 15-25 years maybe we need to revisit Dr Lewis’ theory.

The Culture from A Caribbean Perspective

Most Caribbean nations by virtue of their per capita income may be considered about middle to low income countries – based on OECD standards. However; the level of social and moral decadence has placed them squarely in the categories Dr Lewis described. The year is not 1961 but the behaviour certainly mimics the period. The breakdown of moral society, evidenced by the level of violence against women and young girls dulls the senses. The violence against young girls by men sometimes twice or three times their age is beyond rational comprehension. But the perpetrators of crimes will not condemn each other or their surrogates.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines we are in the midst of our Education Revolution. Well it seems that from where I am looking, I am observing a deficit perspective in the “Successful Education Revolution” -- defining education by its weaknesses rather than by its strengths.

The implications of this deficit perspective reach far beyond individual bias. If we convince ourselves that the malaise in St Vincent and the Grenadines results not from gross inequities but from people's own deficiencies, we are much less likely to support authentic anti-violence policies and programs. Further, if we believe, however wrongly, that people don't value moral and ethical standards, then we dodge any responsibility to redress the gross inequities with which our communities must contend. We are also agreeing with those in power who imply that a segment of our society does not deserve a fair shake.

If the goal of government policy is to justify a system that privileges economically advantaged folks at the expense of those with whom we do not agree or support, then our government policies appear to be working marvelously. In our determination to "fix" the mythical culture of the disenfranchised, we ignore the ways in which our society cheats them out of opportunities that their peers on the other side take for granted. We ignore the fact that people suffer disproportionately the effects of nearly every major social ill. They lack access to health care, living-wage jobs, safe and affordable housing, clean air and water among other luxuries. These conditions limit their abilities of a large segment of the citizenry to achieve their full potential.

Perhaps many in Vincentian society feel powerless to address these bigger issues. But the question is this: Are we willing, at the very least, to tackle the mutilation of children and women.

The issues are plentiful and well documented. They also transcend political party lines. For example, compared with their wealthier peers, poorer individuals are more likely to be the victims of what has become a heartless society.

Can one conclude that the conscience of Vincentians died suddenly and everyone was caught napping?

Dane A. Bowman
Originally from St Vincent and the Grenadines
Now residing in Central Florida
Reads: 2767

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Peter Binose:

Thank you Dane, a great thought provoking piece, we need more of your input, please write again the soonest.

Vinci Vin:

Hi Dane:

You have touched on what the PM of SVG like to call a sense of "Learned Helplessness". The poor of SVG has become so poor and dependent over the past decade that they have learned to depend on "Politicians" for their every need/wants. The country has become a nation of beggars. But at the national level the spoils of international begging are used to enrich those who are powerful and already wealthy, their children and their cronies.

Much is being requested in the name of the poor only to become the property of the political party when received. Then the party leaders use the grants and aids receive to compensate and pervert their loyalists. Among these dependant sychopants are those in the judiciary and the police. Therefore, it is no surprise that those who depend on the powerful, especially the politically powerful pay a blind eye to the rape, sexual exploitation (consent to sex for favours), physical mal-treatment, verbal abuse, and general degradation of the poor, especially women, children and those not towing the political party line. In this environment, the powers in SVG do all that they can to discourage and keep enlightened Vincentians from either returning or prospering in their private business in SVG. So we ask the question: "What can we do about this situation?"

Best regards,



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