ROAR of Ravi Dev
The “Black Lives Matter” movement in the US has inevitably reverberated on our shores since it is based on the lived experience of people of African descent who had been enslaved and defined as chattel from the 16th to the 19th century. The following is excerpted from articles I wrote in SN in 1993, and illustrates the double bind they and other Caribbean groups face from Creole Culture.
The concept of “race” was created and transmuted into racist practice that systemically relegated and maintained African descendants as “inferior” and formed the basis of Creole culture. Emancipation in 1834 merely transmuted the physical form of control into a subtle process of mental slavery through a process well described by Antonio Gramsci as “hegemony”, or which Marley dubbed “mental slavery”. We may define hegemony as “the moral and philosophical leadership, which a group seeks to establish in a society, through the active consent of the major groups in the society.” These moral and philosophical ideas control people’s perceptions and consequently, their activities. These ideas, in a nutshell, form the basis of the popular culture – in the Caribbean dubbed “Creole Culture”, which the populace further accepts as “common sense”.
These ideas and values, however, were disseminated by religious groups, schools, political groups, the law and the media and all of the other social mechanisms of the society. These were initially formed and controlled by Europeans and as such, the particulars of their culture were universalised while the African institutions and culture were relegated as “uncivilized”. We can understand how this process of hegemony operates by looking historically at the colonial period when “Creole Culture” was formed.
The British White Colonial Bureaucracy controlled the State, while the planters and other Whites controlled the economy and civil society. This “Integral State” worked to ensure the slave or free African/Coloured actively accept his condition of subservience. Thus sparing the funds, and anxiety, which would have been necessary with more direct coercion mechanisms. The slave had to be convinced that he was a “savage” and that he was being civilized. Dysfunctional consumption patterns and family structures etc. from the slave period helped ensure he would remain at subsistence levels. The dissemination of religious beliefs exemplifies the operation of the hegemonic socialization institutions mentioned earlier well.
The approved religion was Christianity and its activities were funded by a combination of state, planter and private resources. The problem was not Christianity per se, but the manner in which it was interpreted by Whites and taught to the Africans. Firstly, the African indigenous religions in which they saw and worshipped the Divine in many of his creations such as rivers and trees, was derided as “animism”. Secondly, even the avowed intent generally was never the salvation of ‘souls” of the Africans but the achievement of the goal of creating a pliable work force. Thirdly Christianity was made into “white” religion in which the Black African would always be second class; Jesus would always be blonde and blue eyed … and he was in the image of God!
Now, one important aspect in the concept of hegemony, is that once the main purpose of the hegemon has been achieved [the acceptance of one’s inferiority as “natural”] the latter will be willing to allow innocuous compromises depending on the specific circumstances. Thus, after the Christianizing experience was duplicated in other aspects of culture by the schools etc. and the framework of the debilitating Creole Culture was created, “suitable” coloured and Black ex-slaves were accepted on the lower rungs of “society”.
The Afro-Caribbean leaders and the “high colour elite” who acceded to state power in the 20th century and after Independence and retained control of civil society, accepted the hegemony of the debilitating cultural ideas and philosophy of Creole Culture. But opportunistically wooed “lower class” members by incorporating some elements of African culture – drumming, dancing, some food etc. from the latter practices as “National Culture”. These leaders were truly Black faces in White Masks. They did not question the implications of this cultural abomination, even for their African supporters.
They also ignored that defining Creole Culture as “National Culture”, they were insisting that Indian-Caribbean and other citizens continue the deculturization process from the indentureship period. But now to accept the debilitating premises of Creole Culture, which, ironically, degrades Africans and African culture at its core.
We need a national discussion on Creole Culture after the PNC accepts it lost the elections.