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Account for the changing role that race, color and ethnic affiliations play in

Caribbean society and culture (30 marks) May/June 2009

The Caribbean is blessed or cursed with a cultural plurality and ethnic diversity that is not
found anywhere else in the world today. Due to the actions of European colonialism and the need
for plantation labor the Caribbean is now home to many races and ethnicities. Because of this
there seems to be an ongoing struggle among the races and ethnicities for political, social and
economic achievement. The Caribbean is still in a state of becoming and it is principally because
of this that the roles of race, color and ethnic affiliation are changing. Due to the nature and
origins of Caribbean society however it is understood that one of the major characteristic factors
of Caribbean society is its stratified and divided nature. Power and class structures were
important social design constructs.
From the historical context, Caribbean society was based upon a clear system of color, race
and power. The color and race was equated to social mobility and class affiliation. This meant
that the European and later on the half-whites, because of the pigment of skin were awarded a
higher social end even economically mobile position. This might be equated with elitism. The
imported black and indentured labor, aware of this, became class conscious and saw color as a
mobility factor and hence this becomes integrated into the culture of these Caribbean people. To
this day, color of skin is still a factor of stratification and therefore a factor of social mobility.
In todays society it is questionable whether there has been a shift from race structures of the
past because race and color discrimination still exist. This may be due to the divide and rule
policy of the Europeans when yet another labor group was imported into the Caribbean. The
divide and rule system then becomes a part of Caribbean culture leading to several other
stratification factors, thus the role of race and ethnicity have changed somewhat but still
influence the workings of society. This can be seen strongly in politics and even religion.
In Trinidad there is severe racial wars between the two major races that inhabit the society.
The tension between the races arises most often at election time because of political preferences
as well as political stereotype. That is, in these countries there is a perceived African and East
Indian party which is The Peoples National Movement (PNM) and The United National
Congress (UNC). Here then, because of the functions of race, color and ethnicity social justice
infringements are perpetrated.
The function of religion as an element of ethnicity can also be evaluated for its divisive and
discriminatory operations. From the historical perspective the Caribbean was based upon a
Christian political structure. The imported African slaves were indoctrinated into Christianity
forcibly and later this system was upheld as the correct one. When the East Indians were
imported, eastern religious beliefs were introduced into Caribbean society. As a consequence of
the Christian preference in society many East Indians saw the possibility of upward mobility
lying in conversion to Christianity. Hence the cultural and ethnic spectrum of these imported
people changed. To this day, the European legacy of Christianity still persists as the right form
as the expense of Eastern forms of religion.
Education is seen as a means of rising in status that ignores race or previous class. This
perhaps introduces a concept of merit rather than status. There is a commonly held value that via
education any person regardless of race etc. can rise out of a low socio-economic position to a
high one. In this manner a person breaks the norm of a historically established stereotype.
It can be safely said that even though much time has passed between the colonial institutions
of the past to the present day many of the divisive legacies that surround race, color and ethnicity
still remain and there has been the creation of many other stratification factors. On the one hand
because of diversity there is the possibility of enculturation and the development of tolerance
among Caribbean people but also because of diversity there can be intolerance. There can also be
stark divisions in the society along the lines of ethnicity, color and race. The divisions in
Caribbean society are legacies of colonialism that still persist today.