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 systematically and 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 more 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 socialism 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 “uncivilised”. 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 civilised.
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 socialisation 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 blond 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 would be willing to allow innocuous compromises, depending on the specific circumstances. Thus, after the Christianising 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”.