Queen Elizabeth’s passing was expected and it offers an opportunity to examine what she, as the Monarch, represented to us in the detritus of the British Empire. What is remarkable is how she and the system of governance (colonialism) she represented was so normalised that all we remember is her kind and placid demeanour.
But the empire that her namesake and forbear Queen Elizabeth I launched was not benign. The latter’s Royal Charters gave “authority” to pirates and buccaneers to form beachheads for English colonies in North America and the West Indies and to traders like the East India Company, which eventually conquered and governed India, . Her descendant Charles II formed the Royal African Company (RAC) that became the largest shipper of enslaved Africans in the history of the African Slave Trade. It was owned by the Royal Family and helped produce their “hereditary” wealth enjoyed by Elizabeth I and now by Charles III and their descendants. India was drained of $45Trillion.
More insidiously, we the “natives” in the colonies were convinced of our inferiority, ultimately by force but masked by Enlightenment British culture and the homilies of British liberalism with its boast of universal freedoms and the rule of law, into which we would have to be tutored, until we were “ready” for “independence”.
However, Latin American theorist Anibal Quijano, in a formulation he called the “Coloniality of Power” demonstrated that while “colonialism” might have ended, its structural features, dubbed “coloniality”, remains firmly in place. Quijano posits that we were all conscripted by a European-defined “modernity” that began in 1492 with the conquest of the Americas. It developed and extended the structures of power, control, and hegemony that emerged during the era of colonialism. He posits that the coloniality of power takes three forms: systems of (racial) hierarchies, systems of knowledge, and cultural systems.
Race was created to justify the enslavement of Africans using Christian myths, including a “Great Chain of Being” with God on top, followed by his angels, then mankind, with Whites on top and Blacks at the bottom. The White Monarch, of course, was at the top of the Whites. Other “races”, like Indians and Chinese, were placed in intermediate positions – over which they fought to maintain their subaltern status.
Quijano asserts, in addition to racial classification and slavery, “The other process was the constitution of a new structure of control of labour and its resources and products.” The global racial/ethnic hierarchy of Europeans and non-Europeans was an integral part of the development of the capitalist world system. That included transitional forms such as Indentureship, in which the control of labour was guaranteed without the moral opprobrium of slavery. The Girmit/Indentured, represented the contradictions inherent in the myth of “free labour” from slave labour in the “accumulation by dispossession” stage of capitalism.
The “Systems of knowledge” should be especially relevant to our academics at UG and cultural/political activists. Quijano writes, “Europe’s hegemony over the new model of global power concentrated all forms of the control of subjectivity, culture, and especially knowledge and the production of knowledge under its hegemony.” Have we questioned the “knowledge” UG disseminates? The related third element of coloniality of power is the creation of cultural systems that revolve around a Eurocentric hierarchy and that enforce Eurocentric economic and knowledge production systems. We all ape Eurocentric norms in which we will invariably be second class.
The ideological attempts to peel off the effects of colonialism in the Caribbean ranged from Marxism from the 1940s to Black Power in the 1960s and 70s. Carifesta I in 1972 was supposed to counter the imposed British cultural paradigm, but ironically peripheralized Indian cultural aspirations. By 1989, a PNC-bankrupted Guyana had to accept the new neo-liberal economic paradigm along with Latin America, that reinforced the contradictions of the racial and cultural systems. Today, some still smirk at those who are “less cultured” to enjoy “coolie gaana” and the Guyana Prize for Literature will reward those who write in “good” English prose.
For us to progress, we need to appreciate the constraints of coloniality at the individual, group, state/nation and global levels. For instance, why should we look down racially/ethnically at other groups when we ourselves are suffering from that scorn from others through hierarchies of race? Shouldn’t we fight for equity and equality of opportunity for all groups and genders in our country?