Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Identity and Freedom

“One of the hindrances to our creativity has been the obsessional concern with the universal: afraid of being merely his depreciated self and ashamed of wanting to be what his master is, the colonized accepts therefore – supreme subtlety- the values of his master as the ideal in the world.” - Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphaël Confiant “In Praise of Creoleness”

What Francophone Caribbean intellectuals were then describing was a problem at the crux of the West Indian experience. The region predominantly remained mentally submissive to the universal status-quo and trapped in a habit of self-negation. It was a consequence of our history and its characteristic oppression of a people and their identity.

This destructive process facilitated many of the features of our present day society; the worshipping of the lighter shade of skin or texture of hair, the idea that ‘money whitens’ and others,  like the idea that it is better or more appropriate to be Catholic/Anglican, than to chant Rasta, or any other ‘minority’ religion.

Our speech is also seen as illegitimate and inappropriate racket, and, as a consequence, local language in general still varies between an authentic Bajan to a kind of pseudo or full British/American twang. These habits are still pervasively identifiable in present day youth. Other more worrisome habits are seen when the local, in the presence of the tourist or relative from the outside, drops her/his local persona for a British or ‘more suitable’ American one.

This kind of schizophrenia and lack of integrity was what Rex Nettleford referred too as the ‘double consciousnesses.’ Frantz Fanon described our people as one possessing black skins but unconsciously wearing ‘white masks’. Others such as Naipaul emphasized the damaged identity of the masses which left them fissured and ‘supposedly’ destined to be mere consumers of outside ideals.

George Lamming explained that, coupled with the history of colonialism and slavery, ‘our process (as Caribbean people) of establishing the way we think of who we are and how we relate to where we are has been very much dependent on the character or the nature of the power where we are situated’. What this has meant is that, even now, current European/American and other popular habits sets precedent for our tastes and lifestyle choices.

So then, to reiterate, the ‘universal’ or body of ideas which influences most of our habits and behaviors is one particular [mainstream] expression backed by power and tremendous influence. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is not the only way to be.

The expressions of Caribbean stalwarts such as the late Robert Nesta Marley gave his particular cultural voice to the World. Our Own Anthony ‘Gabby’ Carter continues to give his essentially Barbadian voice and even take it into new forms, free of cultural domination.

The continuation of our emancipation from an almost chronic state of mental slavery begins with an exploration and understanding of what we have been taught to negate. Further, it involves a critical approach to the popular behaviors we blindly internalize. It is through this process we maintain sovereignty and security, of our souls and our imaginations.

So when we speak, interact with the wider word, use social media, are we predominantly still consumers of incoming information and produce or do we partake in the exchange and present ourselves, offering our own produce in the mix? Do we understand what we come from and where we want to go?

While we remain inundated with incoming information, we must refrain from being mere victims of our history and seek to understand, and then define who we are. To forgo this process leaves us predominantly doomed in a colonial cycle of self negation and mimicry.

While there is also a clear need for a Political and Cultural Revolution which can rid us of our negative historical legacies, there is still much we can do in propelling this vital, much needed process of “inward stretch and outward reach”.

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