In a sociological sense the term “cultural imperialism” refers to the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating and/or artificially injecting the culture, language, habits and behavior(s) of one nation into another. In the classic sense cultural imperialism is usually achieved when there is a relationship between a large, economically and militarily powerful nation and a smaller, weaker and less important one.
For the people of the nations of Caribbean cultural imperialism is not new – only that the modern form(s) has changed and adapted to the changing socio-economic and political conditions on the ground and by the use of modern technology. When white Europeans instituted the mad “Scramble for the Caribbean” and fought each other over territories that were not their own, the subsequent conquest of the region by England, Spain, France, Portugal and Belgium changed both socio-economic and political relations characterized by the attitudes and behavior of the conquerors to the conquered. In these newly acquired colonies, the European conquerors imposed their language, religion and other cultural norms sometimes forcibly suppressing the local, indigenous cultural habits and traditions.
Over time the conquered peoples came to accept this “new culture” as their own. Self-hate, a pronounced glorification and marveling of this alien culture, defeatism and contempt for things local defined both the individual and the populace as they actively and deliberately sought to ridicule, deny and belittle their own historical and cultural heritage as irrelevant to that of the newly embraced and transplanted culture seen as superior to that of all other cultures.
Therefore, cultural imperialism can refer to either the forced acculturation of a subject population, or to the voluntary embracing of a foreign culture by individuals who do so of their own free will. For example, Caribbean individual fatalism when it comes to dealing with the United States in the context of cultural imperialism can be summed up by the old Confucian saying that “if rape is inevitable then lie down and enjoy it.” Cowed by the military and economic might of America most Caribbean people believe that even when their countries are right it is futile to argue with America and to subordinate their principles – right or wrong – to the prevailing sentiment that “you can’t win against America.”
Nowadays the tremendous impact of the imposition of cultural imperialistic behavior on the Caribbean by the a conquering America using the tools of unfair and unjust trade practices, lop-sided and one-way commerce, and an inculcated dependent relationship syndrome, is evident in all aspects of Caribbean everyday life. Indeed, without the hot, tropical climate one would quickly conclude that the Caribbean region is an Americanized colonial area.
From the embrace of the worst aspects of American pop culture by Caribbean young people – sagging, below the waist pants, gang-banging, disrespect for women, individualism, rabid consumerism, the bling-bling mentality, and a propensity to violent behavior – to the upsurge of “American diseases” due to the Caribbean’s new love affair with fast and processed foods shipped “back home” by the lucrative “barrel industry,” and the daily dose of vapid, violence-filled cable television programming, the Caribbean identity already corrupted might be permanently lost.
In places like Grenada an entire language, French Patois, was lost because successive governments and an elitist class in society did not see the need to defend and preserve it while acquiescing and know-towing to the dictates of the English colonial powers. Even today many Caribbean island nations have not broken the English yoke. They continue to have the British Queen as the “Head of State,” play the British national anthem at local official functions, and subconsciously still believe that any blond, blue-eyed Englishman is far superior to a local Black leader. You hear it in popular unconscious sayings today about “liking to work for the white man” – a belief that ALL white people are good and decent while ALL Black people are evil scoundrels.
Such self-hate is a by-product of both slavery and cultural imperialism and to the extent that the Caribbean touts its freedom and independence the region’s leaders and its people are yet to make a clean break with those vestiges of the colonial past that imposed an alien, foreign matrix on development. For example, the British Westminister model of parliamentary government that the Caribbean leadership implemented after the independence movement remains today little changed even though many have pointed to its unsuitability for the region, especially the undemocratic and disenfranchising role of first-past-the-pole elections. Most of the region’s constitutions are over 40 years old and have never been revised, changed or amended to suit modern times.
And the struggle for a final Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeals to replace the British Privy Council is also testimony to the strong and enduring grip of cultural imperialism on the region. Today, cultural imperialism has changed its spots and is not imposed over the barrel of a gun. A newly globalized economy of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has facilitated this process through the use of new information technology. This kind of cultural imperialism is derived from what is called "soft power."
This so-called “soft power” fits into Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s notion of “cultural hegemony.” Going a bit further in defining cultural imperialism Gramsci says that a diverse culture can be ruled or dominated by one group or class that everyday practices and shared beliefs provide the foundation for complex systems of domination. Gramsci used this argument to explain why there were no successful revolutions in areas of the world where conditions appeared to be ripe for them to happen. He also used this reasoning to explain how some successful revolutions imploded and how internal conditions facilitated counter-revolutions.