Admittedly, Caribbean and so-called Third World “emerging nations” face a steep, uphill battle against the global dominance of cultural imperialism. But for the Caribbean this battle is compounded and made more acute by its juxtaposition to the United Sates – the bastion of cultural imperialism. This essay in no way seeks to promote an anti-US bias but simply to use it as a reference point and to draw from historical experience. In fact, since the “Age of Discovery” Western imperialism (America and Europe) has had a dramatic, disruptive, transforming impact – both negative and positive – on entire regions and continents.
My argument is not with those parts of cultural imperialism that has helped to improve the quality of life for the region’s inhabitants. But any discussion of imperialism as a global militaristic, hegemonistic and controlling force must start with the undermining of indigenous existing cultures and the forcible replacement of these culture with that of the conquering nation(s). Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the deliberate, pervasive and violent implanting of western culture on Blacks during the era of the African slave trade.
Today, the tools used by cultural imperialism are simply more refined, subtler and more ingenious since the de-colonalization of the world. But it still carries with it the tried and tested techniques of concealed racism, exploitation, and the unraveling of developing societies by both positive and negative technology, social transformnations, market dominance and unjust and unfair terms of trade.
Nowadays the buzz word is “globalization” and unwittingly or consciously CARICOM (Caribbean Community) has embraced this westernized version of modern imperialism. Conditioned by the direct actions on powerful media houses the youth of the region have embraced “all things American and western” while they reject home-grown developments.
The rise of US-style gangs and the accompanying senseless violence in small islands like St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, kidnappers in Trinidad and Tobago, and the “Ginger Crew” gang in Grenada – a wannabe gang of young people aping America’s Crips and Bloods – shows just how negative social influences can be adopted and find their way into the CARICOM mainstream via US Cable TV, Hollywood movies, DVDs and on-line websites.
But all is not doom and gloom. While CARICOM will not be able to totally drive back cultural imperialism’s forward march in the region there are battles that can be won. And there are things that can be done to safeguard and preserve the cultural heritage of the Caribbean. The first thing that has to happen is that CARICOM governments must recognize the scope and enormity of the problem and commit to dealing with it in a comprehensive way. Next, there must be some political, guts if you will, to control – not censure – the flow of certain kinds of negative information to the region.
Of course, this will be a controversial issue, but sometimes there must be undemocratic means employed – for a little while – to preserve democracy and those things like culture that compliment Caribbean democracy. Regional governments must work with local and regional media houses to promote, inform and create national dialogues on pertinent issues in the region beyond vapid news casts, music shows and the like. These alternative counter-balances will go a long way to giving people choices. A deliberate return to mass education of individual islands’ history, growth and development will also help to give the population a renewed sense of pride and help to renew and invigorate an objective sense of nationalism and patriotism.
Politically, CARICOM nations need to tackle head-on the issue of unemployment since that is fueling mass migrations to America, Canada and Europe that also helps to “transplant” aspects of culture that are embraced in the adopted homelands of these immigrants who send them back – music, clothes, money and attitudes – back to the region. There is simply no incentive for our young people to stay home. Governments and local businesses must help create a climate there young people after imbibing a prolonged dose of MTV and BET still don’t think that the grass is greener “over there.”
This calls for objective and constructive dialogue with the youth. By dialogue I mean precisely that – not the “talking down,” adult attitude of “I-know-better-than-you” that turns off today’s young people. It is time that as adults CARICOM’s leadership genuinely LISTEN to the youth and genuinely engage them in the nation-building process.
These are tall orders and difficult to achieve given the financial situation facing governments in the region and the closeness to the American mainland now made all the closer by the Internet. Moreover, in CARICOM nations where agriculture is still a major economic engine young people do not want to “work the land.” I can’t blame them. The labor is unattractive, back-breaking and pays very little. Young people just out of school with 5 and 6 General Certificates of Education (GCE) or High School equivalent passes don’t what to do this kind of work that reminds them of slavery. With jobs hard to find young people become attracted to illegal means to survive.
So that motivating this new generation of youths and young workers is the major task ahead. CARICOM and its governments have paid only lip service to the region’s young people over the years. I stress this because the youths are the future of the region and if they are disconnected, locked out of the political process, have only a cursory knowledge of their history, are seen but not heard, then they will fall victim to and be influenced by the negative forces of cultural imperialism – selfishness, rabid consumerism, self-hatred, unpatriotic, lumpen, backward and ultimately counter-productive.
Next, the region must train its succession leaders. The old colonial thinking that kept information and communications locked in a strong box must go. It is time that CARICOM’s leaders – in business, politics, the arts, sciences and the professions – engage the region’s young people in an open, deliberate, sustained and organized manner instead of the ad hoc, sporadic, disjointed approach that passes for youth policies today. If CARICOM fails to mentor a new generation of leaders than they would have left the region far worse than they met it.
Finally, there needs to be a re-thinking – a revolution in thought – by the region’s present leadership in a way that evaluates what the region has, where it is going, what are the existing external and internal threats to regional development and come up with a comprehensive blue print for the future. Am I talking about regional integration? Heck, yes. Because this illusive ideal is one of the best weapons in the fight against cultural imperialism. If only CARICOM can get its act together.
By coming together CARICOM would achieve what economists call “critical mass” and would command world respect. It is far easier for a country of 300 million people to pick off one by one small needy nations of 1.2 million or 110,000 people. But if these mini-states can come together in an integrated, unified regional configuration then 9 million people speaking with one voice cannot be taken lightly.
With regional integration will come a new respect from the world’s richest nations that are accustomed to doing bilateral agreements with each CARICOM nation using the old tried and tested imperialistic technique of divide and rule. If CARICOM speaks with one voice on a wide of range of matters – without giving up individual nation’s independence and identity – then the world’s powerful will have to take note. CARICOM will be in a far better condition to handle – if not completely beat back – the incursions of cultural imperialism.
The point is that if the Caribbean is to continue to have an identify, preserve those aspects of history that make its people unique and special then the region’s political, civic, business community and the citizenry at large must come together and act - fast. The situation is indeed dire and any delay will be fraught with serious and irreversible consequences. Cultural imperialism is aggressive, manipulative, focused and organized. And it does not wait as it brings a sense of urgency to its processes.
CARICOM had better wake up.