In my first essay on cultural imperialism I defined this phenomenon and how it is being played out negatively in the Caribbean, especially the English-speaking Caribbean. I argued that this incursion into all aspects of Caribbean life was not new but that new technology and communication systems had radically transformed this process and intensified its onslaught on the Caribbean socio-economic and to a lesser extent, political, landscape.
Now let us look at the impact that this has had on the Caribbean. Economically, the Caribbean is tied to the United States and British (European) industries that account for the majority of imports to the region. It is safe to say that even as CARICOM (Caribbean Community)shouts its independence in 2007 to the world the very things that make the region truly Caribbean are now under siege and independence have thus become a relative term.
The Caribbean region’s most important trading partner is the United States and last year (2006) CARICOM imported US$11 billion in goods, machinery and services. By contrast, the Caribbean could only muster about US $1.5 billion in exports mainly from Trinidad and Tobago’s petroleum exports to the Unites States, and a US$663 million trade increase with the state of Florida.
In fact, a look at the economics of the region helps to reinforce the neo-dependency vehicle that distorts, warps and stultifies the growth of the region “without the historically crude use of guns and threats.” According to the Inter-American Development Dank (IDB) the total of all remittances (money transfers) to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005 was US$55 billion. This money came mainly from the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. And it came in small units of between US$50 and $300.
According to the IDB in 2006 US$8.3 billion dollars (EC$21.995 Billion or J$589.308 billion) ) were remitted DIRECTLY to the English-speaking Caribbean region. The vast majority of the money 73% came from Caribbean immigrants living all across the United States. Here are the statistics in United States dollars:
- Jamaica - $1.9 billion
- Haiti - $1 billion (non-English speaking CARICOM country)
- Cuba - $983 million
- Trinidad & Tobago - $655 million (up from $97 million in 2002)
- Guyana - $466 (up from $270 million in 2005)
- Barbados - $292 million
- Dominica - $181 million
- Grenada - $162 million
- St. Vincent & the Grenadines - $123 million
In the case of Grenada the $162 million represented a whopping 31% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Haiti’s $1 billion 21% of its GDP, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ $123 million 26.4 percent of its GDP. These figures tell the undisputed fact of the pivotal and crucial role that Caribbean nationals living abroad in ALL aspects of the lives of the population back in the region.
Moreover, it helps to demonstrate the degree of dependency that CARICOM governments in the region have on this largely ignored and slighted community.
But coupled with this “hard-cash” remittance is another billion dollar industry that while important from a position of poverty and need has helped to facilitate negative aspects of cultural imperialism in the Caribbean. I refer, of course, to the “barrel industry.” This industry is supported here in the United States by poor, working class immigrants who send food and clothing to loved ones back home in various sizes of barrels. It has spawned a proliferation of shipping companies and helped transfer changes in diet and deepened the dependency on US consumer products.
Aided and abetted by a constant, unrelenting flow of US television commercials, advertising of clothes, foods, underwear, shoes and other consumer products Caribbean nationals have now developed a morbid fixation with things American in the minds of people living in the Caribbean. Things manufactured and made in the region are seen as inferior and at any rate are more expensive than those allegedly “made in America” although most of these foods were manufactured in China, Singapore and Taiwan.
So from food to clothes to the latest movies and digital gadgetry Caribbean people, especially the youths, hunger for American consumer products. These find their way in barrels and on on-line shopping websites. Nowadays, the apparel wear of people in the Caribbean is no different to that of East New York or Harlem. As a matter of fact the youths in the Caribbean now identify more readily with hip-hop and gangsta rap than with indigenous reggae or calypso – so invasive is cultural imperialism.
Because of a pervasive troubling unemployment situation many of the people are turning to different forms of escapism – a byproduct of cultural imperialism. The term escapism is defined as activities that are designed to remove people from the unhappiness – conscious or unconscious – of daily life to the point where they are trying to escape from life itself. Traditionally thought of as extreme escapism is now a fact of everyday life in places where indigenous culture is under attack from outside forces.
In many parts of the Caribbean today households watch an average of 7 hours of television a day that helps to inculcate in their minds a warped view of what life is in the context of their individual circumstances and how much better it is in England or America. Still, anything from sports to fashion to recreational sex can be the tools of escapism. Some, like chronic consumerism, are socially acceptable, while others like drug use and abuse are not. And in the Caribbean region, especially among unemployed and confused young people drug use is now the main vehicle used to escape from reality.
Modern technology has penetrated even to the very backward areas of Caribbean society because of the rapid growth of digital culture in the form of television, films, the Internet and computer games that provide additional conduits for many people – young and old – to escape. Indeed, the hold of escapism over modern day Caribbean society is predicated on the issues of material deprivation, unfulfilled cultural growth and development, and a weak and failed domestic governance in areas of cultural preservation, development and instilling a sense of national pride in things Caribbean.
So that while youths, for example, come together in a concert to listen to some reggae or rock band performing, this collective is not united or all-embracing. Within the gathering are gangs, groups of small loosely defined “friends” – brought together by a common appreciation of the music and/or drugs – and others who simply had nothing better to do. The domestic sex worker phenomenon is now on the rise both because of a social need (unemployment, care of offspring(s)) and rabid consumerism. On the other extreme side of the coin, some youths and adults turn to religion as they seek “salvation from this evil world” preferring to escape to the heavenly bliss that is promised in some holy book or the other.
Ultimately, the means of escapism is not too important. It is the root causes, and an understanding of them, that makes sense in helping to combat escapism. Suffice to know that escapism is normally associated with feelings of powerlessness in a socio-economic context where selfishness rules supreme and national motivation by the bodies politic is based on fear, not togetherness.