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.”