by Yao Atunwa
The recent incident in Fort Jeudy, St George of a local businessman allegedly attacked by a caucasian family after their dog was accidentally killed by the said man sparked a major protest by nationals wanting and demanding justice; no doubt in similar fashion (with exception to the looting) as the protests prompted by the other very recent tragic incident, of the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of police in the US.
What did Grenadians — exposed to international news coverage of what can be described as a routine incident of a black man being killed by US police in uniform — take away from such misfortune, and did the mass protests in the US and globally that immediately followed, impacted their own manner of addressing what they interpreted as white privilege or simply white aggression, in the local incident?
If such question should serve as the entry point in which we seek to examine Grenadians’ relationship to whiteness or white privilege (as it is starkly called into question by many at this juncture) and in so seeking the legacy of colonialism and exploitation of people of a darker hue, namely people of African descent, would we arrive at folks wanting or demanding justice for a local man of African descent visibly traumatised by the aggression witnessed at the hands of a caucasian family when they learned the cause of their beloved dog’s death (as it is reported)?
To adequately investigate the legacy of slavery and colonialism and whiteness as it exists in the contemporary, we ought to first exercise our first responsibility in assessing any matter of grave importance, which is to define reality, i.e., racism and thus whiteness (in this case), and to ask ourselves how do they correspond to our economic and political governance. This approach, I trust, will aid in better revealing the context in which attitudes take shape in the first instance, before visuals of what might be transpiring on foreign soil and thus irrespective of the attributes (shared or not shared) that those visuals or news coverage may hold, intrinsically.
I think it is fair to say off the bat that Grenadians automatically or intuitively know that the legacy of colonialism remains in their society in spite the absence of an immediate or formal colonial government, i.e., one that is visibly orchestrated or controlled by white faces, as was the case for most of Grenada’s history, when the brutality of such a system scarred the psyches of the great majority of Grenadians — relentlessly so. Arguably, the dehumanisation would have lessened after chattel slavery would have been abolished in 1834. However, the subsequent generations that experienced the indirect rule of their society by Britain and the continued exploitation of its resources vis-à-vis the monoculture (of producing raw materials for the industrialised nations) and the underdevelopment that that socialisation process/feature left the country in, even after political independence was attained in 1974, were generally impacted by the gross underdevelopment of the country over that period without much open debate by those wielding power.
So, here we are as a nation still faced with mounting socioeconomic challenges in an increasingly precarious and unstable world 46 years after obtaining political independence as a poor country that has not received any compensation for the hundreds of years of servitude and dehumanisation, where our regional leaders are now attempting to command the courage to seek reparations from colonial powers such as Britain and France who by the way would have provided European estate owners compensation after slavery was abolished for their “loss of property and livelihood.” And for the latter, bold direct taxation from its crown jewel in the Caribbean, Haiti, for eons, because the Haitian people won their revolutionary war for independence.
In a sense, we do have a colonial government in Grenada that adheres to a system of stratification, namely capitalism. And that too, the people intuitively know; and from various vantage points, I might add. They know that the legal system upholds laws that are very oppressive, such as the criminalisation of a 4-letter word, or the cultivation and use a plant that is beneficial in so many ways. They know that the government is colonial when it gives major concessions to foreign direct investors at the great expense of citizens; when hoteliers, for instance, can receive 20-plus years in tax holidays and expatriate over 83% of their profits, and workers receive subsistent wages in that industry. When tourists, the great majority of whom are classified as whites from North America and Europe, are enjoying the luxury catered for them in a very economically poor country such as ours, the locals would have witnessed white privilege, though not in a vicious or hostile manner such as the lynching of a black man or woman in a racist society. But it is, in fact, a very violent occurrence nonetheless, when one realises the degree of the exploitation in economic and social terms that is at work.
So, no, Grenada is not a racist society or a society in which white racism as an immediate system is practised in a full-fledged manner, with government creating laws to put one group over another predicated on race, at least not consciously or with such blatant intent. However, if the endpoint to racism (as it exists) is to ensure capitalism remains in place and flourishes, in creating and maintaining an unequal society (wherever it is adhered to) in terms of opportunities and the rights of citizens thus privileging some over others based on race and other markers (class being the most applicable one in a Grenadian context), we ought to ask ourselves, how whiteness continues to reflect privilege in our lives in Grenada itself and in the Diaspora?
While we may not be witnessing racism in the most obvious of forms, the privilege historically and tactically associated with whiteness can certainly manifest in the differential treatment that people of obvious European descent are afforded. And is that reality not evident of a system of racism at work? In other words, does the notion of whiteness, in effect, equates racism at play?
Whiteness and racism have the same DNA; they have the same functionality. They are principal instruments of a meta-system of stratification and dominance, i.e., capitalism. Therefore, racism or whiteness can visit the shores of Grenada or any other Caribbean nation at will, especially when the relationship of these nations with the industrialised nations of North America and Europe is a disadvantageous one, and one that reflects a legacy of servitude (of master and servant). Racism or whiteness dominates geopolitics. It is the reason for America’s hegemonic posture vis-à-vis the Monroe Doctrine, Washington Consensus, or the white man’s burden. However it is termed, the manifestation is one of economic and cultural dominance, in its earnest attempt and history. Hence, the role of a programme such as the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme that has been notorious for ushering greater privatisation and austerity measures that adversely impact very vulnerable populations, or the continued application of policies by the same IMF and World Bank, institutions controlled by the US, in denying small developing states the ability to access concessionary funds, because they are deemed to be middle and high-income nations when the reality is that most of these populations are barely eking out a living in an environment that has been historically deprived development and is prone to severe weather patterns, routinely, which global warming has only exacerbated.
Sometimes the slap in the face can be in the form of a seating Prime Minister of the United Kingdom visiting the Caribbean to spotlight the need for development in the region yet seeking to blunt the advocacy for reparations that is gaining momentum: someone whose own family would have received compensation for their “loss of property and livelihood” from the UK Government and as a result, directly benefited from the wealth slave labour created many times over. Aid to the Caribbean and African nations under a system that unfairly treats people that have been historically targeted by Europeans for theft and overall exploitation does not remove white privilege or the class hierarchy that is promoted by the very economic system that has exploited our ancestors during slavery and colonialism in the Americas and elsewhere; it reinforces the imbalance that exists, for it maintains an asymmetric relationship that propagates not interdependency but dependency by design.
Capitalism represents a white power structure, and it is inherently a system of exploitation of labour and of human lives. Wherever whiteness is categorically afforded privilege, racism is activated or rather is made visible as a system of socioeconomic and cultural dominance. It is like having an insignia on a crest given by the British Monarch to her representatives in the region depicting a supposed white angel with its foot on the neck of what appears to be a black person and those given the object, the various governors-general, are only now realising what it is and represents, allegedly.
My appeal to those who failed to recognise the continued mischief of whiteness and racism in our lives is to be more earnest and honest in assessing where we are as a people; that we are not free until we are free economically as a group and can affirm our identity separate from other groups. Perhaps the cadre of leaders in Grenada and the region will be more proactive in the wake of these events, in eradicating racism and whiteness from our shores, as we seek to liberate ourselves from the shackles of oppression and exploitation, to reclaim our knowledge of self and thus our proper identity. Whiteness was invented for the divisive function that it has always served and will continue to serve. The fortunate thing is that many persons around the world in increasing numbers are beginning to realise this apparent mystery. The great untangling has begun.
A solidarity movement of workers to reclaim their power as the rightful producers of wealth is what needs to follow the current protest movement for justice and equal rights of citizens/human beings. There will be no justice and equal rights or opportunities when workers the world over continue to be exploited by an immoral and undemocratic economic system. It is what ultimately colours our relationships with each other, though it is rarely viewed in that manner.