Social and Cultural Characteristics

Social and Cultural Characteristics

With the exception of Trinidad, where East Indians and Africans are nearly equal in number, the Caribbean states have predominantly African-derived populations. Race, ethnicity, class, and color, however, do not constitute the mutually reinforcing cleavages found elsewhere. No regional political or social organization is based exclusively on race, class, or color. Overt forms of segregation and discrimination do not exist, and crude political appeals to race and color have not been successful. Nevertheless, color consciousness permeates the societies, and various forms of more subtle social discrimination against non-Christians and East Indians, for example, have persisted.

Despite the common official language, common institutions, and common historical experience, each island and state has a distinct set of characteristics. For example, the local inflection of the English spoken in Jamaica varies significantly from that spoken in Barbados or Trinidad. Literacy rates also vary greatly from between 75 and 80 percent in Jamaica and St. Lucia to almost universal literacy in Trinidad, Barbados, and the Bahamas.

In a region where a constant racial and cultural mixing over centuries have resulted in extreme heterogeneity, any ethnic ideal clashes with the observed reality of everyday life. Nevertheless, ideals exist, often based on European models, and are at variance with the expressed rhetoric of the political majority, which tries to emphasize the African cultural heritage. At all levels of Caribbean societies, tensions exist between centrifugal state policies and ideals on the one hand and individual beliefs, family, and kin on the other. These tensions are exacerbated by the fragile political structures and even more delicate economic foundations on which a viable, cohesive nationalism must be forged among the Commonwealth Caribbean peoples. The most urgent challenges for the new political leaders lie in satisfying the constantly rising expectations amid the reality of constantly shrinking resources.

Perhaps as a result of its heterogeneity, the area is extremely dynamic culturally, producing a veritable explosion of local talent after World War II. Poets and novelists of international renown include Samuel Selvon, V.S. Naipaul, and Earl Lovelace from Trinidad; Derek Walcott from St. Lucia; George Lamming from Barbados; and Mervyn Morris, Vic Reid, John Hearne, Andrew Salkey, and Roger Mais from Jamaica. In painting and sculpture, the late Edna Manley was universally recognized. Commonwealth Caribbean music in the form of the calypso, reggae, ska, and steelband orchestra have captivated listeners around the world. Like the people themselves, art forms in the Caribbean demonstrate an eclectic variety harmoniously combining elements of European, African, Asian, and indigenous American traditions.

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