Race, ethnicity and class in Caribbean history
Among such accidentally-engendered peoples and artificially-constructed societies as those found in the Caribbean, considerations of race, ethnicity and class are inescapable. They affect, to a greater or lesser degree, every aspect of human relations. Given the essential plurality of the region it could not have been otherwise. That has been the fundamental feature of the region’s history over the past five hundred years. After the original inhabitants had been rapidly decimated by war, epidemic diseases and physical dislocation in the early sixteenth century, a succession of immigrants from Europe, Africa and Asia steadily populated the region. These immigrants — free as well as non-free — created basic ethnic and cultural divisions and differences that would eventually become the hallmark of Caribbean populations. The development of the system of slavery as well as plantation societies, especially after the middle of the seventeenth century, established communities of mutually-reinforcing social cleavages permeated by race, colour, ethnicity and class.1 The cleavages reflected the pragmatic practical sorting out of the interlocking variegated castes who all found themselves thrust together in an entirely unfamiliar situation in which they had to construct eclectically innovative ways of distinguishing themselves and what they perceived as the ‘other’. Eventually the world these immigrants constructed in the Caribbean had no familiar precedents.
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