The Jamaican People 1880-1902: Race, Class and Social Control

The Jamaican People 1880-1902: Race, Class and Social Control

The Jamaican People 1880-1902: Race, Class and Social Control

The Jamaican People 1880-1902: Race, Class and Social Control

Synopsis

This well-written book describes the period in Jamaica's history that follows the abolition of slavery, up to the introduction of universal adult suffrage. The author provides a penetrating analysis of the social, intellectual and political history of this era. He explores thoroughly Crown Colony government, law and order, religious and social structure, labour, health, poor relief, the black middle class and the black intelligentsia in the context of race, class and ethnicity.

Excerpt

The strategy of the white ruling class in Jamaica had always been to maintain their dominion over the black and coloured population. That strategy was partly a response to the turbulence of Jamaican slave society, pockmarked with protest and rebellion. Although white dominion or white hegemony also came to be seen as part of the order of society, it is also clear that the white population of Jamaica viewed the colony before and after the abolition of slavery as volatile, potentially unstable, subject to incendiary and insurrectionary action by ‘combustible’ blacks and coloured. Whatever the disagreements between whites they were all agreed that the maintenance of an ordered society necessitated policies that took into serious consideration the supposed propensity of blacks for violence.

It is clear that coercion was considered to be an important mechanism for the maintenance of white social and political authority; yet within the ranks of white society were those who believed it to be prudent to create a regime which rested not only on force but on consent and on co-optation. The hegemony of the ruling class was then assured by the manipulation of the law, the control or influence upon the political and constitutional order, by the control of land resources, and by the projection of the concept of the indispensability of white leadership for the progress of the colony. In the latter respect, the white leadership was far from reluctant to cite, for black consumption, the Republic of Haiti as an example of black incapacity for self-government.

The minority leadership of Jamaica assumed a cultural chasm between the white and the black. The assumption was to some extent overstated in the sense that the cultural differences between one sector of the population and the other were not quite as deep as the elite leadership believed. The bridges between the ‘Two Jamaicas’, not least the sexual bridges, were numerous. But it is precisely this conception of a chasm that encouraged whites to formulate policies that would have anglicised (the word used was ‘civilised’) the population. They assumed that a well-ordered society was more sure of achievement by fostering common norms than by encouraging diversity. Cultural homogeneity would and could coexist, in any case, with racial heterogeneity and racial hierarchy. Habits of thought that had emerged out of the particular social relations of slavery continued to influence . . .

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