The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Judith M. Brown; Wm. Roger Louis et al. | Go to book overview

26

The British Caribbean from Demobilization to
Constitutional Decolonization

HOWARD JOHNSON

The outbreak of the First World War consolidated the British Caribbean's Imperial connection as the colonies pledged their loyalty, gave material and financial support, and offered their participation in the armed conflict. Yet the course of the war and its aftermath prompted anti-colonial sentiment, a critical reassessment of the class and racial hierarchy associated with colonialism, and early stirrings of nationalism. Post-war demobilization is thus a useful starting-point for an examination of the process of decolonization, though the themes of this chapter also connect with those of colonial rule since the nineteenth century.

The loyalty displayed by West Indian colonists in 1914 was the result of intersecting ideologies of Empire and race which had long been internalized. With the end of slavery in 1833, Queen Victoria was regarded as responsible for slave emancipation and emerged as a symbol of monarchical maternalism. Annual Emancipation Day celebrations provided colonial administrators with an opportunity to encourage loyalty to the Crown, and 'thus the concept of liberation became incongruously annexed to the idea of Empire'. 1 Loyalty to the Empire was also created by the educational system and, after Queen Victoria's death, by Empire Day celebrations which continued the tradition of presenting British monarchs as 'all-knowing and all-caring'. 2 This Imperial ideology was overlaid by beliefs in white racial superiority which had been an integrative force in British Caribbean slave societies. In the late nineteenth century those beliefs, buttressed by pseudo-scientific theories of race, were linked to claims of an Imperial mission to extend freedom and justice to less-advanced areas of the world.

Participation in the First World War by black subjects tested their loyalty to the British Empire and dispelled previously held notions about the benevolence of

____________________
1
On the 1830s, see Vol. III, chap. by Gad Heuman, see also Gordon Rohlehr, Calypso and Society in Pre-Independence Trinidad (Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1990), p. 183.
2
Terence Ranger, 'Making Northern Rhodesia Imperial: Variations on a Royal Theme', African Affairs, LXXIX (1980), p. 350.

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