Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology

By O. Nigel Bolland | Go to book overview

8.

Ethnicity, Pluralism and Politics in Belize

Introduction: Ethinicity and Pluralism

Ethnicity, like "race," class, and gender, is a social construction, a set of ideas or ideology about people's identities and relations. It is an aspect of culture that is created, challenged and redefined by people even while it constrains them. In fact, those ideas that constrain people the most, such as ideas about "race" and gender, are generally those that appear to be "natural" and hence irrevocable. Ideologies about "races," which are conceived in biogenetic terms, are part of a contested social process of identifying "cultures" and drawing boundaries between "ethnic groups." Not only are cultures defined partly in racial terms, therefore, but "racial groups" also claim more or less exclusive ownership of cultures. It follows that if one or more of these groups tries to establish its political dominance in a culturally heterogeneous society, they will engage in an ideological struggle with others over the "national culture." This struggle, which may involve a group claiming historical priority or numerical predominance, is premised on the assumption that "culture" and "race" are inextricably and inevitably linked, and are immutable, rather than socially constructed, variable and historically changing. Whatever form of cultural nationalism emerges from the anti-colonial and post-colonial periods, therefore, is the consequence of the outcome of this cultural and political struggle, the parameters of which are culturally defined and contested in racial, religious, linguistic, class, and gender terms.

Individuals define themselves and their social identities in constrained circumstances and largely in terms which are handed down to them, but individuals also become "tokens" of racial, ethnic, and class types, thus participating in the shaping of group identities and contests for national identity. Who is defined as a "National Hero," and who is an "immigrant"? What meaning is attached to the identity of "Creole" in terms of citizenship in the new nation-state? 1 In what ways is the culture of the nation contested and negotiated around concepts of the "Indigenous," the "Creole," and the "Alien"?

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