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Carib Identity, Racial Politics, and the Problem of Belonging

The resilience of Carib identity, in places such as Trinidad & Tobago, is something remarkable, not to mention the renewal, resurgence, and social revalidation of this identity. This resilience is remarkable not only when one considers a consistent pattern of European colonial military onslaughts, enslavement, expropriation of lands, and social marginalization, but also the cultural stigma histroically attached to Caribness, such that even surviving Caribs, and persons with indigenous ancestry, often sought refuge in other identities, and some still do. Even if left at this the situation is clearly a historically complex one. What renders matters even more complex is the pattern of racial thinking imposed by European colonizers through all sorts of residential and labour segregations and legislation, that would control and delimit who was deemed to be indigenous. The introduction of foreign labour from Africa, the French Caribbean, and Asia, added to the administration of identities and the “rights” which the colonial administrations would allot to them. Afterward, the rise of nationalism, independence, and the emergence of party politics organized along an ethnic divide between Trinidadians of East Indian and African descent, further cemented racial thinking. Then the recent, positive validation of Carib identity and history by leading elements of the wider society has taken place while leaving unresolved the question of where Caribs fit in within the large scheme of racialized divisions between the country’s two leading groups, East Indians and Africans. Thus “belonging” becomes a problematic issue, and here I will focus on the racialization of Caribness in order to highlight how Caribs “belong” to “the nation,” as well as the problem of who gets to be defined as Carib.

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