Introducing a Remarkable Caribbean Way to Encounter Racism

Bright colors mixing
© AntonMatveev

Racism is a deeply rooted, powerful mechanism. However, there are ways how we can overcome it. Francio Guadeloupe explores these possibilities and demonstrates how crucial the vision of possible future perspectives is.

Francio Guadeloupe is a researcher and teacher at the University of Amsterdam and former president of the University of Sint Maarten. He is a social and cultural anthropologist who is committed to dismantling and overcoming our thinking in seemingly natural categories such as race, sex and class. In doing so, he frequently uses alternative, creative approaches that inspire and open up new perspectives. For this great work as a social scientist he has recently received an excellency award from the association “Dutch Antillean Network, as part of the Black Achievment Month celebrations”.

What are we talking about?

Writing about racism or “anti-black racism” is not an easy task, which is why we should first clarify what exactly is meant by these terms. Referring to people as “black” is a categorization derived from colonialism. When talking about “black” we refer to a historical operation (political-economic, cultural, and social) of naming a group of people “black”, regardless of their hue. A diversity of people is reduced to an allegedly scientific category of race, which has legitimized treating them in a certain way. Anti-black racism then means discriminating and disenfranchising a person because of the idea of racial differences.

Racism is present in all countries; a legacy of the heyday of formal colonialism. The attempt to look for a way forward should in no way trivialize racist experiences.

Here in this article, however, the spotlight is not on these experiences, but on the questions which arise from them: What makes you optimistic to overcome anti-black racism? What makes you optimistic that one day we will arrive at a time and place where non-racialism is the rule rather than the exception?

Creating “something else”

Francio uses a fairly theoretical approach to answer these questions. If you wish for a different future you must start imagining and conceptualizing it at one point. And thoughts and ideas are pivotal steps in creating alternative, anti-racist futures.

He invites us to question our common sense. We need to keep in mind that all these commonly used categories are socially constructed and historically assembled. Consequently, it must be possible to deconstruct them again and replace them with something else.

To create this “something else”, he suggests a Caribbean perspective. All Caribbean persons regardless of how they look are Creoles. “Creole” originally refers to population groups that emerged from the mixing of people of diverse descent in the colonial period. A typical creole person from the Caribbean has for instance Spanish, French, British, or Dutch ancestry, mixed with African, and often Native American or Asian roots. Just as importantly they only came to be through products from elsewhere (clothing, foods, and other commodities), while they produced for elsewhere (for example the sugar that nourished the workers in industrial England). These peoples brought and later born in a radically transformed Caribbean eventually formed common cultural expressions based on their experience of living together in countries colonized by Western Europe and later the USA.

If this thinking was applied to Europe – since our continent cannot be thought outside of its encounters with the Caribbean and the New World which jumpstarted among other events the reformation, the industrial revolution, and the rise of bourgeois inspired liberal ways – we would conceive of ourselves as “Creole-Europeans”.

Europe from a Caribbean perspective

This would be a Europe that accepts its diversity: Neither blood nor soil are privileged, but it acknowledges that it was formed directly and indirectly by what happened outside of Europe. Everyone is a creole European and Europe is shaped by that creolization. It would be a Europe that recognizes like the Caribbean, Africa and the rest of the world that it is a product of creolization – the unexpected outcome of western imperialism. Looking at the historical emergence of Europe and our current state of affairs, it seems to be logical and obvious to speak of creole Europeanness. However, many are not yet thinking in that way – thus, what makes you optimistic that this is going to change?

Moments matter

One of the things that makes Francio optimistic is the look at the history of anti-racist social movements on the continent and the progress that has already been made. Despite ongoing struggles, the situation has changed positively when compared to, for example, the 1950s. The period when the imperial subjects began to migrate amass to Western Europe.

In addition, many youths have grown accustomed to the multicultural convivialities which is an effect of this new diversity of Western Europe. There are neighbourhoods which are a nurturing ground for the growth of alternative forms of togetherness. Further examples include every other person who works, for example, in the media, in a school or in a bank and who acts every day as an ambassador for a different way of being together. There is a space now for inclusive concepts such as Creole Europeanness to flourish.

This ongoing creolization of Europe might not be sufficiently accentuated as a new consciousness but it is an incontestable fact. It is the beginning of the process in which theoretical ideas and thoughts translate into actions. These ideas and thoughts are born out of the recognition that the rest of the world is in Western Europe, because Western Europe was in the rest of the world.

These moments of loving-kindness matter and should not be overlooked. They encourage Francio to keep up the work, spread the word and further research these issues. 

Francio Guadeloupe
Francio Guadeloupe © Camille Devid

Many of his ideas presented here are merely a tiny excerpt of his extensive work on the subject, which will soon appear in his new book “So how does it feel to be a Black man in the Netherlands: an anthropological account” (Mississippi University Press).

The importance of the vision

In order to overcome a racialized “Us versus Them logic” it is necessary to offer an alternative story. Francio offers and designs such an alternative, more inclusive concept as described above. This concept needs time to gain space and to establish itself, but it is already visible in its beginnings. Thinking possible futures is extremely valuable because if you would like to see change you need to start creating and imagining it for yourself. Ideas and thoughts are part of the further transformation of words into ongoing deeds.

Thanks for reading and thank you, Francio, for sharing your story.

 

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