How does the growing inequality between and within nations—which is the major global issue of our times—impact the Caribbean region and, in turn, its U.S. neighbor?
This course explores the complex, formative role of the Caribbean in the development of Western colonialism and capitalism and the consequences for the peoples of the region. Four major themes will be examined. First, the importance of the region in the origin and early development of Western imperialism and capitalism: Why did both Western Europe and America begin their imperial and colonial expansion in this region and to what degree did the region’s slave based economies influence the nature and development of Western capitalism? Second, what were the consequences of imperialism for the demographic and socio-cultural fate of indigenous and African populations? Is genocide a proper designation of the fate of exploited peoples of the region up to the end of the period of slavery? Third, we examine the post-colonial consequences of this history for the socio-political, economic and cultural development of the region. What have been the main paths toward sustainable development in the modern Caribbean? Why in spite of its long history of engagement with Western capitalism, has the region largely faltered in its efforts to develop? We examine the different paths to development through five case studies—neo-colonial dependency in Puerto Rico, communist dependency in Cuba, democratic socialism in Jamaica, Barbados’ neo-liberal strategy, and aid-dependency in Haiti. We also study the common problem of migration and transnationalism and the degree to which this process undermines national sovereignty. Fourth, we explore the distinctive features of racial classification and cultural representations in the Caribbean. What do we learn about race as a social construction from the Caribbean experience? How do Caribbean racism and colorism unsettle American notions of race and ethnic identities? Why has globalization not led to cultural homogenization? How do we account for the unusual influence of Caribbean music, especially that of Jamaica, on popular global culture?