Defining Identity • An identity may be defined as the individual characteristics, style or manner that is fundamental to a person and by which that person is recognised. Identity is influenced by personal choice but also by society through existing social and cultural situations.
Factors influencing identity formation in the Caribbean Caribbean people organize themselves around various institutions. These include: • Race and ethnicity – identities may emerge based on particular racial/ethnic characteristics of individuals. These are often powerful identification points which can cut across geographical lines. • Religion – membership in particular religious structures also offers a strong basis for identification.
History – the experience of the Caribbean which includes slavery, indentureship and colonialism provide a united set of shared experiences for a large group of people and can be identified by their current opposition to the forces that shaped their lives. • Politics – many Caribbean people choose to identify themselves based on political allegiances. These are sometimes passed on, often without question from one generation to another.
Geography – this is one of the fundamental identity formation tools for Caribbean people. Many people often choose to define themselves in terms of the territory in which they were born. Even within various territories, one notes smaller divisions based on, for example, location. • Linguistics – the early history of the region reflects inputs of people from different part of the world. This has resulted in a rich cultural mix. A consequence of this is a linguistic tradition of different languages, pidgins and creoles. These cut across racial, political and geographical boundaries and unite many based on an appreciation for common linguistic heritage. (anglophone, francophone and hispanic)
In light of the demographic and cultural diversity of the Caribbean and the range of factors that can impact on identity, it has been argued that there is no such thing as a single ‘Caribbean Identity’. This belief emerges from the reality of the differences that can be identified within the region Girvan (2001) states that it is fashionable to speak of a ‘Caribbean identity’ , but it is more realistic to accept that there are many cultural identities co-existing within a society and more so in the region.
Factors which give rise to the differences • The colonial, cultural heritage of French, Spanish, Dutch and British Caribbean • The physical nature of the archipelago • Insularity and fragmentation • social stratification • Ethnic separatism (pluralism)
Rebuttal It is reasonable to speak of a ‘Caribbean identity’ on the grounds that there are key elements that define such identity. • A common historical legacy of slavery, colonialism and now globalization • A common inheritance of the norms and values of plantation society • A common high regard for cricket • A love for music, art and festival • Similar family norms related to closeness, nurturing, hospitality
Postscript One may find that there are many ‘Caribbean identities’ which are highly defined within the Caribbean, but distinctions blur the further one goes from the Caribbean. Is there any support for the view that a ‘Caribbean identity’ is more evident among Caribbean nationals living abroad than it is among nationals within the region?