THE RACIAL DOUBLE-STANDARD

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Review Comment on New World Quarterly : Guyana Independence Issue (Vol. II No. 3), Barbados Independence Issue (Vol. III Nos. 1, 2)

By now it should be clear that the Caribbean Left does not accept the Puerto Rican pattern of economic development, with its corollary of political dependence on the United States of America. The whole tone of the excellent articles by Best, Millette, De Caires and Fitzpatrick in the Guyana Independence Issue of the New World Quarterly makes this plain. It is important to make just as plain that Puerto Rico with its coloured servants and white masters is a classic statement of racial inferiority and that the Caribbean problem is as much racial as economic. New World has not yet made clear that Puerto Rico is accepted as an economic success only in those quarters where there is a double-standard in the measurement of black and white economic development.

Americans have come to think of blacks as destined to inferiority, and blacks on the whole have accepted this status. Puerto Rico which remains miserably poor in spite of its “great progress” is regarded as a success. Among white Americans, an unemployment rate of between 12 and 15% is not regarded as tolerable, but it is tolerable in Puerto Rico, and has been for the last 20 years. Among white Americans, a per capita income of $900 is ludicrous, but not in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a success. The situation is zany. Puerto Rico is regarded as a success because its per capita income is now about 9 times what it used to be in 1940. What it used to be in 1940 was $100 and this after nearly 50 years as an American colony. The Puerto Rican miracle is heavily dependent on having started at scratch.

Part of the reason why this sort of screwball calculation passes for sober economic judgement is the racial double standard, and these New World Independence issues (Guyana and Barbados) make little sustained attempt to isolate and analyse this element. There seems to be some kind of reluctance to bring it into the open although in our hemisphere racialism slaps us in the face every day. We all know that no black man however ‘cultured’ and rich could expect to become President of the U.S. (This is not of course because Negroes are a minority. Catholics are a minority and Kennedy became President). We also know that if coloured people on the whole suddenly became rich and ‘cultured’ there would be no problem. Hence people say the question is one of economics not colour. But how do blacks as a whole become rich and cultured? Colour, because of historical process, is now identified with inferiority and subordination. Other things like accent, manners and names, are identified with subordination, but these are changeable. Colour isn’t. So purely by this accident and by the tragic rigidity of human psychology, coloured people go on being seen as inferiors and subordinates who are expected to make do with less than white men. And expectation is a crucial factor in any economic calculation.

The racial double-standard is the most intractable problem in our hemisphere, particularly when it isn’t isolated and analysed. Whites have of course exploited whites as nakedly as they exploit blacks, and blacks have exploited blacks and whites – all on a non-colour basis. But every situation generates its own peculiar psychology and the history of past 300 years has ensured that colour inferiority has now become part of human psychology and part of capitalism. Capitalism has existed without racism, but racism is no” a part of its existence. A major part of the economic struggle in the Caribbean will be to free coloured peoples from taking their inferiority as God-given, and venerating the U.S., the god that gave them. This veneration is now going on in Puerto Rico, where the people almost to a man vote against Independence. They like to be in America.