Global capitalism has driven social hierarchy and differences even more pronounced than they were before Jamaica's independence in 1962. As a result, Jamaica's lower classes were having increasing difficulties with meeting basic living needs (Richards). While the colonial discourse changed to a rhetoric of aid after the independence, Jamaica continued to be exploited.
After Clare comes back from her travels, she sees the damage done to Jamaica more clearly:
If you have been for the past two years, then you realize all progress is backward, and the gaps become wider . . . You know then that the rivers run red . . . We do not speak of past here, but present, future. These things are connected . . . Children drink from this water every day. Women wash in it. Men fish from it. Brew coffee . . . Do you have any idea of the power of such things . . . for future generations . . . for the future of your homeland? Do you not realize that this is but one example of contamination from the outside? And you are but one infected nation? . . . And that your leaders invite it? What good is your history to a child with bone cancer . . . polio . . . TB . . . a damaged brain? (195)
While the Jamaican economy enjoyed significant growth after the independence, during the 70s, riots erupted as a result of a slowing economy and dire social differences. The 80s were problematic as well since the local and foreign debt kept accumulating and the IMF was forced to step in:
And shortages - severe. Petrol at ten dollars a gallon - like salt, on the rise. And the dollar falling fast. People said the IMF might repossess the country. It was a time of more hideaways for the rich - the expansion of the sandbox. "Make it your own," the tourist board told the visitors. (187)
However, neocolonialism must be viewed as more economic than political in form (Richmond 91), void of ideological passions as many myths and binary oppositions were dismantled.
The country's inability to "repair" and heal after the decolonization only confirms the Thatcherite's views on the positive aspects of colonization and it should not come as a surprise that minorities are often represented in a "restricted repertoire". A 1988 study of British television confirmed the continuing trend of stereotypical representations of minority ethnic groups which featured trouble maker, entertainer, dependant (Pilkington 183).
Salt, thyme, red beans, bacalao, black-eye peas - all the ingredients of Jamaica were mixed together in this mess (Cliff 25).
5.4Hybridity and Representation
Ethnic identities are acknowledged to be overwhelmingly socially constructed. In contemporary Britain, ethnic identities are increasingly "overlapping, dynamic and fluid" (Pilkington 4). Race and ethnicity can empirically overlap and distinction between them is not sometimes clear-cut. However and more importantly, both are social constructions (ibid., 27). As Bost puts it,
Biracial subjects challenge our definitions of identity even more than do those subjects whose cultural duality is limited to non-biological social customs. Mulattoes do not fit simply into any single identity category. They exist on the cusp of dual belonging or dual alienation: Either they are both white and not-white, or they are neither white nor not-white.
In the West Indies, the West Indian, "however black and dispossessed" never experienced belonging to a minority (Lamming 33). Nevertheless, the society in Jamaica was extremely racialised and hierarchical. On one hand, there is Paul H. living in the hills above Kingston who always has his surroundings “cleaned by darker people” (Cliff 25) and then there is a part of town called Dungle where the urban poor live, where people hunt in trash of big hotels, beg for work or where children do not go to school but dwell in shacks with a zinc roof (33).
Since Clare is light-skinned, she has a privileged position in the Jamaican society. Light skin is a sign in Jamaica and it is interpreted as a chance for better life. Clare calls it being more "presentable" after her classmate in Britain tells her not to take National Front demonstrations personally. Light skin makes her more acceptable in Britain while in Jamaica, it is "significant of origin, expressive of expectation" (120). Signs are not arbitrary and those who share a culture learnt the similar codes, conventions and ideologies (Cohen and Kennedy 234) which is why people in Britain, oblivious to the signification of lighter skin in the West Indies, can hardly interpret the cultural meaning hidden behind it which again links race in connection to class in a fairly straightforward manner. As Clare grew up in Jamaica, she is forced to see herself via different eyes when she goes abroad since skin colour is interpreted differently in the US, Jamaica and Britain.
Thus we can see that race is very much a social construction in Jamaica, Clare is considered 'white' in Jamaica. Judith Raiskin stresses that Jamaica does not entirely interpret race on the basis of biological markers because race in Jamaica is closely connected to class and political choice (qtd. in Toland-Dix). The Jamaican elite lives in houses with iron gates and calls the darker underclass "brute, lazy, idle" (Cliff 119). The light-skinned foundlings in the institution for orphans are ascribed attributes such as "light, quiet, clean" (126) and value judgments arise from these attributes. It is then an eye-opening experience when her family is almost refused in the motel in Georgia, US because 'niggers' cannot stay in a motel because "it ain't legal" (55).
5.4.1Diverse, Hybrid Selves and Diluted Concept of Beauty: Now and Then
In Britain, Clare is forced to deal with stereotypes since people approach her and treat her with certain assumptions. When the landlady asks Clare (117), "Then again, you're not at all like our Jamaicans, are you?", the power of stereotype comes forward since people have preconceived notions of how Jamaicans are or should be. The landlady probably took into account Clare's lighter skin who made her ´more presentable´ to racism-inclined people which would then interpret the sign of lighter skin as a positive aspect in contrast to privilege in the West Indies. In the US, her parents struggle to find decent work since accented speech carried connotations illiteracy (80).
The change in pigmentation hues as a result of increasing diversity is the physical representation of a more profound social change in Britain where diversity is increasingly common and predominantly portrayed as positive in representation. This is an important factor since representation is the sign of power. Representation is also a powerful resource for maintaining, reproducing or recycling stereotypes. The change in representation is essential in looking at social changes in Britain since signs lack innocence and carry "value preferences" (Cohen and Kennedy 234). As Stuart Hall points out in Negotiating Caribbean Identities, questions of identity are questions about representation, about invention of tradition (and not just discovery), about selective memory and silencing (26).
The logic of consumption is based upon manipulation of signs (Baudrillard 114) and looking at changes in representation reveals significant shift. First of all, the representation carries more positive undertones even though it is people of lighter skin rather than 'only' blacks who are pitched for the representation of a certain group and are often dressed according to white norms (Nederveen Pieterse 206). Ali goes further to say that it is "mixedness" which makes a black woman desirable to the white man (160) and in a diverse world, the perception of a slightly homogenized 'global beauty' (even though the term is somehow insufficient) has changed - the mixedness disrupted the "binaried stereotypes" and mixedness makes the black woman "neither too dangerous neither too safe" since "she becomes everywoman" which was personified on a Newsweek cover from 6 November 2003 that featured the headline "Perfect Face" and showed a model of mixed origin who was to personify an epitome of new 'global beauty' (Ali 161) which, looking back into history, shows how such concept is also socially constructed. While the 'Black is Beautiful' gained its place in the mainstream, in order to be accepted (the exotic in the mainstream), "blackness better diluted with whiteness" (Ali 162). Such diluted schema, "as sexist/racist mythology would have it, she is the embodiment of the best of the black female savage tempered by those elements of whiteness that soften this image, giving it an aura of virtue and innocence" (hooks 72).
The same shift in perception of a black man has happened - while the 60s and 70s were rather hostile to a black man in many respects, the 80s and 90s' representation showed a profound change, turning a black man into a highly marketable commodity: "Suddenly everyone wanted to be black . . . " (Stuart 180). Such marketability again relied on myths of the past which was summed up by Dionne Brand: "The Black body is culturally encoded as physical prowess, sexual fantasy, moral transgression, violence, magical musical artistry" (36).
During the seventies, overt discrimination was not uncommon. Clare studied Classics and "people admired her mind and implied her good fortune in escaping the brain damage common to creoles" (Cliff 117). In Britain, Clare puts on a perfect Oxbridge accent but is not afraid to use twang while in Jamaica because the taboo of speaking bad is not pressuring her (121) which was a usual strategy of West Indians. Since speaking ´bad English´ (and this value judgment is constructed on the assumption that flawless RP English is to be regarded as desirable) would reinforce the negative stereotypes ingrained in the British subconscious. Therefore many West Indians would not speak creole in a white person's presence or would deny its knowledge (Hiro 21). In this way, Clare uses situational identity in order to challenge the collective identities thrust upon West Indian immigrants. Thus the stereotypes and assumptions influence how she behaves in certain places with certain people since conforming to expectations and stereotypes positively impacts her social interaction.
5.4.2Imposed Identity and Lighter Skin
Clare was brought up to feel entitled to privilege because her father always proudly claimed white ancestry and was very proud of it. However, accepting that privilege in Jamaica also meant accepting injustice and social exclusion. Later on, Clare rejects this imposed identity and chooses to be black-identified (Toland-Dix). Cliff in her novel skillfully showed the danger of social construction of 'whiteness' because of the arbitrary meaning it acquires differs by geographical location and the interpretation people are led to ascribe it to.
Clare's choice is a result of many identities she has been given by other people. When she is growing up in America, her father, eager in integrate in the US, tells her she is an American (Cliff 102) and advises her to accept this imposed identity via blending, self-effacement and general invisibility (100). When her uncle writes to her, he does not forget to mention her home is England and not Jamaica (110) and that she had a chance to leave Jamaica behind her and "by chance he meant light skin" (110). Her sister explains to her that her mother did not want to take her back to Jamaica from America with her since she thought Clare preferred backra.2 As she points out, she had been taught to call this country ´Mother´ (111) and when she is in Britain, she tries to 'get the country under her skin' – she goes to the National Gallery, Tate Gallery, studies classics, reads works by British scholars or visits museums. Her friends back home share the presupposition that one is supposed to leave the island in order to have a more fulfilling life, in a letter to Clare, one can read: "I am so pleased you left the motherland. I like to think of you in prettier places" (145).
Clare chooses to construct an identity for herself. She defies her father's persuasion that she is white and states that her mother was black and so is she (104). She travels through Europe only to come back to Jamaica after travelling through much of the world: “I returned to this island to mend . . . to bury . . . my mother . . . I returned to this island because there was nowhere else . . . I could live no longer in borrowed countries, on borrowed time” (192-3).
At the end of the book, she reveals the identity she named and constructed for herself, she calls herself Jamaican but at the same time having “African, English and Carib” in her (189) and is ready to engage in a struggle for a political and social change in Jamaica. Identities are multiple and complex and “there are many bits and pieces to her, for she is composed of fragments” (87).
The self-naming process was preceded by a lot of analysis while traveling, growing up, looking for roots and sense of belonging:
. . . except a vague dread that she belongs nowhere. She fills her time. In schools, playgrounds, other people´s beds. In pursuit of knowledge, grubs, and, she thinks, life. Her loss remains hidden . . . She does not speak of it . . . She moves. Emigrated, lone travel, the zoologist would have recorded. Time passes. The longing for tribe surfaces – unmistakable . . . She is white. Black. Female. Lover. Beloved. Daughter. Traveler. Friend. Scholar. Terrorist. Farmer. (91)
Each thing exists in a place. (Aristotle)