Reviving Political Energy after the Grenada Revolution

Aaron Kamugisha, Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019); 264 pages; ISBN 978-0253036261 (hardback)

• October 2020

Aaron Kamugisha’s Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition asks pointedly, “How could one not argue the case that global neoliberalism since the beginning of the 1980s has severely damaged not just regional economies but imaginations, the very dreams of transformation articulated in the past?” (3). To account for this political morass, Kamugisha theorizes what he terms the “coloniality of citizenship.” He analyzes this as a bundle of powers entrenched in “colonial relation”—a nexus of neocolonial and political discourses that transcends the confines of a distinct colonial polity, forming a protean and ubiquitous power exercised through “elite domination, neoliberalism, and the legacy of colonial authoritarianism” (20). He examines how this “continues to frustrate and deny the aspirations of many Caribbean people” and suggests that exposing how these powers shape citizenship will contribute to the “epistemological uprising” required to achieve “human freedom beyond colonialism” (23).

Chapter 1 of his rewarding monograph discusses the reverberations of the American-led quelling of the Grenada Revolution. The demise of the Revolution, which George Lamming once remarked as having “traumatized the left,” rendered Caribbean radicalism politically breathless (2). Subsequent waves of structural changes instigated by neoliberal globalization further vitiated progressive aspirations. Recent scholarship, however, specifically Shalini Puri’s The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present, counters this residual “angst and sorrow” by articulating the Revolution as “a signal event in our ongoing attempt to craft a Caribbean future beyond our neocolonial present” (3, 4).1 To stir this wearied political will, Kamugisha seeks to revive the “Caribbean radical tradition’s critique of elite domination within the contemporary Caribbean” (23). The Grenada Revolution, then, becomes a beacon of optimism, an unrealized political possibility rather than strictly remembered and understood as a bitter disappointment.

Kamugisha argues trenchantly in chapter 2 that, as the political imagination of the Caribbean Left has ebbed, a relic colonial citizenship (male, heterosexual, conservative, and unmistakably bourgeois) has emerged and now exercises neocolonial power in ways that dictate and revise political and cultural belonging. For example, he cites rigged elections (consider Guyana’s Forbes Burnham administration), graft, and other corruptions that consolidate elite power and produce governments incapable of remedying social ills, such as the staggering rate of suicide in Guyana; he also notes elevated unemployment in Grenada and the ethnic chauvinism that riles border politics across the region. He censoriously scrutinizes the economic ties between the tourist and sex industries, in which the “bodies and dignity of Caribbean people are offered up again for the ‘good’ of the nation and the enjoyment of citizens from metropolitan locations” (59). The summary of these ongoing plights grimly intimates a political future that will grow increasingly estranged from self-determination.

Chapter 3 examines how postcolonial citizenship and discourses of national belonging are challenged by racial theories, particularly creolization, créolité, and creoleness.2 He argues that these frameworks, while admirably supporting visions of unified multicultural citizenship, sustain and rearticulate “new forms of domination over citizens” (96). Discourses of creolization, for instance, generally do little to address the glaring realities of the region’s existing racism and ethnic chauvinism. Kamugisha highlights one particular example from 2013, when the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic instated a deportation policy targeting individuals of Haitian descent, or haitianos.3 In this grave situation, a theory of creolization seems somewhat quixotic and reductive. Another ideological failing of discourses of creolization can be seen in their mobilization to describe the condition and situation of all peoples of the Americas, homogenizing the local cultures and political realities of disparate locations (92). For example, Patrick Chamoiseau once opined that “it is easier to be Antillean or Breton or black in a world that is linked up than it was in the old shackles of nation-states.” Kamugisha retorts that such a viewpoint echoes the “rhetoric of neoliberal globalization.” He reminds readers that global interconnectedness is not summarily advantageous for the world’s poor: “In today’s globalized global economy capital is mobile but labor is not” (88). Postcolonial citizenship must be situated beyond the limiting frameworks of these multicultural discourses.

Chapter 4 studies writings by C. L. R. James, such as Beyond a Boundary and American Civilization, and probes the fraught relationship between the production of postindependence culture and citizenship. Kamugisha considers James’s notion of newness (or what James calls the “idea of what constitutes the new society”) and how the “idea of the new constantly appears, not merely as a rhetorical device, but as an important part of his theorizing about the moment inhabited by both Caribbean and world society” (121, 122; italics in James’s original). Kamugisha concentrates on what James termed the problem of “shallow origins,” or the struggle of the Caribbean individual to emerge from the tangle of existing cultural forms to formulate novel artistic expressions that contribute to building national traditions outside the sphere of Western culture. For example, James celebrates the calypso artist Mighty Sparrow and the cricketer Garfield Sobers. These individuals fashioned a distinct Caribbean variety of music and athleticism, respectively. But Kamugisha is more interested in how these broader West Indian culture-building narratives elide or derogate the contributions of women (136). He considers ways James’s writings reflect on the roles of women in building a new society, such as in his novel Minty Alley, in which poor women exercise agency and “strategize how to survive poverty and prejudice, and construct livable, human communities” (138). In James’s words, “The beginning of a truly satisfactory relationship in personal lives [basic relations between the sexes] must begin with a total reorganization of labor relations in every department of life” (145). Any articulation of citizenship in James’s new society requires unequivocal gender equality.

In chapter 5, Kamugisha gives an incisive reading of Sylvia Wynter’s unpublished manuscript “Black Metamorphosis: New Natives in a New World.” He draws on Wynter’s work because it urgently calls for a new conception of the “human” that lies beyond the dominant episteme of “Western man” (23). Without severing the epistemic sinews of “Western man,” little progress can be gained in articulating citizenship anew—after all, how governments define what Wynter calls “the genre of the human” determines, to a great extent, political intelligibility, or who is and is not a citizen. Kamugisha follows Wynter’s tracings of the epistemic origins of Western rationalism, the colonial project’s construction of “partial humanisms,” and the formation of racial difference in the modern state (186). Importantly, Wynter locates the subversion of coloniality in “the creative self-activity of the African diasporic masses” (187). A truly resonant point of confluence in James’s and Wynter’s work is their quest to stir a “properly socialist desire” (188) that promotes political agency that does not hinge on subordinating “the telos of the human’s full realization of its creative powers” to the “telos of material redemption,” as expressed by traditional Marxism-Leninism (189). Rather than summoning the latter Western ideology to salvage the Caribbean from coloniality, Wynter envisions a convergence of imagination and meaningful labor that situates Caribbean people at the forefront of their political future. Kamugisha, like Wynter, believes that the self-determined creation of culture, anchored in a tradition of radical Caribbean thinking, can “enchant new human forms of life in the Caribbean world” (23). These new human forms will help to usher in freedom beyond coloniality.

Most absorbing is the book’s critical assessment of how certain theories and metanarratives are inadequate to address the current realities of political-cultural discord in the contemporary Caribbean. A future interpretation of Caribbean citizenship—one grounded in economic, political, and cultural sovereignty—requires articulation outside of, indeed beyond, the limiting sphere of nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideology. If the Caribbean intelligentsia can remobilize the region’s fertile traditions of radical thought, if radical thought and everyday politics converge to institute governance that, in Wynter’s words, both expands and protects the “genre of the human,” the Caribbean can emerge as a united community (214). Kamugisha closes with his notion of “a Caribbean sympathy,” or the “route to self-determination we all long for in the region” (23). Perhaps this notion of sympathy might also be thought of as an ethical imperative for artists, leaders, and peoples of the Caribbean to resist political inertia through the transformative energy of the imagination.

 

Sebastian C. Galbo is a PhD student in the English Department at the University at Buffalo. His reviews and articles appear or are forthcoming in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Callaloo, sx salon, Trans Asia Photography Review, and the Journal of West Indian Literature.


1. See Shalini Puri. The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present: Operation Urgent Memory (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

2. Kamugisha’s text also addresses theories of mixed-race identity and hybridity; however, discussion of these nuanced aspects of the work exceeds the scope of this review.

3. See Jonathan M. Katz, “In Exile,” New York Times Magazine, 13 January 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/magazine/haitians-in-exile-in-the-dominican-republic.html.