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Friday, August 12, 2005

Topic for Discussion: What is the West?

As if something so complex could be unraveled in just one blog post!

I didn't want to derail this very entertaining thread on the interplay between reggaeton and dancehall (ok, yes, mostly one-way traffic I know) and the wider influences on Jamaican popular music, but one of the curious things is that, several times, there was talk of Jamaica and 'the West', as if there is an assumption that the two are wholly separate entities.

I find this interesting because this rationale is also usually extended to all of Latin America as well, that it is somehow separate from 'the West' in an intrinsic way (which is somewhat odd considering that, say, Argentina is proportionally much much whiter than the US!)

Now, of course I am not saying that Jamaica, historically and culturally, is not profoundly influenced by the remnants and ghosts of the various African groups brought to the island as slaves. Yeah, the Black Atlantic and all that. It would be completely crazy to ignore the fact of African cultural continuities. Yet it also seems foolish to deny that Jamaica has not also been profoundly influenced by British (and more generally European) cultural, social, political, and economic forms, in all sorts of ways, from big-ticket items like religion and language down to the minutiae of daily life. After all, although the rastas may be the image that comes most to mind among the average white American when contemplating Jamaica, the reality is that the majority of Jamaicans are Christians, quite often of a conservatism and doctrinal strictness that is little different from that practiced by, say, white Evangelicals in suburban Atlanta. Wayne Marshall, who is a dude of dudes, has repeatedly pointed out the impact on Jamaican popular culture of the onlsaught of American popular culture that comes with being so close (geographically, linguistically, and in some ways, culturally) to the United States.

The same can surely be said for Latin America, with the main European influence being Ibero-Catholic as opposed to Anglo-Protestant; but the important point is, these various nations are as much the children of Europe as they are of either Africa or the indigenous Americas, if not more so.

So, then, for discussion purposes, can the various 'Third World' nations of the Carribean and Latin America be considered legitimately part of the West?

What is the West?

Is it just wealthy and prosperous nations? If it is, then what then of the Ireland of forty years ago?

Is it just a polite way of saying 'countries with a white Christian majority'? Then what then of non-white minorities in nations like the United States or Britain? Are they permanently, in a fundamental way, 'non-Western'? Or, for that matter, countries in the Southern Cone of South America, all of which are Catholic majority and are mostly peopled by the descendents of European immigrants? Or, indeed, of Israel, it is a Middle Eastern country, quite clearly, but is it also part of 'the West'? (Well, yeah, imo)

Is it just 'Europe plus the formerly British settler societies'? Why are we squishy about the Spanish (and Portuguese) settler societies being part of 'the West'? Is is just the fact that they are poor and often composed of people who are not-wholly-white (which, in our one-drop obsessed minds, we see as not-white-to-any-degree, ie we'll look at the mestizo and see the Aztec, but rarely the conquistador) or is there something else at work?

So, finally, what is this beast, The West?

|| RPH || 2:18 AM || |