The Caribbean and Britain

The Caribbean is the convenient name for the 40 island nations, including two mainland states, stretching in an arc of nearly 4,000 kilometers from Cuba in the northwest Caribbean Sea to Trinidad and Tobago off the Venezuelan coast. With the exceptions of Haiti, Cuba, and Grenada, the region tends to be reduced by most Europeans and North Americans to an exotic tourist site; the history of brutal force which its natural beauty conceals is ignored. Diverse in language, race, culture, religion, and political organization, these island nations have endured intense colonial rule - political subjugation, expropriation of human labor and natural resources, regulation of cultural and educational formation, replication and imitation of graded social and pigmented hierarchies. Myths and symbols of white superiority and black inferiority reinforced this imperium in church and society well into the late twentieth century.

The November 1971 meeting of the Caribbean Ecumenical Consultation for Development was a first effort to break with the prevailing Eurocentric missiol-ogy. The essays in Troubling of the Waters (Hamid 1973) represent an effort to theologize from this new standpoint. Under the rubric of Caribbean theology, Noel Erskine (1998) and Kortright Davis (1982, 1983, 1990) have advanced the complex question of identity in the region, while Lewin Williams (1994) pressed the question in geopolitical terms. These theologians owe a debt to the pioneering work of Leonard E. Barrett, whose Soul-Force (1974) argued the persistent and pervasive influence of African religio-cultural heritages in the Caribbean diaspora. But, to date, the most trenchant black political theology in the Caribbean has come from Rastafarian musician Bob Marley.

African-descended people have lived in Britain for centuries, but the 500 passengers on the MV Empire Windrush's 1948 voyage from the Caribbean to Tilbury formed the vanguard of a widespread migration from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean which has been dubbed "recolonization" (Phillips, 1998). The Windrush passengers were seeking educational and economic opportunities; however, post-World War Two Britain did not prove immediately hospitable to His Majesty's 'other children,' and bitter conflicts over housing climaxed in the Notting Hill race riot of 1958 (Gilroy 1991). By the 1970s, Caribbean people were an acknowledged part of the British population and began to redefine British identity and develop black British culture. In this endeavor, Jamaican reggae, Rastafarianism, the British black power movement, and African liberation themes fused in black British dread culture which was hospitable to the migrations of black and womanist theologies in the late 1980s. The best-known proponents of black theology in Britain are Robert Beckford, who seeks to formulate a political-cultural theology that is not disengaged from his pentecostal faith (1999), and Joe Aldred, whose work concentrates on pastoral questions.

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