Divide and Conquer: An Ongoing Legacy of Colonialism in the Indo-Caribbean Diaspora
Our community will remain fractured until we learn to embrace the differences between us
Written by Dev Ramsawakh
Sunday March 4, 2023
All photos are courtesy of Shane Ravel.
I first wrote about the colonial tactic of “Divide and Rule” and the ways it was deployed in the Caribbean, specifically in Trinidad and Tobago, in 2017 as part of an assignment for a class taught by Arnold Itwaru on Caribbean Societies. Even then, scholars from communities impacted by colonialism have been writing about this tactic for decades, if not longer; it’s hardly a new concept.
That first essay was a historical review of the political and economic strategies that were used to create a racial divide to keep African and Indian communities distracted by their distrust and displaced anger at each other—simultaneously erasing the Indigenous peoples who originally tended to the land—instead of uniting against their common oppressor. In this essay however, I argue that our Indo-Caribbean diasporic community has unwittingly continued this tradition that keeps us divided from each other.
It was fissures from colonialism that once divided me from my Caribbean heritage and identity.
My family moved to a newly developed suburb minutes away from our old Scarborough home as I began elementary school. The Indo-Caribbean community I saw around me was reduced down to my family who all exhibited what Itwaru might’ve described as an inferiority complex common to Caribbean people. They’d internalized messages of their own intelligence and value, and the colonial associations with wealth, spurning them on a rigged race to success with notions that their liberation would be the result of proving their alignment to Whiteness.
Some of the things that Whiteness required of them, as intergenerational trauma has taught, were to be heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied productive workers. It was our uncolonized cultures’ fluid sexualities and non-binary genders that made us primitive, but it would be our work ethic and disavowal of Black resistance that would civilize us into their ranks.
And as a disabled, closeted queer and (while not having the language for it) trans child, I knew I could never meet those expectations—the blame for which was always deflected back on “the culture back home”, not the oppressive systems that now boasted their progressivism with high school GSAs (Gay Straight Alliances) and corporate Pride floats. So I tried to reject the culture before it could reject me.
It wasn’t until I discovered the sexualities and genders found in Vedic histories that pre-dated colonialism, the Caribbean and Latine roots of ballroom and queer cultures, and the traumas of indentureship and enslavement that conditioned us to believe our worth was directly correlated to labour, that it felt like I could identify with my own cultural heritage without dividing myself.
In doing so, I became connected to queer and disabled Caribbean and racialized communities and was taught the ways that all oppression was just interconnected mechanics of colonialism. In these spaces, not only could I be seen in my entirety, but I began to understand the meaning of collective liberation.
Our colonizing oppressors introduced these divisions into our cultures. If we want to truly support each other as a community, we have to eschew colonial ideas of normalcy and break cycles of intergenerational trauma so that we may actually accept that community as a whole. That is when we’ll see the true power of the Indo-Caribbean diaspora.
About the Author
Dev Ramsawakh is a disabled and non-binary award-winning multidisciplinary storyteller, producer and educator whose practice has been supported by the Ontario Arts Council, Tangled Arts, SKETCH Toronto, and Luminato Festival Toronto. Their work has been published on platforms like Toronto Star, Chatelaine, CBC, and Xtra. You can find Dev on Twitter and TikTok @merkyywaters and on Instagram @merkyy_waters or on their website IndivisibleWriting.com.