How the Fear-Based Socialization of Caribbean People Hinders our Capacity for Wealth Creation
The region of the globe referred to as “the Caribbean” comprises of a number of countries who share the colonial experience of being invaded and occupied for hundreds of years by European powers after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. In the subsequent years that immediately followed, the indigenous people of this region were systematically exterminated by the English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese powers whose traumatizing influence can still be felt today.
The CARICOM (Caribbean Community) region is comprised of fifteen full member states, (most of them English-speaking) and five affiliate members, (who are British Overseas Dependent territories). The list of member states can be found here. The population of the CARICOM states alone is estimated at 16.6 million people according to Caribbean Journal. Most of these countries are considered “developing nations” by most measures. Comparatively, most of them are young democracies having achieved independence from colonial rule in recent history.
Given the history of colonial domination and the economic insecurity that often persists as a direct result of this phenomenon, these societies tend to promote greater dependence on preparing graduates of secondary and tertiary institutions to be “work ready” rather than entrepreneurial. Indeed, Jamaica’s national university, (where I used to work for over a decade), prided itself on precisely this notion. However, what we fail to realise is that when we prepare people to be good employees, we fail to prepare them to innovate, take calculated career risks and generate their own employment. This is ironic as according to a UNDP study dated March 2021, approximately 31.9% of the Jamaican population, (the country with the largest number of inhabitants in the English-speaking Caribbean), are self-employed. For comparison, the Statistics Canada website reported that in 2018, 15% of the population in the labour force is self-employed.
What we need to realize is that we inadvertently promote a neo-plantocracy where those who control the factors of production continue to build generational wealth while deciding how much the labour of their employees is worth. There is no way that this system can lead to the possibility for upward social mobility that most of us dream of as it is built to benefit the few at the expense of the many. Essentially, we are under the false impression that we are “free” and “prosperous” simply because we may have a job where someone else signs our paycheck. Damian Marley examined this same point in his song Slave Mill. He says “some of think we’re too big cos the system gives us jobs. Even though it’s just a low paying gig, some of us will boast and brag…”
The reason this stands out in my mind is that I have recently had several conversations with diasporic Caribbean people both personally and professionally regarding their desire to break from their family traditions and expectations and branch out into self-employment instead of job seeking. The amount of pressure that they report experiencing from family members to justify their decisions and the active discouragement they face from doing so has escalated to the point of crippling in some cases. It has made some people worry about whether or not they should even bother to try since their families are making them think they will fail.
This fear-based socialization fails to recognize that the concept of “job security” is outdated and ultimately works against employees. Those who choose a different path are often encouraged to look at all the things that can go wrong and are told that if their venture fails, it means THEY are a failure. There is generally not much discussion about what could go right. How as a society we managed to move from a single outcome of a specific venture to a character assessment is beyond the realm of logic but, this is what fear-based socialization does.
It is the same kind of thinking that does not help people to build upon the assets they actually do acquire. The concept of pulling out one’s equity in property to purchase another property for income is something that the rich have known for years. The middle and working class however, have the false belief that you need to completely pay off for one property before buying another and that at all costs, you should avoid putting your initial property “in jeopardy” of being repossessed if something financially catastrophic happens. The truth is that the likelihood of this happening is a lot lower than we think it is but, that fear-based socialization focuses only on the possibility of disaster rather than the possibility of increased income. Debt, in ALL its forms, is automatically bad with no possible exceptions. This is why there are still people who do not have credit cards and refuse to put their money into the bank even though bank accounts and properly managed credit cards can be fantastic tools of wealth creation.
When I was considering venturing out into private practice as my full-time job at the urging of my business-owning life partner, many people were encouraging but, there were those who tried very hard to “talk sense” into me. In their minds, I should always “have a job” to fall back on. The idea that I would be grossly underselling my skills and facing increasingly unfair demands by an employer never dawned on them. At the time, their words hit hard. They made me doubtful that I should make this major life change until my white, Canadian brother-in-law simply said to me “so what if it fails? Just go work for someone else till you figure out what went wrong and then launch again”. That was a life-changing moment as it completely overturned the idea of a business venture falling through as an identity shaping moment. A cherished white Canadian female friend also reminded me that “we don’t go broke all at once” so my fear of sudden financial ruin is largely unfounded as the capacity for corrective action always exists before the point of disaster. These two statements have lived with me forever. Their words were so impactful that I made the decision to jump with the understanding that I had a far greater chance of succeeding than I did of failing. A year later, I have absolutely no regrets. Instead, I was able to create the employment situation where I am now registered in three different countries, can work remotely from the Caribbean where I thrive during the harsh Canadian winter and, financially I am more stable right now than I ever have been before.
I have been telling a number of my clients from the Caribbean, (most of them black women with intersectional identities), that the fears they are being encouraged to feel are limiting them. I tell them that the system in its current form was never set up for us in the first place and that by refusing to participate in it and trusting ourselves to run our own business is actually a means of resisting the institutional racism that prizes white skin over black skills. I remind them that there have been several times in history when Black people rejected the conventional economy and achieved prosperity to a degree that became threatening to white people. I assure them that it is unlikely that we will have another Tulsa incident so their personal safety is a lot more secure. Most of all, I tell them that their well-intentioned relatives and friends are not supporting them not because they want them to fail, but simply because they lack the capacity to see their visions for themselves.
If we start to approach our lives from a place of enlightened self-interest rather than fear, we can then choose to work for someone else because we want to work with them rather than because we feel we have to. It means not being afraid to advocate for ourselves and negotiate the best deal we can because we know our worth and are no longer willing to accept whatever is handed to us out of “gratitude to have a job”. It also means that if we decide that we have learned enough from working with others that we want to take a leap of faith into self-employment, we can trust our ability to succeed. That is what career freedom can mean.