chapter  19
Race, colour and class in Caribbean society Roy McCree
Pages 7

Historically, in terms of colour, there were three major groups in Caribbean society: white, brown, also called “red” in some islands (initially the product of white-black miscegenation), and black. The importation of large numbers of Indian immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the majority of whom went to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, added to the racial and ethnic complexity of these societies (Brathwaite 1953). This colour distribution also correlated with particular positions in the class structure: whites were generally perched at the apex of the society or upper class, the browns, also called “coloureds,” formed the middle class while blacks, together with Indians, made up the working class or the bottom rung of the society. Consequently, colour became a barometer of class and vice versa as there developed a close overlap between class, race and colour in the society. In this racialized colour hierarchy, whiteness and brownness/fairness of skin were automatically associated with wealth, power, privilege, status and acceptance, while blackness became associated with powerlessness, poverty, hardship, low status and rejection (Braithwaite 1953; Nettleford 1998). This differential valorization based on phenotype has been variously referred to as the “pigmentocracy,” “colourism,” “shade prejudice” (Tate 2007: 301, 302, 318) as well as the colour code. In this Caribbean social context however, the problem was not simply the “colour of class” that DuCille (2001) notes obtains in the USA but your class of colour, be it white, brown, fair or black, which could have determined one’s social status and life chances.