Home Commonwealth Political Insights Barack is back – and here come the Caribbean Americans

Barack is back – and here come the Caribbean Americans

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Socio-Political contributor – Ron Belgrave

To the relief of millions, both in and outside the USA, President Barack Obama gave a sterling performance in the second presidential debate on 16 October. Far from the relatively limp and lacklustre effort he displayed in the first debate, Obama retrieved the energy and swagger demanded by many onlookers and was robust, humorous and courteous in his exchanges with Mitt Romney.

The President looked on confidently as Romney struggled with a number of points (including Libya) and his performance was such a turnaround from the previous encounter that he was then able to draw a line under the first debate and make fun of it. There was delight on the faces of media supporters like Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart who then scored by having President Obama on his Daily Show two days later. Commentators Zerlina Maxwell and Roland S. Martin also gave their own positive analysis of that second debate.

President Obama looks on at challenger Mitt Romney, with renewed confidence

So, now that the President is back in his own race, attention will turn again to some of the mechanics of the presidential election such as early voting (which both Barack and Michelle Obama have been advocating strongly to minimise the potential loss of votes on the day), swing states (where both candidates are spending most of their time) and voter suppression (to be covered in a future article but which is a pernicious and discriminatory activity).

One of the other areas of attention is to look at the groups of voters themselves and one such group is the Caribbean-American community. Some Caribbean-Americans have risen to senior positions in the USA – notably Colin Powell (Jamaica) and Eric Holder (Barbados) achieving Secretary of State and Attorney General respectively – but the notion of a clear Caribbean-American identity remains elusive.

Complete Second Presidential Town Hall Debate 2012: Barack Obama 

However, the first questions must be to ask who are the Caribbean-Americans and how many of them are there?

Estimates of the number of Caribbeans in the USA range from 9 million to 22 million. That number of people will be of interest to the Caribbean itself as, with the total population of the Caribbean islands being around 42 million people (excluding Guyana* and other continental countries), those in the USA therefore number up to half of the population of their “homelands”. So their economic, cultural and political activity within the single most powerful nation on earth could be greatly beneficial to the Caribbean.

However, that number of people will also be of interest within the USA as, with an overall population of 315 million, the Caribbeans represent 7% of the populous. Whilst not a huge proportion, in the current climate of national voting, swing states and narrow polling margins, that 7% could win the election.

So, who are the Caribbean-Americans? The first point to note is that the full 22 million are not necessarily Black and do not all necessarily consider themselves under a broader African-American umbrella. Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico alone account for more than half of the population of the Caribbean and significant proportions of their residents are white. Furthermore, many in those particular countries who are Black have come to categorise themselves as “Hispanic”. Nevertheless, noting the debate about whether Hispanics/Latinos are a racial group, the majority of Caribbeans in the USA would then probably be defined as Black (African-American).

Still, being part of an overall grouping, does not mean that you lose or should not have your own identity and this is what a number of Caribbean- Americans are aiming to make clear. One initiative is the National Caribbean-American Heritage Month (June) which started life in 2005 and seeks to put the Caribbean on the map of the American mind and even to promote cricket (tough in the land of baseball!).

The NCAHM is a great attempt to bring coherence, unity and strength to a group that hails from a variety of different, small countries but hurdles still remain such as the negative perceptions between Caribbean-Americans and other African-Americans (note the reception that Barack Obama got when he first set out on the presidential trail) and the complexities of culture and racial groupings within the Caribbean itself.

But, given the general propensity for Caribbean-Americans to vote Democrat, this demographic is likely to be key in assisting Barack Obama is his quest for a second term.

* note that the “British Caribbean” (including Guyana) has a population of around 7 million.



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