Empire’s Crossroads: A History Of The Caribbean From Columbus To The Present Day, by Carrie Gibson
It is worthwhile to beware of books written by people who have axes to grind. And this book is certainly an example of that genre, a work which has a certain anti-white attitude to it that makes it a problematic example of a history about a region that has more than a bit of tension regarding its identity. The author notes within the Caribbean that economic viability has often required the service of white (and brown) people to whites in various fashion, be it as slaves or workers in a plantation, or as tourism workers to privileged white tourists who are fond of traveling to places but who clearly remain outsiders to the places where they go, and the author seems to resent that. The author also notes that in cases where there is a celebration of the identity of the Tainos or Caribs, there is often a desire on the part of people not to define themselves as blacks, with a corresponding degree of hostility to the politics of black nationalism that have been all too common (and all too destructive to the well-being of post-independence Caribbean states). Sadly, the author cannot connect the dots to tie together the wasted potential of Caribbean states with their refusal to come to terms with their petty politics of identity and grievances, a pettiness that the author all too obviously and lamentably shares.
This book is about 350 pages or so and it is divided into fourteen chapters. The author begins with some maps of the West Indies as well as a list of illustrations and an introduction that presents her worldview. After that the author discusses the discovery of the Indies by Europeans during the time of Columbus (1) and the stepping stones the West made towards the Caribbean that set certain patterns into place about how the area would be exploited (2) for profit. After that comes a discussion of the time of piracy and the entrance of the Protestants into the Caribbean (3) and then the planting of sugar (4) and the resulting rise of slavery (5). After that there are chapters about the world wars of the eighteenth century (6), Haiti (7), Cuba and the contradictions of freedom (8), and the global wars and banana wars (9), that were part of the road to independence during the latter half of the 20th century (10). The author discusses the Cold War in the tropics (11), the tensions of island life (12), the problem in trying to balance imports and exports (13), the invention of paradise for tourists (14), and a conclusion, after which there is a timeline, gazetteer, acknowledgements, bibliography, notes, and index.
Even if the author kneecaps the potential insights of this book through her strident and leftist identity politics, this book does at least forcefully present the author’s case to the reader rather than sugarcoating it. Open hostility is better than concealed support, at any rate, and the author leaves the reader–if they are a white of at least a decent income and a proclivity to travel to other areas and enjoy friendly people and sunny places and beautiful islands–in no doubt of her contempt and disapproval. Fortunately, the author’s disapproval doesn’t account for much, and she is an honest enough historian to note the struggles that have been faced and the fact that egalitarian politics have often brought with them widespread misery to the people, and if the author is more in favor of misery for everyone than luxury for some, I am glad to have her disapproval and to match it with my own. The fact that the author can praise Cuba while viewing the United States and European nations with contempt, even as she notes the disastrous flight of people from failed post-independent states trying out socialism demonstrates that she is a person lacking in sound moral and political sense. Sadly, all too many people lacking sense feel that they are qualified to write histories, and that is the case here.