To say that the United States has great influence in the Caribbean understates American power. It also overlooks how in its own way, the Caribbean is mirroring greatness and the gain that comes with being great. As the 44th American president leaves office, model schools.live looks at Caribbean mirroring. It asks whether a slogan used by the 40th and 42nd presidents, and now promised by the president-elect will reveal the gain available from making America great again.
It is useful, first to note that greatness does not necessarily mean large size. As Great Britain showed in the age of British North America, size may make little difference. The effect, in the eighteenth century was a different direction in mirroring greatness: such was the wealth of islands lying between North and South America that France exchanged Canada for Martinique, while Spain traded Florida for Cuba. The reward, at that time for governors who did well in the New World was promotion from Maryland or Pennsylvania to Barbados or Jamaica.1
It is helpful to remember that greatness extends beyond considerations, not only of size, but of funds. Long after the Caribbean ceased to generate great wealth, it showed resilience in mirroring greatness. During the Second World War, defense requirements meant that every fourth person in Trinidad and Tobago was American. Yet in those circumstances the calypso, “Rum and Coca Cola” not only recorded embedding of the American military in the region. To balance matters, the calypso embedded itself in American entertainment and at the same time, in American case law.
Evidence appeared of a Caribbean that was mirroring greatness by raising standards. For half a century, American athletes dominated the prime global showcase of national pride, the Olympics. Then athletes from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago began “lighting up post-war cinder tracks” in Britain. Athletics changed forever the moment they entered competition, challenging American supremacy as they drove “the closest (100m) finish in Olympic history.” 2 Over a decade later in the 1960s, Britain appointed a Sports Minister.
Within twenty-eight years, Caribbean athletes confirmed their early challenge as Trinidad and Tobago took gold in a star-studded 100m event. Sweeping change followed that success. In the United States, an Amateur Sports Act mandated reorganisation of track and field and other sport.
Naturally, the spirited approach shown mirroring greatness in sport appeared elsewhere, most visibly in entertainment and in the media. Hazel Scott of Trinidad and Tobago starred among the best known entertainers in America during the 1940s. She pioneered as a television presenter in racially divided America as it existed in 1950. Like Scott, Bahamas-born Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte of Jamaican upbringing and descent distinguished themselves in striking down barriers, and being recognized, not narrowly as black, but as being great in their profession.
Caribbean success mirroring greatness was less visible in areas outside entertainment. However, the region was disproportionately represented in professions such, above all, as education. As an interested observer pointed out, it is difficult to find a prestigious university in the United States without at least one faculty member from the Caribbean. Two examples illustrate this education-centred approach to mirroring greatness:
Edward Miles (1939 – 2016) was Warburg Fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs and Senior Fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1973-74. From there, Miles went to the University of Washington’s Institute for Marine Studies (now the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs) in 1974. There, he served as Director from 1982 to 1993, helping push the University of Washington to the front lines of climate-change research.
He studied oceanography, fisheries and the atmosphere, fields in which “he never obtained formal diplomas.” However, his “research gained broad recognition, and in 2003 he became one of the few without a science degree to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.”
As Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professor of Marine Studies and Public Affairs for sixteen years at the University of Washington, Edward Miles lived the approach summarized in his words:
George Phillips is the second example of distinct faculty members from the Caribbean. While others marched for justice in the 1960s, he led a singlehanded struggle to end stigma in psychiatry, an effort that would benefit all Americans. He epitomizes the gain Caribbean mirroring of “greatness” brought to America.
Nothing better mirrors the concern of the incoming administration to make America great again however than Caribbean achievement in athletics. That mirroring adds perspective to the promise of a Great America. For if, as in ancient Greece, athletic achievement is to confirm the benefit of being great, president #45 faces a clear-cut challenge. To prove America can be great again, that country must recapture the iconic 100m sprint from people who, significantly, make no claim to greatness.
1 William Halsey and Emanuel Friedman, Eds. Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 4 (New York: Macmillan Educational Corp., 1980), 594.
2 D. Wallechinsky and J. Loucky, The Complete Book of the Olympics, (New York: Aurum Press, 1996), 9.