Bodden: Thoughts on race in Cayman education

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***Editor’s Note: We are pleased to feature a Viewpoint from Roy Bodden, local historian and former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands. Portions of this Viewpoint appear in our story on racial divisions in Cayman’s school system.***

The Cayman Islands is a colonial society and like all colonial societies social stratification is firstly and foremostly based on that most potent symbol of colonialism: the white or near-white skin.

Most British and formerly British Caribbean societies were pigmentocracies according to Kamau Brathwaite in his work, ‘The Establishment of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820’, and in my publication, ‘The Cayman Islands in Transition: The Politics, History and Sociology of a Changing Society’.

I have also made reference to the racial nuances in Caymanian society in my latest work, ‘From Guard House to the Glass House: One Man’s Journey through the Maze of Caymanian Politics’.

In both works I have argued that race is an important consideration in modern Caymanian society.

As far as education is concerned, racism has, from the inception of formal education in these islands, been a determining criterion on ‘where one goes to school’. The earliest attempts at public education in these islands were made through the Mico Charity, an institution from which I received my first-class post-secondary education, albeit in Jamaica and not in these islands.

The Mico Charity, shortly after the abolition of salvery on Grand Cayman, established two schools on Grand Cayman. The larger was in Bodden Town, the political as well as the slave capital.

The Charity provided a teacher, Malcolm, and at the time of its existence catered to a significant number of students, both white and black. These students were educated together but the white parents soon objected to their children being educated alongside the children of slaves. Malcolm did not entertain their demands for segregation and the result was that the bigoted white parents removed their children from the system.

This resulted in the school continuing with the black children. Regrettably, the inability of the parents to pay the school fees, combined with infestations of mosquitoes and other hardships, led Malcolm to close the school and return from whence he came. Some short while thereafter, the black people realized that education was an important plank in their children’s future and petitioned the Mico Charity for Malcolm’s return. The petition was denied and education fell into the doldrums until much later.

Fast forward to the modern era — the government assumed responsibility for what was known as elementary education. Secondary education at this time became the exclusive domain of the Presbyterian (now United Church) and the Church of God Chapel (Anderson, Indiana). These schools, the Cayman Prep School and Triple C School, respectively, catered for the predominantly white or near-white children of their respective members.

This attendance was bolstered by the token wealthy Caymanians of colour who could afford to pay the required school fees. Access to wealth and improved economic conditions have meant that more Caymanians can now afford to send their children to these private church schools. Economic development however has also meant that the Cayman International School now has the reputation of being that school which now caters to the students of the wealthiest families on island.

Racial polarization in Caymanian society is most obvious in the education system. Those who remain to be convinced of this fact need look no further than the Cayman International School … where the absence of ‘Caymanians of colour’ speaks with an obscene eloquence.

Finally, this situation is definitely a reflection of the larger society. This quite interestingly allows me to segue into this seminal observation, which is the subject of an upcoming publication. That observation is that the Cayman Islands is a ‘Duality’ made up of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. Hence the title of my work, ‘Paradise and the Plantation: An Examination of the Duality which is Caymanian Society’.

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