I [have] sought to demonstrate that all Caribbean
societies have a dual value orientation which originates in their colonial
history, and which persists in their postcolonial situation. Having been
dominated and indoctrinated by Euro-American culture, the Caribbean has
come to regard this culture, and particularly its values, languages and
institutions, as superior to any values originating in its own societies.
I called this complex of metropolitan values respectability,
a term widely used in this sense throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.
Sociologically, respectability is the dogma or charter that supports and authenticates a class structure, and those who are considered respectable are those who are considered upper or middle class. Where they exist, expatriates are arbiters of respectability, but [usually] the arbiters are natives of the Caribbean. The vast majority of people, however, are not upper class, and are not respectable. This does not mean that the majority live only by negative standards, but rather that there coexists another, indigenous value complex, which --again using a term common in the region-- I have called reputation...
Respectability is defined through the use and perfection of the language and speech of the metropolitan culture --respectable people speak "proper" English.... Although it is not mandatory, for respectability a fair skin and Caucasoid facial features are considered desirable and aesthetically preferable. But where the aspiring respectable person is not so blessed, then he must maintain a standard of dress and of conduct, and a style of life that are identified with the life of white expatriates or with the metropolis. Dress for men includes shoes, a tie and often a suit, while for women neatness and newness are necessary; manners embrace formal table manners, politeness, obedience by children, and a restrained demeanor. Life style is of course founded on wealth, but wealth alone cannot confer respectability. It is the manner in which wealth is displayed in furnishings, housing and appliances.
Life style and manners have a moral side too, and respectability requires public sincerity in worship at a Christian church, properly married spouses living monogamously in a nuclear family household complete with domestic servants, and a publicly firm observance of sexual propriety (chiefly manifest in the strict chaperonage of respectable unmarried young ladies). A higher education opens the way to the attainment of a respectable occupation.... Because this is so, and because in many instances education implies wealth, education in metropolitan values, arts and skills is itself a sign of respectability. Thus it may be argued that the two most important institutions which are themselves bastions of respectability, as well as leading to it, are the church and the school.
Respectability, by definition, is exclusive, for the few. Those few consider themselves superior, but their superiority can be measured only against the apparent inferiority of the majority.... Consequently... there exists an opposing but politically subordinate value complex through which individuals can achieve a measure of existential fulfillment and recognition. This is reputation.
Reputation is autochthonous, springing from the adaptation of people to local conditions. It is also a counter-culture to respectability.... Reputation emphasizes egalitarianism and opposes class hierarchy. It recognizes status differences, but it does not rank one status over another. It regulates social relations by exercizing sanctions intrinsic to the relations themselves.... A man's reputation is rooted in his fathering of children, which is the most important demonstration of his maturity and manhood. It is the honoring of fatherhood by bearing responsibility for it that is the heart of a man's good name. ...[N]umerous other qualities that are prized... whose attainment contributes to reputation. Among these are a readiness to fight in defense of one's honor and a proficiency in the use of language, notably in sweet talk, word games, riddles, storytelling, punning, boasting, insults, curses --generally being verbally fluent. Closely related to these skills are musical ability and knowledge of local lore... and particularly fishing.... Carpentry and mechanical skills... while to be able to tell tales of foreign lands or of long voyages enhances the standing of a man.... In reputation it is learning and wisdom that are valued, whereas respectability recognizes education. A man's reputation rests on the extent of his wisdom, but if he wants to become respectable, he needs a certificate.
A man's reputation is relative to that of his peers, there being no absolute standards or abstract criteria of excellence....
Like respectability, reputation incorporates a system of moral evaluation and judgment. All men's reputations must be earned and bestowed. They are therefore dependent upon recognition. And so we find that of all the moral values upon which social relations depend, that of confidence or trust is perhaps the most important.... One must be able to trust as well as be trusted, and it is this, together with common interest, that structures the peer groups... that are the sociological basis of male social life....
Between reputation and respectability there is a constant struggle in which authority is validated only through reputation, and power granted only through respectability. For example, no official can hope to have his orders or requests properly carried out unless he has some positive reputation among those he is commanding. He does, of course, have the power to enforce his orders, but though respectable, he has no respect.
...[T]he main point to notice here is that reputation and respectability are in a sense dependent on each other: both together make up a single system. The nature of this system is that it is dual and contradictory.... I believe that all colonized peoples have lived to some degree with this burden of ambiguity....
...[W]omen participate most extensively in the value
complex denoted by 'respectability'. Davenport...
says of Jamaican women that they are regarded as the 'carriers of respectability'
which we can now understand as meaning upholders of the legal morality
based on the Church. I... tie this in with the... fact that women, as distinct
from men, are bound in with an active network of kinship relations. Men...
are, in general, marginal to the household and to the family, but women
constantly involve themselves in the norms and expectations that derive
from their activity among a network of relatives, a factor that derives
chiefly from the constancy of the tie between a mother and her children....
Women then always subscribe to a value system based on respectability and only partially... to a value system based on 'reputation'. Men, on the other hand, are completely involved in a value system based on 'reputation' but with age and social maturity, measured by economic security, marriage and so forth, move into a value and status system based upon respectability.
...[M]ales are very mobile, especially during the early years of their lives, but this mobility does not isolate them from meaningful social contexts by which they achieve an identity as persons. The social structure in which they operate is, as it were, carried around with them, for peer groups can be formed wherever and whenever peers gather together.... For females... kinship networks and the household would appear to be the principal social matrices within which they act out their relationships....