Public Secrets

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Public Secrets

Race and Colour in Colonial and Independent Jamaica

Postcolonialism Across the Disciplines, 22


October 8th, 2019

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Informed by critical race theory and based on a wide range of sources, including official sources, memoirs, and anthropological studies, this book examines multiple forms of racial discrimination in Jamaica and how they were talked about and experienced from the end of the First World War until the demise of democratic socialism in the 1980s. It also pays attention to practices devoid of racial content but which equally helped to sustain a society stratified by race and colour, such as voting qualifications. Case studies on the labour market, education, the family and legal system, among other areas, demonstrate the extent to which race and colour shaped social relations in the island in the decades preceding and following independence and argue that racial discrimination was a public secret – everybody knew it took place but few dared to openly discuss or criticise it. The book ends with an examination of race and colour in contemporary Jamaica to show that race and colour have lost little of their power since independence and offers some suggestions to overcome the silence on race to facilitate equality of opportunity for all.


‘This is a very important and useful contribution to the literature on race in the Caribbean, through a focus on the questions of color in 20th century Jamaica. There is a layered and subtle approach to thinking through the various ways in which society and economy are shaped in complex and often obfuscated ways by distinctions and discriminations around color.'
Laurent Dubois, Duke University

'This is a significant book on an important and under-researched topic, which has been especially neglected by historians. Altink tackles the ‘public secret’ of race in twentieth-century Jamaica, paying particular attention to ‘shadism’. The book is grounded in a strong grasp of sociological and anthropological theorisations of how race works in societies that disavow its importance.'
Diana Paton, University of Edinburgh

Author Information

Henrice Altink is a Professor of Modern History and Co-Director of the Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre at the University of York.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Illustrations, Figures, Tables, and Maps9
List of Abbreviations13
1. Race at Work35
2. ‘Equality of Opportunity for all Children’80
3. Race in Everyday Life129
4. Commitment to Colour-Blindness174
5. The Silence and Salience of Race223