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TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES: THE CHANGING FAMILY
RESPONSIBILITIES OF ELDERLY AFRICAN
CARIBBEAN-BORN WOMEN RESIDENT IN BRITAIN
(Accepted 31 May, 1999)
My granny, Oh! a beauty. What can I say? She used
to love me so much, and love all the grandchildren.
She used to be so good. I don’t know ...probably it
was a tradition in their day. Oh, so beautiful! And she
always sing, or read, or tell us Bible stories, and things
like that she used to be so sweet! Oh God! Everybody
say I look like her sometimes. But her hair was like
satin. Like satin. When you plait her hair, it just ﬂicks
up, you know, soft, soft, soft. She, those people would
be Christian in those days.
One of my grandparents lives on Lavender Hill, which
is about half an hour away. That’s my grandmother.
On my dad’s side. And my mum’s mum, she lives in
115 miles or so from here. We normally go there, like,
if there’s anything like weddings and stuff, we just go
there, that’s when I see her. Or sometimes she comes
down here. I see her about every year, maybe twice a
ABSTRACT. This paper explores the role and position of grandmothers in
African-Caribbeanfamilies resident in Britain. The data used for this papercomes
from a sample of 180 life-history interviews collected in 1995–1996 from three
generations of Caribbean-originpeople living in Britain and the Caribbean. Find-
ings from this research suggest that African- Caribbean grandmothers resident
in Britain have come to play a less active role within their immediate family
compared to earlier historical periods. At the same time however, these grand-
mothershave come to take on a more a transnationalemissary role for their family
and kin located throughout North America and Europe. Caribbean-born grand-
mothers appear to be using more “modern” means for fulﬁlling certain traditional
tasks like “child shifting”, “story telling” or acting as a “social safety net”. Using
Social Indicators Research 51: 75–105, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
76 DWAINE PLAZA
their agency African Caribbean-born grandmothers have been able to carve out
new niches for themselves despite changes in family structure brought about by
migration and settlement patterns in Britain.
This paper explores the role and position of grandmothers in
African-Caribbean families resident in Britain. The data used of
this paper comes from life-story interviews collected from three
generations of Caribbean-origin people living in Britain and the
Caribbean. By examining the narratives on the role and status of
grandmothers between the three generations, this paper will show
that grandmothers resident in Britain today have come to play less
of a “social safety net” role for their family. At the same time
however, grandmothers have come to take on a more a transnational
emissary role for their family and kin located throughout North
America, Europe and the Caribbean. By taking on new functions,
British/Caribbean grandmothers are able to continue performing
variations of the traditional practices grandmothers are legend for
doing in the Caribbean.
This paper is based on data collected from an ongoing Economic
and Social Research Council (ESRC) project entitled: Family
Structure and Social Change of Caribbeans in Britain.
project explores the patterns of Caribbean-origin family, kinship,
and households in Britain from the 1950s to the present. The study
compares 60 three generation families originally from Barbados,
Jamaica, and Trinidad in order to investigate: (a) the patterns of
maintenance and/or transformation of established Caribbean living
patterns; (b) the relationship between speciﬁc migration traditions
and processes of household adaptation; (c) the long-term prognosis
for intra-family support; and (d) the extent to which gender and
colour continue to affect family and household patterns of kinship.
While the study did collect statistical data on Caribbeans both in
Britain and abroad, the main methodological tool used to compile
data was the life history approach. From the main sample of
180 life-story interviews, data was selected from ﬁrst, second,
and third generation interviewees on grandmothers for this paper.
The combined stories and personal reﬂections of the three genera-
tions within each family allows us to examine in some depth the
longitudinal changes in the structure of Caribbean families.
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 77
The paper is divided into four parts. The ﬁrst section provides a
review of the sociological and anthropological research on the role
and status of women and grandmothers within Caribbean families.
The second section uses the narratives of the ﬁrst and second
generation interviewees to reﬂect on the role and the status of grand-
mothers in the Caribbean. The third section provides an overview
of the migration process of Caribbeans to Britain and the kinds of
social adjustments that individuals and families endured in moving
to a “modern” society. Finally, the fourth section uses the narratives
of the third generation interviewees to reﬂect on how the adaptation
to a “modern society” has affected the role and status of Caribbean
THE CARIBBEAN FAMILY
Since the period of formal slavery in the Caribbean, African men
and women have been stereotyped by Europeans as irresponsible
“savages” incapable of having monogamous relations or forming
The colonizers’ perception of the lifestyles led by
African slaves rarely took into consideration the harsh and brutal
conditions imposed by the plantation economies or the formal
restrictions placed on men and women by the planters (Patterson,
1967). In some respects the institution of slavery and the exploi-
tation of African labour power was rationalized as a necessary
“civilizing” stage in the evolution of the Black “race”; the ulti-
mate goal, of course was its assimilation to European values and
practices both at the society level, and more speciﬁcally, within the
When slavery was abolished in 1834 the “mother
country” – England wasted little time in dispatching representa-
tives to study and come up with solutions for the “deviant social
problems” they felt existed within African-Caribbean families. The
objective of the “Victorian” inﬂuenced investigators was not to
provide an explanation for how the macro economic structure
affected the micro individual families but, rather, the concern was
more with understanding the Caribbean family structure in a patho-
logical sense. This tradition of regarding Caribbean families as
a “deviant problem” continued until well into the 20th century
78 DWAINE PLAZA
(Moyne Commission Report, 1938; Frazier, 1939; West Indian
Royal Commission, 1945; Herskovits, 1947; Henriques, 1953).
It was not until 1956–1957 that R.T. Smith and Edith Clarke
published the ﬁrst two systematic studies on the Caribbean family
structure. These studies were more reliable because both used
longitudinal census data on household composition comparing
family organization in three selected communities. Both studies
also emphasized the inﬂuence of the current social and economic
conditions on the organization of the household. It is not surprising,
therefore, that both researchers eventually drew similar conclusions
that types of family organization found in the communities studied
are related to the low economic position of males.
Only recently have researchers (Massiah, 1982; Powell, 1982;
Black, 1995; and Barrow, 1996) dropped the social pathological
view of the Caribbean family and the so called “marginalized” status
for men within the family. Contemporary researchers have come to
adopt a more realistic version of the role Caribbean men play in their
Black (1995: p. 51) points out that women do not create or
raise children alone because gender hierarchy and kinship norms in
Caribbean societies value and determine differently what men and
women do including how they raise children.
Researchers are in
unanimous agreement, however, on the importance of the mother’s
role in child socialization when compared to that of the father.
Caribbean women of all ages, public admiration is achieved through
the functions of motherhood. Although a man may take pride in his
children, his reputation seems to depend less on the functions of
fatherhood and more on virility; on the impregnation of women and
the physical reproduction of children (Dann, 1987).
The relationship between a mother and child constitutes the core
of Caribbean family structure. The bonds are close, combining
intense love and affection with some fairly harsh punishments at
times. Mother and child are continually together in companion-
ship and interdependence (Clarke, 1970: p. 158). The relationship
is typically formed on the day the child is born and lasts until the
death of the mother. Within the Caribbean family, a man’s most
intensive and enduring relationship is the one with his mother. It is
a relationship of close emotional and material interdependency, ﬁrst
he on her, then she on him. The relationship survivesand he may live
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 79
at “home” with her until her death, often a devastating period in the
life of the son. The mother-son relationship constitutes the pivot of
Caribbean family structure around which the other family relation-
ships revolve. Clark (1970: p. 163) described the mother-son bond
as “exclusive and often obsessive” and cited cases in which sons
continue to depend on their mothers well beyond adolescence, often
postponing co-residence with a conjugal partner and continuing to
live at home.
By extension, a child’s relationship with their maternal grand-
mother is also very close. When children live with their grand-
mother, they often refer to her as “Mama” whether or not their own
mother is present. She may well function in place of the mother, but
the more usual relationship has been described by R.T. Smith (1956:
p. 144) as follows:
There is a normal grandchild-grandparent relationship which is one of affec-
tionate indulgence, and a kind of equality. A grandmother, in particular, will
often identify herself with her grandchildren and take their part in quarrels
they have with their own mother. It is commonly said that grandparents spoil
their grandchildren, and old men certainly display far greater affection for their
grandchildren than they ever do towards their own children.
Maternal grandmothers are often looked upon to take over
child care responsibilities from their young daughters. One of the
commonest ways this “child shifting”
occurs is when a daughter
beginsto establish a familywhile still resident in her parent(s) home.
If she has to migrate to some other part of the country or internation-
ally in search of work she is often unable to take her child(ren) with
her and leaves them with her mother. A grandmother’s readiness
to assume responsibility for her grandchildren is a central aspect
of this pattern of childbearing in Caribbean society. It is often the
intention that the children should spend only a limited period with
the grandmother, that is, until the mother is satisfactorily settled in
her new community. In most cases, however, the result is that the
child(ren) remain in the grandmother’s home for very long periods
(Roberts and Sinclair, 1978: p. 161).
The active role that grandmothers played in the post-emanci-
pation period (circa 1834) seems to be more of a responsive strategy
to economic circumstances than it is a tradition passed down
from West African family norms and practices. Close family and
80 DWAINE PLAZA
kinship links allowed the ex-slaves and their families in the post-
emancipation period to respond to hardships and day to day crises
of peasant life. Evidence that the grandmothers’ “social safety net”
role is a recent phenomenon comes from Higman’s (1973) work on
slave plantations in Jamaica. Higman found that Jamaican grand-
mother families were virtually unknown on the three properties he
studied. No households could be found which consisted of a woman
and her grandchildren, with the mother of the children living else-
where. In the households containing identiﬁable grandchildren, the
mothers tended to live in the same household. Higman, therefore,
concluded that even in the widest sense the grandmother family
must have been extremely rare in the pre-emancipation period.
Higman’s conclusion leads us to think that grandmother families
in the post-emancipation period were an outcome of a particular
economic circumstance where the population had to contend with
an unstable peasant production, the cycles of a boom bust economy,
and migration. Hence, families needed a “social safety net” in case
the biological mother could not make ends meet on her own. In
Caribbean peasant societies, therefore, grandmothersbecame a solu-
tion to these dilemmas because they tended to be stable and could
be relied upon to “come to the rescue” in times of need. Taking
on this rescue role was easy for grandmothers because it served
to boost their status both in the family and within the community.
Consequently, from the post-emancipation period to the present
grandmothers in the Caribbean continue to play an important role
in their families.
TRADITIONAL GRANDMOTHER ROLES IN THE CARIBBEAN
Having examined in some detail both the direction in which research
on the Caribbean family has progressed and the speciﬁc import-
ance of women and grandmothers in Caribbean based families. We
are now in a better position to use the qualitative interview data
to explore the traditional roles that grandmothers have performed
within their households in the Caribbean, in examining the remin-
iscences of the ﬁrst and second generation it becomes apparent that
there is a continuity among Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Barbadian
interviewees about their grandmothers. Universally, grandmothers
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 81
were remembered for having played an important “safety net role”
for their grandchildren and families. Other roles which these women
were identiﬁed as performing included: being responsible for a
signiﬁcant economic contribution to the household income, being
the household head, maintaining kinship and family ties over time
and space, acting as a midwife, taking over the full responsibility
for grandchildren, caring for the sick, counseling and socializing the
young, and carrying on the oral story telling tradition. All of these
functions were performed by grandmothers in a “totally loving and
selﬂess” manner according to most of the interviewees.
For many of the ﬁrst and second generation informants grand-
mothers were thought of as the main breadwinner and the household
head. For Sheila who grew up in her grandmother’s yard in Christ-
church, Barbados, this was certainly the case. She tells us that
her grandmother’s home formed the nucleus for the entire family’s
activities in Barbados. She says:
Yes. Yes. With my grandmother, it was, you know, my grandmother’s house, an
aunt, cousins, and other relations around, how it was, you know. And, as I said,
my grandmother was very very good to us. I used to class her as like a mother,
you know, cos I think she brought up most of us, and most of her grandchildren.
So my grandmother was the head of our house.
In some families, grandmothers would live in the homes of their
children but they would still remain economically independent. This
was the case in John’s Barbadian household in the 1940s. He recalls
his grandmother Elsie working as a servant at a local plantation in
order to supplement her son’s (his fathers) income. Elsie’s contri-
bution to the family savings was important because ultimately it
allowed John’s father to open up a small village rum shop. John
My grandmother, I mean, she lived in the house for all the years that I’ve known
...although my mother was present, you could still see her as a surrogate mother,
as such, because she was very caring and very religious, and really, you could say,
supplemented, initially, my father’s income. I remember her working as a servant
on the plantation. She had my father, and then his father went off to America, and
she never had another man since. So she spent most of her time in the church and
Other grandmothers were recognised for making an economic
contribution to the family through “working the land”. Beulah’s
82 DWAINE PLAZA
grandmother Hazel maintained a parcel of land on which she grew
cash crops. Hazel’s estate in Trinidad was so successful, she was
able to assist ﬁve of her seven children to emigrate to the United
States and Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. When Hazel’s grand-
children were older she was then able to help each of them by
providing employment. Beulah explains to us:
Well, my grandmother had land, what they call “estate”, with nutmeg, cocoa,
cloves, cinnamon, all those things. She live off of her land. Well, she used to pay
people to bud the trees when the branches dry, and because she had three sons and
four daughters, and they all travel, and there were two at home, but they had to
go to their job, right? And she paid men to do the land, and pruning the trees, and
everything else. When all her grandchildren get big, then we take over the land
and go get the nutmegs, seeds off the ground and so we survived.
Some grandmothers were not active in the labour market and,
therefore, had to rely on their wide network of family, kin and
friends to support them in times of need. This was the situation for
Leroy’s grandmother Clover. Clover was a well-known woman in
the district of Golden Grove, Jamaica because, according to Leroy,
she did “good works for others throughout her lifetime”. From
Clover’s diverse network built up over the years, she was able to
respond to most hardships and crisis. By Leroy’s account Clover
seemed to be one of those individuals in the district who could
always manage for herself and others. Leroy tells us:
Well, I, I lived with my grandmother for 18 months to two years, to be honest
with you, after my mother leave, I was actually staying with my grandmother. By
this time, my grandfather had died, so I’ve got no recollection of him. But my
She’s the same, sameperson really, Mum is a youngerversionof my grandmother.
I mean, very religious, again, you know, very kind. She was also very strict on
discipline, and, you know, she would, she would deﬁnitely make you aware that
things havegot to be done. I mean that sort of thing, you know. She lived to a very
old age, still active, you know ...Well-respectedinthearea.Andagain,shewas
somebody that you know, people would go to for advice and things like that, and
she was always ready to give advice or to share out what little she had.
A common memory among the interviewees was the excitement
their grandmother showed at the birth of a new family member.
Additional grandchildren were never regarded as a liability, rather
new additions to the family were seen as a “precious blessing from
God”. According to Philbert, his grandmother Matilda was “always
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 83
eager to see her new grands”. She made every effort to be present
at each new birth and to act as the midwife although she lived in
Morrant Bay and would have to travel to Kinston where some of her
daughters lived. Philbert describes her as:
My grandmother,my grandmotherwas very religious. Very muchlike my mother.
And again, I can’t remember her working. She was also at home, looking after,
initially, her own children, and subsequently, some of her grandchildren, and so
she was there for us. For instance, when the aunts had a child, she was always in
attendance. Often she went to extremes to be present at those births.
Along with playing an active role in childbirth, grandmothers
also seemed to be ready to take on the full responsibility for raising
grandchildren. This “child shifting” practice came up in a number of
the interviews especially among the second generation who arrived
in Britain as teenagers. These men and women had typically been
left behind in the care of maternal grandmothers while their own
mothers left for England in search of work and a better life. Once
established, the mothers would then send for each of their child(ren)
left behind. In practice, this “shift migration” process sometimes
took many years to complete because economic resources in Britain
were never quite what the migrants had imagined they would be.
Henry’s account of growing up with his grandmother and 27 cousins
in Black River, Jamaica is illustrative of the burdens many grand-
mothers endured while their children were off “trying to make it”
in Britain. Henry’s situation also highlights the incremental nature
through which children were sent for by their migrant mothers in
Britain. He says:
Yeh, she left me with my grandmother, when I was about, I think, a couple of
months, or something like that. When she ﬁrst arrived here, she arrive by herself
sentfor hernextbrother. She sent for about, maybe about ﬁve of them,and theyall
come up here and start their own life over here. All the rest of we stayed with my
grandmother.And growingup in a big family, maybe of about 26, 27. Grannie she
had a lot of responsibility, and she had to really prepare things for us, and make
sure everything was all right. She was very hard- working, a very hard-working
woman. I can remember her very well, and then my mother she sent for each of
she sent for me.
Grandmothers also played an important part in minding the sick
and socializing their grandchildren. These roles were an extension
84 DWAINE PLAZA
of the child caretaker relationship that grandmothers played in their
families. For Lynett who grew up with her grandmother in San Juan,
Trinidad the only way she survived into adulthood was through the
nursing and loving care she received from her grandmother. Lynett
Oh, she was quite a lady. Very careful with me and, she be as to I was her child.
When I was born, and ...how must I put myself? Don’t know anything until I
was sensible enough, to keep calling her “Mummy”, not knowing she was just
my granny, because I didn’t know better, until I grew up, and she start telling me
my mother died when I was small, and she looks after me until she died ...she
loved me a lot. I don’t like talking about it, it kinda hurts. But you ask me the
question, I try to give it to you. I was sickly born. Not premature. I born all right,
insides and everything. But I get no breast feet from my ma, I start getting to be a
sickly child. And she had a lot spend on me, and take me to doctors, and all sorts.
She was very caring.
Lynett’s grandmother was also responsible for her childhood
socialization because her biological mother died soon after giving
birth. In reminiscing about this, Lynett commented that her grand-
mother might have been strict when she was growing up but it was
for her own good. As Lynett points out, the other girls in the village
ended up “falling pregnant at an early age or ﬁnding themselves in
some wicked fate” but because of her grandmother’s guidance and
strictness she was able to avoid any of these pitfalls. In commenting
on her situation, Lynett says:
She used to take me to church with her. If she go on a day of the week when there
is mass in the church, I’m there. When I was a little girl, she teach me a little bit
of everything howto cook,how to look after washing clothes, cleaning the house,
the yard, a little bit of everything ...Ifolloweverythingshesaiddo,Ido.“Don’t
go there”, I don’t, because maybe like there they have bad children, I can’t go
there, I have to stay here. And I don’t regret it right now.
Alongwith teaching grandchildren values, manners, and respons-
ibilities, grandmothers were also remembered for the “quality time”
they spent with grandchildren and the close loving relationship that
they maintained. Giselle’s narrative about her grandmother Emma
in Hanover, Jamaica, highlights the close bond that grandmothers
and grandchildren often shared. Giselle’s family history also illus-
trates the way “child shifting” could be a two way exchange. In this
particular situation, Giselle’s grandmother asked her parents if she
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 85
could adopt and raise her despite the fact that the family was not
facing any ﬁnancial emergency. Giselle explains:
I only knew my mother’s mother. As a kid, I used to visit her. My dad didn’t like
it though. He didn’t want to send me to spend any time with her. I always used to
look forward to her coming, because she used to live in Spanish Town, and I used
to live in Kingston, so she used to come down on a Sunday, you know, at a certain
time, and I always looked forward to my gran, we call her “Granny”, coming
down to see us, you know, and bringing us little goodies. I always remember her,
me, really, and my dad, my dad wouldn’t have anything like that. She wanted to
actually take me, because, you know, in West Indian families, you know, they
rare occasion when I did get to go and stay with her, she always used to feed
me condense milk. I always remember her making me this sweet milk drink, you
know, or using the milk to sweeten the mint tea, and you know, that sort thing
...sheusedtospoilmerotten,really.And,grownupnow,Isuppose I look at it in
a way, yes, she was glad that I’m her granddaughter,but because she didn’treally
give my mum the love she should have given her. I think she was just pouring it
out on me, more than anything else.
Having examined in some detail the qualitative interviews from
the ﬁrst and second generation we can now understand the tradi-
tional roles and the high regard that grandmothers enjoyed within
their households in the Caribbean. In the next section we will
examine the emigration process of Caribbeans to Britain and how
adjustment to a “modern society” affected the traditional living
arrangements and family structures for Caribbean migrants. These
changes are ultimately reﬂected in the variations to the traditional
roles for grandmothers in British/Caribbean households. These
changes in values are clearly reﬂected in the narratives provided by
the third generation who were born in Britain of Caribbean-origin
CARIBBEAN EMIGRATION TO BRITAIN
Caribbean migration to Britain effectively started in 1948, reached
its peak in 1961, and ended by 1973, after which date the annual net
migration balance between the two countries amounted to only a
few thousand people. The pattern of emigration from the Caribbean
to Britain between 1951 and 1962 can be divided into three distinct
86 DWAINE PLAZA
The geographical origins of the Caribbean-born population
1961 1971 1981 1991
Barbados 9273 27055 25247 22294
Jamaica 100410 171775 164119 142483
Guyana 10889 21070 21686 20478
Trinidad n/a 17135 16334 17620
Other Caribbean 53087 67035 67793 61706
Total Caribbean 173659 304070 295179 221821
Source: Owen (1993) Various Census tabulation years.
phases. Intakes between 1952 and 1956 were stimulated by intense
labour shortages due to post- war reconstruction. The boom tapered
off between 1956 and 1960. However, in 1961 intake increased to a
new peak of 66.3 thousand, stimulated primarily by a large inﬂux of
immigrants trying to reach the United Kingdom before the passing
of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act
The early pioneer migrants as we might call them, initially
headed for the urban centres in Britain because these were the places
where factories and jobs could be found (Peach, 1968). It is no
surprise, therefore, that in the present period according to the 1991
Census we tend to ﬁnd the largest concentrations of Caribbean-
born people in Greater London, the West Midlands (Birmingham),
and the industrial cities of Northern England predominately in West
Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. The Caribbean-born population
is almost absent in the more rural regions of England, together with
Scotland and Wales (with the exception of Aberdeen and the cities
of South Wales) (Owen, 1993c).
According to the 1991 Census the Caribbean population in Great
Britain was 633,425
(Owen, 1995). The largest ethnic group
within the Caribbean population are the Jamaicans who make up
64 percent of the total. Those born in Barbadoes and Guyana from
a smaller 10 percent each of the population, while those born in
Trinidad and Tobago are the smallest group eight percent (see
Almost all of the early pioneer migrants originally intended to
go home after ﬁve years but this expectation for most has not mate-
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 87
rialized because resources were never quite sufﬁcient. In most of
the ﬁrst and second generation interviews conducted with migrants
in Britain, individuals revealed an initial resistance to establishing
permanent roots or in admitting that they would be spending longer
than ﬁve years. Dexter a sixty-ﬁve years old Jamaican-born resident
of Birmingham makes this point. He says:
In 1952 we heard that England open up, and people is emigrating, and we heard
there is a lot of money in this country, and everybody want to better them-self
you start spending another ﬁve years again, and then you start sending for your
family. And then you ﬁnd that when you want to go home now, you’vegot to wait
and wait till you’re almost retired before you can say I want to go home, because
you’re going home with nothing, even though you’ve been here all these years
where the money is supposed to be.
The early pioneer migrants typically entered jobs that were
unpleasant, hazardous, and menial. These were the jobs the native
white workers refused to do because of the long hours (night work)
and the low pay. This trend of occupying the lowest paying jobs
continued over time and is reﬂected in the 1991 Household Sample
of AnonymisedRecords. From TableII itis apparent that Caribbean-
born workers are over represented in the unskilled (9 percent) and
part skilled (20 percent) occupations compared with white workers
(4.8 percent) and (15 percent). White workers are signiﬁcantly
better represented at the upper end of the occupational ladder in
the professional (6 percent) and in management occupations (30
One of the realities that all three generations of Caribbean-
origin people have had to deal with is the overt discrimination and
racism they encounter in their workplace and day to day activities
in Britain. Although Caribbeans had come from societies where
distinctions of social behaviour, speech, and education played an
important part in determining treatment; in Britain none of these
ﬁne distinctions were of much signiﬁcance in relation to the more
dominant issue of race and ethnicity. Learning to deal with the
colour and race issue was difﬁcult for some because it went against
theirconstructed notion about Britain as the “mother country” where
all of her subjects are supposed to be equal and united under the
Union Jack. Opportunities for mobility were supposed to be avail-
88 DWAINE PLAZA
Occupation proﬁle of Caribbeans compared to the white, and
other ethnic populations
Caribbean White Other
Population Population Ethnic
Professional 2.8 6.3 102.
Manag/Tech 20.3 29.9 26.2
Skilled Non-manual 18.5 13.0 14.0
Skilled Manual 24.8 29.0 23.6
Part Skilled 20.3 15.0 18.4
Unskilled 9.0 4.8 4.4
4.5 1.9 3.3
Sample Size 1,332 122,935 4,162
Source: 1991 Census of Population 1% Household Sample of
able to everyone so long as he/she was willing to endure sacriﬁce
and work hard. The reality of the situation, however, is that a “colour
bar” exists in Britain and it continues to be directed at those who are
a dark skin colour.
Although many of the early migrants were qualiﬁed in certain
skilled trades, most were systemically blocked from positions
commensurate with their qualiﬁcations because they were assumed
to not have the mental capability or initiative to do supervisory
tasks. These beliefs were based on racist assumptions about Blacks
being inferior to Whites. Horace, a sixty-two years old Jamaican-
born resident of Birmingham, makes the point that life was not easy
for individuals working in the early days in Britain. He says:
When we came here ﬁrst, you could never get a good job ...wecouldneverget,
like to use any of the new machines that came on the project, the new machines
always went to the White fella’s and then whenever they get something new then
we get what old that’s coming down. Things only start to change a little bit when
time you start to see coloured get the machine work, and they start to get things
like crane driving, machining, driving in the yard, and some get to do ofﬁce work
...beforethatearlyperiodthough, the only thing available for a Black man was
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 89
One of the effects of the long-term exposure to racism is that
Caribbeans have come to regard themselves as outsiders from
British society. From the interviews it seems that Caribbean males
in particular have a different experience with respect to the racism
they are exposed to compared to their female counterparts. The
women interviewed in the study did not seem to experience the
same physically hostile acts or the taunting by Whites because of
their “race” because as Raymond, a 55 years old Trinidad-born
resident of London, explained: “White men did not see our women
as a threat in the same way as he saw us ...our women were their
nurses and helpers ...we Black men however,threatened his jobs
and more importantly we threatened to take away and spoil his
women”. Feeling marginalized in British society was a common
theme repeated in many of the interviews with Caribbean-origin
men. Raymond’s narrative captured the feelings that some of the
male informants had about Britain and how they saw themselves
ﬁtting in. He says:
I’ll be frank with you, I don’t feel comfortable in this country, I still do not feel
relaxedamongWhitepeople...Idon’t see myself as British, no. I have a British
passport...and my body is here, but I am still in the Caribbean. I’m very very
Caribbean, whereas Gail my wife is, more or less British. She likes here and all
this sort of thing. But I don’t see myself as British. If people ask me where I’m
ISSUES OF ADAPTATION FOR CARIBBEAN FAMILIES IN BRITAIN
Shift work over the years in Britain has been a major adjustment
for Caribbean migrants. The constraints of both men and women
having to work odd hours has put added pressure on the family and
caused many domestic break-ups. Having to work alternative shifts
in order to manage child care duties meant that many couples went
for weeks without seeing one another or having time to “just share a
little intimacy”. In most Caribbean families in Britain it seems that
the women continue to be responsible for the triple duty of working
full-time, maintaining the primary responsibility for the care and
welfare of the children, and being a full-time supportive wife. Men,
on the other hand, are often burdened with having to hold down
90 DWAINE PLAZA
Marital status of Caribbean migrants over 60 years old
Male Female Total
Single 11.7 12.3 218
Married 59.8 47.7 989
Remarried 10.4 4.3 139
Divorced 12.1 19.9 286
Widowed 5.9 15.8 191
Source: 1991 Census of Population 1% Household Sample
of Anonymised Records.
more than one job in order to meet household debts. The effect of
these economic and social pressures are reﬂected in Table III. From
the table we can see that those Caribbean pioneer migrants who are
now over 60 have a high rate of divorce. This trend is especially
evident for Caribbean women over 60 years old who have a (20
percent) divorcerate compared to the overall average of (13 percent)
for British-born women of the same age.
For many of the migrants, the problems of living on low wages
was compounded by the need to return remittances to their family
back home. Savings, at least in the early years, were difﬁcultto come
by. Similarly, the post-war shortage in housing, particularly in the
inner-city areas in which most migrants settled, was aggravated by
the racism of many landlords. Simply, Caribbean migrants found
accommodation at a premium and were initially forced to live in
overcrowded conditions for which they often paid extravagant rent.
Roland a 55 years old Trinidadian-born resident in South London,
reminisces about these conditions. He says:
Well when we came here ﬁrst, the White people got a lot of place to put up people
if they do want to. I go to a few homes, and they always point me to where the
Black live. Always. They always says, “You’re people over there”, but they do it
in such a special way that you think they didn’t have the place, do you know what
I mean? That’s why you ﬁnd so much coloured in one house, you see. I know a
get a room so much, you’ve got to share your room. Well, the ﬁrst place that I
start, that was a Jamaican house, and it was ...Threebedsinthatoneroom.Well,
those people who was on nights from St. Elizabeth, they’re all one people. When
they come from work in the morning, their mate’s ready to go to work, so they go
in the same bed. And that’s around the clock. Shift was in that room.
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 91
Housing tenure by ethnic group in Britain
Owner Private Housing Public Sample
occupant rental ass. rental size
Caribbean population 48.1 5.6 9.7 35.7 216.5
White population 66.6 7.0 3.0 21.4 21,026.6
South Asian population 77.1 7.6 2.5 11.1 357.2
Chinese population 56.1 19.9 4.9 15.9 185.5
Source: 1991 Census Local Base Statistics (ESRC purchase) in Owen (1993a).
A further consequence of the labour proﬁle and resistance to
establishing ﬁxed roots in Britain by Carbbeans was that many
families could not enter, or entered late, into the housing market.
As a result, for Caribbeans as a whole, a relatively small proportion
own their houses, and a relatively large proportion live in public
housing (Owen, 1993a). Table IV provides evidence of the low rate
of home ownership among Caribbeans. Only (48 percent) of Carib-
beans compared to the White group (67 percent), the East Indian
group (77 percent), or the Chinese group (56 percent) own their
homes. The majority (52 percent) of Caribbeans are still renting
their homes from the state or other private landlord arrangement.
Although many Caribbeans are clustered in particular city areas,
the structure of urban living in Britain tends to be predicated
on discrete and single units of housing. This “British” norm in
settlement has mitigated against more collective or communitarian
patterns of family and household living arrangements that most
Caribbeans were accustomed to from back home. Notwithstanding
the fact that the early pioneers lived in multi-occupied dwellings,
this was inappropriate for families. At the same time, the kin
and friendship networks which were an essential ingredient of the
migration and settlement process, could not be sustained over time
as Caribbeans moved into improved accommodations. There was
necessarily a dispersal of kin and other networks over city and
even regional areas which, in the long term may have mitigated
against the formation or continuation of close kinship patterns. Such
patterns were based on locality and geographic proximity common
92 DWAINE PLAZA
in the childhood recollections of the ﬁrst and second generation
informants from this sample.
A common feature reported by our informants related to the
atomization of the family unit. This is partly the result of the struc-
tural problems, cited above, in replicating the proximity of family
networks.It is also partly the result of a generation change. However
strong the family values, children of Caribbean-born migrants have
necessarily been inﬂuenced by British as well as Caribbean values.
This sense of isolation from the family takes two forms. In the ﬁrst
instance, the men and women from this sample felt acutely that their
role as grandparents had been displaced within Britain. The grand-
children living in Britain also seemed to express less importance for
the role of grandparents in the British/Caribbean family.
While many third-generation children were growing up, their
own grandmothers were still in the Caribbean, as a consequence
they were not socialised (except at long distance) into recog-
nising the centrality of the role of grandmothers in the rearing of
children. The pioneer elderly migrants in this sample are essen-
tially the ﬁrst-generation of Caribbean-born grandmothers living in
Britain. Although they can fondly recall their grandmothers, this
recollection is often denied to their grandchildren because of the
settlement patterns and acculturation to British norms and values.
This has resulted in the role of grandmothers being made somewhat
redundant. In Britain relatives live considerable distances apart and
the opportunities for getting together are limited by the pressures
of a “modern” lifestyle. In contrast in the Caribbean, individuals
recalled living on family land and being close enough to extended
kin that they could walk “in and out of each others houses”. For
children born in Britain during the 1960s or 70s many were raised
without ever really knowing their grandmothers. Information about
family history, cultural reference points, and aspects of the families
oral culture were for many children of this generation dependent on
the willingness of the migrant generation to share their expenses.
Becoming accustomed to the British norms and values it is little
surprise therefore, that when the third generation began to have their
own children in the 1980s and 90s most did not see the importance
of grandmothers or grandfathers in the socialization and care of chil-
dren. The British society that they had been socialised in relegated
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 93
grandmothers and grandfathers as peripheral members of the family.
The state also has taken on the role as the surrogate grandmother
for both British citizens and Caribbean migrants. The “social safety
net” built by the state tends to replicate many of the same roles
that grandmothers once fulﬁlled in the Caribbean. Acculturation of
Caribbeans over the years to British expectations for state inter-
vention has meant that many of the third generation, but to some
degree as well, the second generation, have come to accept that
grandmothers are no longer needed to engage in such Caribbean
practices like “child shifting”. In a “modern” society like Britain
these functions have become more or less become the responsibility
of a particular government agency.
Having examined the migration process to Britain and how
adjustment to a “modern” society has affected the living arrange-
ments and family structures for Caribbean immigrants. We are now
in a better position to use the qualitative interview data provided by
the third generation to explore the roles that grandmothers perform
within their British/Caribean families. In examining the reminis-
cences of the third generation it becomes apparent that there is some
continuity in the roles that Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Barbadian
origin grandmothers play. Migrant grandmothers in Britain have,
however, taken on new roles or perform variations of the traditional
roles that were discussed in the ﬁrst section of this paper.
VARIATIONS ON THE TRADITIONAL GRANDMOTHER ROLES IN
There seems to be strong evidence from our research to make the
claim that there has been an enculturation to certain “British” norms
and values for the third generation of Caribbeans. Evidence of
this change comes from the fact that few of the third generation
could recall their own grandmothers as signiﬁcant role models or
socializing agents. Individuals did, however, recognize that their
grandmothers spent time with them, although this was often medi-
ated by “modern” devices like the television set. Arlene’s narrative
about her Trinidad-born grandmotherwho livedin South London for
thirty years makes the point that the traditional story telling roles has
continued but in a modern form. She says:
94 DWAINE PLAZA
My grandmotherwas lovely. She was so funny. She’s gonenow, she died a couple
of years ago. But she was always one for telling stories! (LAUGHS) She always,
liked telling me what my dad used to get up to when he was small, and ...heused
to make her run around all over the place and things ...Ijustalways remember
her for sitting at the table and just telling me loads of stories, really. And she just
usedtogetsoinvolvedwiththingslike...Idon’t know, for example, like things
on the telly, like soaps, it could be any soaps, or it could be the football, and she
used to jump around in her chair and, you know, “Get him!” “Get him!” She used
to be so involved in everything. She was so funny! She was really sweet.
The practice of “child shifting” has also come to take on a new
construct in Britain. Grandmothers are no longer relied upon to take
over the long-term responsibilities of child care for their grand-
children. Grandmothers do, however, still provide short-term care
when needed. Regular short-term care is more likely to occur when
the grandmotherlivesin close proximityto her family. In a fewcases
from our sample we learned of situations where grandchildren were
living full time with grandmothers. These living arrangement were
“modern” in the sense that both parties shared equally in paying
the bills. Clifford, a twenty year old Jamaican-origin man living in
South London describes his situation as an ideal one because both
he and his grandmother, maintain “separate lives”. In 1992 Clifford
had a serious quarrel with his parents and, as a result he decided to
leave their home and live with his grandmother Beverly. Originally
Clifford was only leaving to “cool out”, but since Beverly was so
easy to live with, he decided to remain. The two of them now share
a large four bedroom house. Clifford describes his situation as:
was on her own, she’d got a four-bedroomed house on her own, so it was no big
problem. It’s just like my house, and you know, I have to do my own shopping,
my own cooking, pay the rent, the bills, so I’m living there, really, as I’m living
on my own, like, but my grandmother’s there when she comes in from work. She
works as a nurse/help with old people, so she’s rarely, if she is home, it’s only
during the night, because she’ll be up in the morning to go to work. So weekends
are mine, every weekend, and during the week she’s there. On a Thursday, she’s
home all day, but until the night, she’ll go to work. I only see her now and again
when she’s in from work.
In Britain, grandmothers do continue the tradition of visiting their
grandchildren on a regular basis. The frequency of these visits not
surprisingly depends on the proximity of the family to the grand-
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 95
mother or whether the grandmother is still a full-time worker. In
Britain Sundays tend to be the day when Caribbean families and
their extended kin meet to share a meal. The designation of Sunday
as the day of meeting is signiﬁcant because this is a family tradition
transplanted from the Caribbean where the day is recognized as a
Holy day of rest and togetherness. Suzanne, a twenty-two year old
Jamaican-origin woman living in Birmingham, makes the point that
Sunday was the day she was most likely to meet up with her grand-
mother. Her narrative also highlights the fact that regular family
get togethers were important for Caribbean migrants as a way for
maintaining family cohesion. She says:
Not near, but ...I have my grandmother,my grandmother,my dad’s mum, she
lived down the road. Not near, but every weekend we’d go to somebody’s house,
like, like ...we still do it now, we take it in turns, sort of thing, we’ll go to
somebody’s house. Not so much my mum’s side, but my dad’s side. We still do
it now, like one week we’ll go to one aunt’s house, next time another auntie, and
then my uncle’s house, and then they’ll come to my dad’s house and we’ll all go
to his house. So I remember, always remember that, every weekend we’d be down
to somebody’s house for dinner, or whatever, just like for dinner, after dinner just
sit down and play with my cousins, or something like that.
Some third-generation informants were not quite as lucky as
Suzanne, in terms of havinga grandmother who livedin Britain. The
vast geographical distance between the Caribbean and Britain and
the expense of travel meant that for some individuals, they would
never have the opportunity to meet their grandmothers in person.
Telephone calls or pictures were commonly reported as the only
contact. Cheri, a seventeen year old Barbadian-origin woman living
in Brixton, recalls that she could only construct an image of her
grandmother’s character based on an old photograph and from what
she had heard through stories told by her father and other relatives
who lived in Britain. Cheri recalls:
Well, I’ve never spoken to her, but I’ve seen a picture. She’s not that tall, she’s
about, I don’t know, about 5
. She has very very long hair, or she had, sorry,
very long hair, about down to her knee, it was very thick, like rope, as my dad
always says. “Very thick, like rope”. And she seems very sweet, and it would
have been very nice to get to know her, but, sadly, I didn’t.
For other third-generation informants, spending time with their
grandmothers was restricted to return visits back to the Caribbean.
96 DWAINE PLAZA
Since most Caribbean immigrant families were never ﬁnancially
well endowed this meant that making return visits to the Caribbean
was a rare occasion. The long periods in between each visit meant
that the grandchildren matured and developed their own character
while grandmothers aged in the “home” country. For Denise, a
twenty-ﬁve year old Trinidad-origin woman livingin South London,
her return visits were important because she was able to satisfy a
“missing part” of her desire to understand her roots. The Short dura-
tion of each return visit meant, however, that she really did not know
either her grandmother or grandfather very well. What personal
information she did now know about them came ﬁltered via what
her own mother told her. By the time Denise was old enough to ask
serious questions about the family history both of her grandparents
had passed away. She says:
Imet hera few times, yes, but ...I didn’t really knowher.None of mygrand-
parents I don’t really know, unfortunately, which I think is really sad. I mean, it’s
too late now, they’re both dead. I think it’s one of the sad things about West Indian
parents, or West Indians coming to Britain, because I’ve never really known my
grandparents, not on a daily basis, you know, I’ve never really known that. It’s
been sort of a holiday, and that’s it. I couldstill count on one hand, if you see what
I mean. I went when I was a baby, I was about a year old, but I don’t remember
that. And the next time when we were going, I was 10. And the next time I was
a couple of weeks sort of thing.
Coral a twenty-eight year old Trinidad-origin women living in
London, had a very similar experience in terms of her family visits
to the Caribbean. In Coral’s case, however, her Caribbean-based
grandmother did visit London on a number of occasions, but again,
the amount of time that she actually spent with each of her British
grandchildren was minimal. Coral felt that the lag between each
visit contributed to the poor relationship she had with her grand-
mother. Coral also believes that her grandmother gave her Trinidad
based cousins preferential treatment because they lived nearer and,
therefore, could spend more time with her. She tells us:
All I know about her, she died last year, sorry, she died this year, in May. I met
in...Imusthavebeenabout 10 or 11, when she came to stay with us, she came
for six weeks and she stayed for six months! And she was a lot younger then, and,
Imean,shewasavery...playfulperson,isthewordI’mlooking for, you know.
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 97
You could talk to her, you know, and this was when I was sort of 10 or 11, yeh. I
mean, she smoked, and she always used to have a, like, sneaky one, because you
know you’re not allowed to do it really. But the last time I saw her was ﬁve years
ago, and I don’t know whether it was because I was that much older, or she was
that much older but I couldn’t relate to her maybe because I hadn’t seen her for
quiteawhile...Ialwaysfeltlikebecause we lived here, they didn’t actually think
of us as grandchildren.I mean, the rest of their other grandchildrenare there, you
know. I always felt that because we lived in England, we weren’t actually part of
One of the new roles which Caribbean-born grandmothers in
Britain seem to be taking on is that of “international ﬂying gran-
nies”. These are women who spend part of their retirement days
travelling between family, kin and ﬁctive kin in the international
diaspora (New York, Toronto, Miami, and the Caribbean). For many
of these active women the visits they make are social in nature,
some do, however, act as the messenger who maintains the ﬂow
of communications between family members. In our interviews we
encountered ﬁve grandmothers who were also providing temporary
foster care or child minding services for their international family.
This often meant leaving Britain for short (1–6 month periods)
and moving to the United States or Canada. This trend was more
common within families where children had grown up in Britain
but subsequently migrated to North America in pursuit of better
mobility opportunities. When these “double lap” migrants, as we
might call them, were about to have their own children, it was
not uncommon for their mother to ﬂy out in order to oversee
the adjustment to the new baby. This role is reminiscent of the
earlier recollection from Philbert whose grandmother Matilda lived
in Morrant Bay but would travel to Kingston in order to be at the
birth of her grandchildren whom she saw as the next important
generation in the family tree. In recalling his grandmother’s interna-
tional travels, Jason, a nineteen year old Jamaican-origin male living
in London, refers to his grandmother as the “frequent ﬂyer granny”.
She travels quite regularly. She’s got kids living all over America – Florida, New
York, California – so she travels to see them quite often. She goes around in a big
98 DWAINE PLAZA
her days travelling between the children while my granddad sits at home waiting
for her reports. She is wonderful really.
Another new role which Caribbean-born grandmothers have been
taking on is that of the “returnee granny”. This individual is the
anthesis of the frequent ﬂyer granny in the sense that she returns
to the Caribbean with the intention of shuttlingback and forth to see
her family in Britain. Once in the Caribbean however, the “returnee
grandmother” often ﬁnds that her low pension does not allow her to
make as many return visits to see children and grandchildren as she
had imagined. Although the “returnee grandmother” phenomenon is
more recent we were able to interview four of these women in the
Caribbean. From these interviews we found a number of women
feeling isolated and depressed because they would no longer be
able to monitor the progress and growth of their grandchildren as
they had recalled their own grandmothers doing for them. In our
interviews with the ﬁrst and second-generation informants we also
noted that there seemed to be a concern about this trend. The third-
generation, however, did not seem to have taken any notice of the
situation. Angela, a sixty-two year old Jamaican-born grandmother
in Birmingham made the following insightful observation about the
loss of her close friend. She said:
Grandparents like me are vital in the development of the younger ones in British
society. We are part of the coping strategy that helps out the family. Some of our
younger children in this society are missing that. It was a very sad time in my
life when I saw my best friend decide to move back to Jamaica. Not only was she
leaving me but she was leaving her grands who would not have the beneﬁt of her
knowledgeor stories. Its now been ﬁve years since she has seen them and I know
that her memory is fading in their mind as they reach into adolescents. Its not right
...Grandparents are needed for nurturing and without them well you can seen the
results in the society today.
This paper began with two very different narratives by individuals
reﬂecting on Caribbean-born grandmothers. The different descrip-
tions stem from the fact that the ﬁrst narrative was provided by
Patricia a seventy-ﬁve year old Jamaican-born grandmother who
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 99
migrated to Britain in the late 1959s. While the second narrative
was provided by Tracy, a twenty year old Jamaican-origin woman
who was born and lived all of her life in South London. The rela-
tionship that both women shared with their grandmothers was quite
different. In trying to understand the differences between the two
informants we need to consider a number of factors, most important
of which are the migration experience, and the different historical
periods about which each women is reminiscing. It would be too
easy to try and explain away Tracy’s relationship with her grand-
mother as just a product of “modern” living and acculturation to
British norms where it is common for teenagers and young adults to
care only about themselves and for their material possessions. We
must, however, look more in depth at the historical periods in order
to ﬁnd a more plausible explanation for the different views about the
role that Caribbean grandmothers played in families.
ForPatricia, her grandmother livedin period of Caribbean history
where grandmothers where the only “social support net” for the
family. The peasant population in the Caribbean (circa 1860) were
subject to the booms and busts in the plantation economies, unstable
employment, and a general sense of anomie in the society. It was in
this milieu that grandmothers came to take over the role as anchor
for the family. Grandmothers also provided a base from which the
family could take on whatever new challenge came at it. For grand-
children growing up in this more or less “secure” environment it
is no wonder that they would recall their grandmothers in the most
positive “angelic” light.
Tracy, on the other hand, grew up in a “modern” society where
the atomized family structure was the norm and has dictated much
of the relationship between grandmothers and their grandchildren.
Throughout Tracy’s life the role which her grandmother played
in the family was less important because of geographical prox-
imity and the fact that her grandmother had a full-time job. The
anchors in Tracy’s life were more likely to be her mother, father,
and close family friends. The socializing agents in Tracy’s life
were likely to be the television set, friends she grew up with on
the housing estate, and teachers from school. Weekends or holiday
visits with her grandmother would not have been enough to forge
a strong lasting impression in Tracy’s mind about the importance
100 DWAINE PLAZA
of her grandmother. If Tracy’s family were to ﬁnd themselves in
a distressful situation it was more likely that they would look to
family friends or state institutions to help then deal with the situ-
ation. Hence, in Britain family problems seem to be typically dealt
with from within the nuclear family unit where everyone tries to
“keep themselves to themselves” – this was a sentiment heard in a
number of our interviews. Only in extreme circumstances did third
generation informants recall their grandmothers being involved in
It is not surprising, therefore, that the role of the Caribbean-born
grandmother has changed somewhat in the British milieu. Although
grandmothers do still perform some of the traditional roles they may
have done in the Caribbean, many of these roles have taken on a
transnational function in response to new conditions such as the
“double lap” migration of children to North America. Grandmothers
are still very much a part of the typical British/Caribbean household,
the only difference today is that their role is less of an economic or
socializing one. They are also no longer required to be the founda-
tion in the family. Because of this denuded status grandmothers no
longer stand out in the recollections of the third generation as the
lynch pin who keeps everyone and everything together.
In reﬂecting on whether this is a good or bad development one
has to think about the grandmother’s changing roles in historical
terms. In the context of post-emancipation Caribbean society (circa
1834), grandmothers came to ﬁll a vital niche in the familystructure.
Without grandmothers in this period the institutionalised practice
of “child shifting”, migration and ultimately the establishment of
a migration tradition could not have taken place for Caribbean
women. Today, grandmothers in Caribbean-origin families may be
using more “modern” means for providing certain traditional prac-
tices for their families. What is important to note, however, is that
despite acculturation to British norms and values Caribbean-born
grandmothers are continuing to struggle in order to carve out a niche
for themselves within their families both locally and internationally.
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 101
Refers refer to interview number, generation of interviewee, tape number and
side of tape.
1. JF 020/1/Tape 1/ Side A.
2. JN 057/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
3. BJ 077/2/Tape 1/ Side A.
4. BB 056/2/Tape 1/ Side A.
5. TA 095/1/Tape 1/ Side A.
6. JH 026/2/Tape 1/ Side A.
7. JS 056/2/Tape 1/ Side A.
8. JN 049/2/Tape 1/ Side A.
9. TA 095/1/Tape 1/ Side A.
10. TA 095/1/Tape 1/ Side A.
11. JD 013/1/Tape 1/ Side A.
12. JB 007/1/Tape 2/ Side A.
13. TG 092/2/Tape 3/ Side A.
14. TJ 073/2/Tape 2/ Side A.
15. TF 047/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
16. JF 021/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
17. JG 023/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
18. BG 091/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
19. JI 063/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
20. TC 038/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
21. JK 031/3/Tape 1/ Side A.
22. JB 007/1/Tape 3/ Side A.
Assistant Professor in Department of Sociology at Oregon State University.
This paper was presented at the XIV World Congress of Sociology, Montreal,
Canada, July 26–August 1 1998.
This ESRC funded project is lead by Professors Harry Goulbourne and Mary
Pseudonyms have been used throughout this paper when referring to the
The moral justiﬁcation of the slave trade rested largely on the refusal to classify
Black people as human beings. Lord Chesterﬁeld could therefore, argue that
Africans were “the most ignorant and unpolished people in the world, little better
than lions, tigers, leopards, and other wild beasts, which that country produces in
great numbers” (Dabydeen, 1987: p. 30).
Missionaries also attempted to recreate gender roles within the nuclear
family system according to biblical principles. The missionaries believed in the
102 DWAINE PLAZA
“civilizing” inﬂuence of the idealized nuclear family and preached against the
negative impact of the “chaotic and disorganized” Black family (Shepherd et al.,
1995: p. 236).
Male authority is usually dependent on the man’s economic contribution to
the household and the extent to which the family depends on this contribution.
Barrow (1996), reports considerable sexual antagonism in Caribbean families
because of the perceptions men and women have of each other. Women see men
as authoritarian, dishonest, irresponsible and unreliable, while men consider
women to be calculating, grasping, greedy, and materialistic. Barrow (1996) also
points out that, although in many instances the father chooses to be absent, very
often the mothers themselves exclude fathers from more intense involvement in
the lives of their children, guarding jealously this area of responsibility which
they view as uniquely theirs.
Black (1995: p. 52) suggest that women in the Caribbean never “father”
children in the sense of negotiating or renegotiating maternity, as men can do
about paternity. Nor do women usually exercise discretion about how much and
when they will support their children, as fathers do regularly.
Caribbean women in the lower classes tend to assume motherhood readily
since they gain status and identity within their communities on the basis of
motherhood rather than on marriage. They often have their ﬁrst child in their teen
years, thus establishing their fertility and escaping the accusation of barrenness.
Mothers also see children as both an investment and a resource. When they are
young, ﬁnancial support can be obtained from the father and, as the children
get older and become wage earners, they are able to make their mothers less
dependent on men by providing some additional income (Black, 1995: p. 51).
Mothers do not give up claims on their sons. Sons are expected to support
their mothers ﬁnancially and emotionally and seem to honour these obligations
without hesitation. The end result is that women generally manage to secure
company and support for their old age through their roles as mothers and
grandmothers. Mothers and daughters, on the other hand, are linked through the
fact of common lifestyle, their joint involvement in bearing and raising children,
and the elder woman’s assumption of the role of grandmother. Indeed studies
have suggested potential conﬂict between the two if the daughter becomes a
mother and remains in the same household (R.T. Smith, 1956: pp. 144–145).
Conﬂict between a son’s conjugal partner and his mother is virtually inevitable
as the mother does all she can to prevent the son from leaving home and as the
two women jealously make competing demands on his ﬁnancial resources and
Sally Gordon (1987) describes child-shifting as fosterage involving the
reallocation of dependent or minor children to a household not including a
natural parent. In her sample of 49 households in Antigua, she ﬁnds 41 cases of
child-shifting spread over 21 households (42.9 percent). The reasons that children
are moved from one household to another are varied and include “the child
wanting to live with X, or X asked for the child”, as well as singular events such
as the migration of a natural parent. Gordon notes that child-shifting is perceived
TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 103
as a domestic “responsive strategy” to economic circumstances whereby the
costs and beneﬁts of child rearing are relocated among households by shifting
children from those less economically secure and able to support them to those
who are better off.
The 1948 Nationality Act had granted UK citizenship to all members of
Britain’s colonies, the state had to contend with Black labour and their families
settling in Britain, whether the economy boomed or slumped, though it moved
gradually towards the European system of contract labour through the operation
of racist immigration acts. Black migration to Britain was not migrant in the sense
of it being transitory or temporary, rather individuals arrived with the intention
of exercising their legal rights of settlement. Black migrants’ initial desire to
return “home with sufﬁcient income”, was altered by the ﬁrst Commonwealth
ImmigrantsAct of 1962,with the effect of encouraginga “rush to bring families”,
as the right to remain in Britain became uncertain (Hall, 1988).
The 1991 Census ﬁgures provide the best indication of the Caribbean
population. The Black-Caribbean total of nearly half a million is broadly in line
with data from the Labour Force Survey. However, the ethnic origin of around a
ﬁfth of all African-Caribbean people was written into the “Black-Other” box on
the Census form, suggesting that the size of the population is somewhat larger
than the Black- Caribbean total. Overall, 84.4 percent of the Black-other group
had been born in the UK, indicating that a larger part of this ethnic group was
made up of the children of Caribbean parents. A quarter of the respondents gave
“Other answers” suggesting that the remainder of this group comprised of people
with one Black parent while the other was either White or from another minority
ethnic group. It would thus seem reasonable to add the “British” and “Mixed”
components of the Black-Other ethnic group to the Black British total, to yield a
total for the Caribbean population of Great Britain of 633425 in 1991 (Owen,
1995: p. 6).
The “Other Category” includes those individuals in: the armed forces,
inadequately described, and not stated on the Census form.
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TRANSNATIONAL GRANNIES 105
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and the family in the Caribbean’, in J. Massiah (ed.), Women in the Family
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