An intersectional approach to the racist colonial hierarchies instilled within Antigua’s national identity
Britain has irrevocably moulded the national identity of Antiguans. Europe has incessantly meddled with the inner workings of Antiguan society while profiting off of the people they deem as inferior. The inferiority that Britain established and that Europe at large perpetuates is inherently tied to the racial and national hierarchy that favors the Western group at the disadvantage of the previously colonized and continuously systemically oppressed Antiguans. Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place traces the identity of Antiguans through the oppression of colonization, neo colonization and their inherent ties to racist ideology to demonstrate that the effect of globalization on Antigua stems from the history of imbalance between Antigua and Europe. Displaying the roots of an unjust system, the abuses under colonization and the way that tourism shapes the entire perception of Antigua, Jamaica Kincaid reveals that globalization has reflected many of the past inequalities present in the entwined identities of Antigua and Europe. The perspective of Franz Fanon with regards to both the national identity of colonized people and the racial inferiorization of colonized people will be crucial in explaining the mulit-faceted European exploitation of Antigua. The exploitation of Antigua from the beginning of its relations with Europe, till the current tourist commerce, shapes the national identity of Antiguans as being constantly tied to the imposed superiority of Europe.
To establish the foundations on which Antiguan and European relations rest upon, Kincaid takes the reader to the initial moment of discovery and subsequent colonization of the island by white colonizers. A Small Place portrays the British Empire as an inquisitive force that slaughtered and robbed the riches of Antiguans. The effects of such actions resonate with the injustices the island has dealt with ever since. This is why Kincaid terms the colonization of Antigua a “European Disease” (Kincaid, 80) as though the effects were a part of the very being that is Antigua, spreading and infecting those who live within its coastal confines. A Small Place attempts to diagnose the symptoms of this European disease. Kincaid states that the desire of the British Empire was “to satisfy their desire for wealth and power, to feel better about their own miserable existence, so that they could be less lonely and empty” (Kincaid, 80). Thus the British Empire subsists off of the resources of the island and its inhabitants to sustain its imagined superiority. Their superiority is real in terms of wealth yet Kincaid points to the inherent emptiness of Europe’s existence. Franz Fanon has explained in his work Black Skin White Masks that his feeling of interacting with white people was as though he “existed in triple : I took up space.” (Fanon, 110) lead to a feeling of exclusion from white society. Excluding an entire race of people allows for the emptiness of Europe to find reasoning in imagining themselves as superior to people like the Antiguans, rationalizing, through the hatred of the other, Europe’s colonization of Antigua. Because colonization functions on the corrupted mentality of justified exploitation of the imagined other, Kincaid concludes that “all masters of every stripe are rubbish, and all slaves of every stripe are noble and exalted” (80) inverting the power structure that Europe had instilled through bigotry. The hatred fueling colonization takes the form of violence, ravishing the land and population of the island. Franz Fanon describes how “Europe has taken over leadership of the world with fervor, cynicism, and violence” (Fanon, 235). The passion that accompanied the brutal conquest of Antigua worked in tandem with an intentionally conflictual approach on behalf of the colonizers. A conflict that paradoxically forced self-aggrandizing European values on Antiguans, values that were intended specifically to diminish the worth of those being colonized. The Antiguan is ignored and unable to represent themself yet constantly interacted with through violent persecution. Kincaid denounces how the mentality of colonizers was to take things “that were not yours, and you did not even, for appearances’ sake, ask first” (Kincaid, 35). The “you” (Kincaid, 80) addressed in this quote refers to the European reader who knows of the island only the vacation escape that Antigua proposes (McLeod). The fact that the Antiguans have not been asked represents this exclusion from proper representation despite the islanders’ resources being pillaged. European colonizers “murdered people” (Kincaid, 35) that they did not deem equal, as barely people, as strict inferiors. The barren graveyard that has become Antigua is now viewed as an immaculate island resort by the European vacationers who wish to take advantage of the past power imbalance without pondering about how their post colonial paradise reflects the vices of the island’s previous persecution.
Contemporary relations between Antigua and Europe, reflective of the results of globalization, are rooted within the colonial context. Despite the demand for and acquisition of independence, Antigua remains dependent on European exploitation. The capitalist consumption used to sustain the island resorts residing in Antigua ultimately fuel an economy that supports the direct inheritors of European colonization. Kincaid remorsefully explains that “Eventually, the masters left, in a kind of way; eventually, the slaves were freed, in a kind of way” (Kincaid, 80) to provide the framework for a new form of exploitation that exists in Antigua. The repetition of a half hearted “kind of way” implies that the kind of way repeats itself through history, employing the past resolutions of master, ie. colonizers, to the present persecution of freed slaves, ie. Antiguans. One business that strikes the reader, as it recalls the exclusion of Antiguans within their own island during colonization, conducts its business with European tourists wishing to enjoy the escape from their empty existence by beachside hotels. Kincaid describes how “The bay where the new hotel is situated used to have the best wilks in the world” (Kincaid, 57) emphasizing the replacement of authentic Antiguan culture with buildings meant to accommodate European tourists. Furthermore “Even though all the beaches in Antigua are by law public beaches, Antiguans are not allowed on the beaches of this hotel” (Kincaid, 57-58) displaying the separation of tourists who get to enjoy beaches meant for the general public. Franz Fanon explains in his chapter on “The Trials and Tribulations of National Consciousness” how the institutions of capitalism profit from the exploitation of previously colonized countries. Independent nations transform themselves into a “conveyor belt for capitalism” (Fanon, 100) that inadequately enriches the colonized while the nations are “forced to camouflage itself behind the mask of neocolonialism” (Fanon, 100). The word camouflage perfectly represents the facade that Europe has forced Antigua to cover behind. The national identity of Antigua exists as an extension of European conquest and profit. Kincaid represents Antiguans as inheriting the mentality that taught them “how to imprison and murder each other, how to govern badly, and how to take the wealth of our country and place it in Swiss bank accounts” (Kincaid, 34). Once again the violence that had torn apart the Antiguan people transposes itself onto Antiguan society. The teachings of colonization engrained the vicious hierarchy of European colonizers onto Antiguans. Left with the instilled feeling of inferiority and understanding that violence against Antiguans is profitable, Fanon argues that the newly independent nation “limits its claims to the takeover of business and firms previously held by the colonists.” (Fanon, 100) A Small Place repeats the word crime in association to the previous colonization of her island. Kincaid asks, “For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime?” (Kincaid 19) which engrains the idea that apart from being a sickness, colonization was also a crime. A crime whose actors had not been properly prosecuted and whose victims have not received just reparations.
An Intersectional approach to the question of national identity within A Small Place allows for the oppression of Europe over Antigua to be viewed both through the lens of post colonialism as well as critical race theory. The violence committed by colonizers was justified through racism. The feelings of inferiority within a colonized nation stems from racism. The hotel industry that churns a profit from the exclusion of Antiguans is made possible through racism. The power of intersectionality comes from the ability to demonstrate the intertwining motives of European colonizers and an important factor was racism. The belief that the black population of Antigua is inferior attempts to fill the same emptiness that consumes European existence. The targeted reader of A Small Place has profited from and participates in the culture that has denigrated the territory and race of Antiguans. The reader can also be presumed to be white in contrast to the black Antiguan. The reversed exclusion of the author plays on descriptions of places such as “the Mill Reef Club” which had “declared itself completely private, and the only Antiguans (black people) allowed to go there were servants.” (Kincaid, 17). The parallels between the privacy of the resort, the race of the Antiguans and the islanders’ status within the resort as servants instills a converging understanding of the inequalities present within the past colony. Fanon makes it clear in his text Black Skin, White Masks that “that Europe has a racist structure” (Fanon, 89). The racist structure means to Fanon that “In other words, I begin to suffer from not being White to the extent where the white man imposes on me a form of discrimination, makes me a colonized [person]” (Fanon, 95). The perception of Fanon’s blackness, the discrimination he faces for his identity, ties directly to his status as a colonized person. The black Antiguan is equally tied in this manner to the racist basis of European colonization as well as servitude to white tourists. As though to view the progression of an independent Antigua from the perspective of the reader, Kincaid recounts an interaction in which she “could see the pleasure she [not Kincaid] took in pointing out to me the gutter into which a self-governing—black—Antigua had placed itself” (Kincaid, 47). The pleasure that Kincaid reads on her condescending interlocutor’s face reminds one of the many pleasures that the same pleased tourist enjoys in their escape. The conflation of black with self-governing relates once again to the ways in which the ownership of Antigua is tied to European colonizer’s hierarchy of race. Fanon, in reusing a formulation of Sartre, declares “the racist creates the inferior” (Fanon, 90). A Small Place is intensely invested in tracing the mentality of Antiguans, their inherited knowledge, to the racist structure that has constantly placed the Antiguan people as inferior. In understanding the roots of the inequalities in Antigua, Kincaid makes several attempts to empower the disenfranchised nation. In having black be surrounded by two “-”, and introduced between self-governing and Antigua, Kincaid elevates the relationship between a nation and its people in the midst of a conversation where that very association is being derided by another woman. The national identity that Kincaid creates and represents within her text has been deeply marked by the racist hierarchy of European colonizers and has instilled a perpetuation of violence that began from the moment Columbus arrived on the island.
There are many facets of the Antiguan identity in A Small Place. The island is surrounded by turbulent waves crashing into each other in violent succession. The enormity of the ocean has not restricted the European colonizers to violently suppress the Antiguan people and instill a racial hierarchy that constantly perpetuates more violence and corruption within Antigua. The deceit of Antigua as a paradisiac island resort for tourists acts as camouflage to the capitalist stranglehold as Europe extends its reach to Europe through covert neo colonisation.
McLeod, Corinna. “Constructing a Nation: Jamaica Kincaid’s a Small Place.” Small Axe, vol. 13, no. 1, 2009, pp. 77–92.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. 1st version, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, Fsgbooks, www.fsgbooks.com.
Fanon, Frantz, and Charles L. Markmann. “Black Skin, White Masks.” Editions de Seuil, 1967.
Fanon, Frantz. “The Wretched of the Earth.” New York: Grove Press, 1963.