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Fighting Vs. Accepting Racism in A Small Place

There is a powerful work by Jamaica Kincaid called A Small Place. It tells a story of Antigua and focuses on the country’s past and present. The author narrates the story through her own eyes; she shows how Antigua lived during colonial era, and how it changed after the independence. The work describes the way the people learned to respect and cherish the colonial culture without condemning racism and accepting corruption; and this is the side-effect of colonialism when people do not consciously fight it, but accept it as a right state of things for their motherland.

The work shows the author’s experience as she analyzes her native land. She sees the beautiful nature which attracts the tourists and makes them want to come back to the country. However, she sees the other side the tourists do not notice in Antigua. The author/narrator speaks of corruption, the double standards, dishonesty and poverty that exist in the state, and she also emphasizes on the crooked perceptions people have. She speaks about colonialism affecting people in such a way that they do not realize its impact on them. They do not see that they were dominated by the United Kingdom for a long time without an opportunity to develop and practice their own culture, and they also fail to understand racism as a consequence of the past. For instance, the book has a character of the Irish headmistress. As a young woman, she came to the country to teach girls English culture and provide them with general education. Still, the headmistress possessed a great deal of racism, and she did not hide it. For instance, she referred to girls playing around “as if they were monkeys just out of the trees”. This example shows the widespread racism during colonial era; but even more importantly, it shows how people in Antigua did not recognize it. They did not take these insults as racism and considered them to be normal. The fact that the people who dominated and colonized their nation mistreated them on the basis of race spoke nothing to the citizens of Antigua because they failed to recognize the insults and provide an adequate response. It proves that instead of causing a protest against dominating culture and pushing the nation toward development as well as fight against racism, the people settled for the culture of colonialists and did not develop as a free nation should.

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The narrator provides readers with an interesting insight into the psychology of the people in Antigua. Although they have been colonized by Brits, the British culture for them is an example of an accomplishment. There may be various reasons for that. For instance, it may be a result of not developing local culture well enough. However, the work provides another explanation. As I was reading through the passages, I came to the conclusion that people cherished British culture so much because they did not understand colonialism completely. They accepted it viewing domination as something irreplaceable and logical for their land; and they did not develop logical resistance and opposition to the dominant culture. Thus, instead of fighting with mainstream, they became mainstream. From this perspective, instead of opposing and defending the unique culture, the inferiority complex many people in colonized society experience leads to an absolutely opposite outcome. It makes the people view their own culture as inferior and alien to them, so they copy everything the colonizer has. Thus, the colonizer turns into a step-culture of the entire nation which was supposed to develop something on its own. The work links the slavery and colonial past with the current life of the country as it attracts many tourists and enjoys the influence from another part of the world which is the United States. At the same time, the work shows the shift inside the mentality of Antigua people because they emphasize with another culture and different values comparing to the author’s desires and expectations. As the work “has provoked intense emotional responses among its readers, A Small Place offers a pertinent site through which to consider how history, power and violence shape the meanings and effects of empathy”. This means that the past of Antigua is still triggering its present, but the people do not learn from the mistakes and experience of their ancestors.

The work showed me that colonialism is not always recognized as a horrible occurrence especially when it comes to the people who suffered and survived it. They may not see this problem because they did not live in a democratic society where equality dominated. Therefore, their values and mentality are shaped by the beliefs that are spread by the colonizers and that affect every person within the country. People simply begin to believe that being white British person is better, and that British culture is the most accomplished culture they should strive for. It does not necessarily mean that they are going to reject their own culture, but it will always remain in the shadow of the colonizer. Only good education and community development can shift the situation in favor of the local culture; otherwise, the colonizer’s legacy will remain very strong in the area.

The interesting thing about A Small Place is that the author herself is very ambiguous concerning her experience. From one perspective, she criticizes her compatriots for being corrupt and having double standards as well as not cherishing their culture. From another perspective, she uses English which as her native language, and she is very well educated thanks to her colonized education. She even compares the life in the country before and after independence, and she sees that the economy and the general state of things were better during the colonial era. It makes her question the independence of her own country as well as capacities of her compatriots. The readers also keep wondering about the future of the country. They see the failed attempts to bring a change and society that is generally unaware of the direction it wants to take. A Small Place made me imagine the people who did not completely understand their history. Therefore, they did not have the understanding or defined perception of their own national identity. That was the reason it was difficult for them to criticize the colonialism; although they got rid of it, they did not fully use or enjoy the benefits of freedom and equality.

A Small Place also helps the readers to compare the state for themselves as they evaluate the lives and the people before and after colonialism. The author shows the nation which could not recognize or oppose racism, and which adored everything British during colonialism. Then, we see the new generation which is not attached to the old British ways. However, it is not attached to Antigua either. On the contrary, it cherishes the pop-culture of the United States. This is a result of unresolved issues which exist from the past. As the previous generation did not respond to the oppression or criticized it, the older people did not create a society where young people would learn national values and respect for their culture. Therefore, the universal ideas get crooked in Antigua which can be seen with the corruption and general problems, and there is little development in regards to national establishment. The worst thing is that the tourists and foreigners who come to Antigua fail to recognize and respect its culture because they approach the state from First World dominant perspective.

Although the book has many pessimistic attitudes, it emphasizes on the necessity to solve the problem regarding colonial past, self-identification and national development. According to Iyunolu Osagie and Christine N. Buzinde, “Kincaid argues that legacies of colonial oppression can change once tourist and host value the same things in the shared space of the contact zone”. This means that the citizens have to understand their new reality and come to terms with independence as a tool to build a new state where the local culture will be valued, and where the universal principles of honesty and transparency are going to be applied. This way, it will be possible to deal with the legacy of colonialism in such a way that people recognize their culture and move ahead with the country’s future. However, without this, it would be impossible to transform the country’s state as well as make the tourists see and respect its values as they would keep on following the domineering perspective they used to have.

A Small Place is a novel about finding and fighting for the culture one cherishes. It shows the author’s thoughts and fears regarding her culture, and it also presents the readers with an idea of colonial thinking that last even after the colonialism is gone. The work provides the readers with understanding that political and cultural changes require psychological ones; and people who have been affected by colonialism need to change and be guided by those who are independent thinkers in order to build an independent culture that develops in an independent state.

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