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A Small Place | Main Ideas

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Tourism as Colonialism

Slavery has been outlawed in Antigua since 1834. Antigua has been independent from Britain since 1981. But the tradition of white authorities and black servants didn't end there. Kincaid illuminates how tourism, Antigua's flagship industry, continues the colonialist tradition.

Despite the best intentions of modern white tourists who consider themselves open-minded, and of black Antiguans who are striving for independence, life in Antigua repeats the old patterns of slavery. Antiguans celebrate graduation from the Hotel Training School, which Kincaid says trains them to "be good servants." Young Antiguan women work for a wealthy patron of the Mill Reef Club, who infantilizes her employees by calling them "girls." Tourists turn the "boredom" of Antiguans' daily lives into entertainment. Like the original British colonizers, the tourists are "guests" and the Antiguans are "hosts." However, while the invading British earned the contempt of Antiguans, modern white tourists are treated with respect and deference.

Many aspects of Antigua are designed to accommodate tourists at the expense of residents. The building that once housed Antigua's library, for instance, is in an area developers plan to turn into gift shops. Antigua's devotion to financing the tourism industry leads to the development of condominiums and gambling facilities, opening the door to high levels of corruption. At the same time, native Antiguans aren't allowed on the beaches of certain hotels although beaches are legally public, cementing the divide between powerless native and powerful visitor. Through tourism, colonial control still runs Antigua.

Antigua's National Identity

Kincaid connects Antigua's struggles to a lack of strong national identity. The ancestors of most black Antiguans were slaves brought to the island. The British Empire made "millions of people ... orphans," taking away language, traditions, homeland, and autonomy.

Now a self-ruling Antigua struggles under tyrannical leaders. While foreign investors from Japan, Lebanon, Syria, and other countries claim their stake in the island, black Antiguan residents are denied authority. Antiguans "met the world through England" and learned British history in school. After independence they're no longer a British colony, unable to claim British identity, so they look to the rest of the world for ideas. Kincaid notices modern Antiguan youth absorbing the popular culture of North America instead of Britain.

The story Antiguans tell about themselves, or fail to tell, is significant. Kincaid suggests the presence of a cohesive story—"why they are the way they are, why they do the things they do"—would help Antiguans live with more confidence and pride.

Global Economics of Oppression

The British Empire's impact isn't limited to Antigua. Kincaid shows how an empire reaches globally, affecting the economic choices of both the colonizers and the colonized. Black Antiguans, for instance, might travel to Europe or North America for "much needed cheap clothes and food for relatives" they can't afford in their own country. A European or North American tourist, meanwhile, enjoys the savings they'll get in the Caribbean: "Things seem so cheap."

Similarly Antigua's economy isn't just affected by Britain, but by countries around the world. In Antigua Syrian and Lebanese developers build pricey real estate, North American casino owners get rich, Japanese investors sell cheap cars, and anyone with enough money can use an offshore bank account. The Antiguan government makes deals with other countries, like shipping ammunition to South Africa. Money intended to help Antiguans rarely reaches them, as Kincaid demonstrates with the example of gambling casinos built on another Caribbean island Montserrat. Foreign financial influence guides the lives of Antiguans, keeping them from financial independence.

Key Concepts

British Empire

Great Britain, a sovereign state including England, Scotland, and Wales, began to expand overseas in the 17th century. British explorers established settlements, colonies, and British rule in countries all over the world. These countries were then considered part of Great Britain. The British Empire frequently colonized nations with nonwhite residents and relied on the slave trade to maintain its power. The "Age of Enlightenment," which Kincaid references in the essay, is often connected to the rise of empire. Enlightenment celebrated Western philosophy, ideas, and practices and spread these ideas to colonized nations in the hope of improving the residents' lives.

Section 2 discusses the enduring impact of British settlers on Antigua. Kincaid feels the legacy of empire cannot be overstated, saying "actual death might have been better" for the colonized people. She emphasizes the harm the British did to the Antiguans and to themselves by attempting to turn every colonized country into England.

Fragile Economy

Antigua lacks a healthy and transparent economy. Most Antiguans live in poverty, and the few extremely rich residents are secretive about where their wealth comes from. Working-class Antiguans often need to travel to America for necessary items. The government isn't doing much to help the economy improve, Kincaid implies. Fancy cars, rather than housing and medical care, are made accessible to Antiguans since government ministers profit from the cars. These ministers and other authorities often embezzle aid money meant to help Antiguans.

Since the economy profits from tourism, white tourists are treated well. These tourists may perceive themselves as more successful or hardworking than Antiguan residents when they simply come from countries with healthier economies.

Tax Haven

Foreign wealth is highly valued in Antigua, and banking is one of its largest industries. Government officials look the other way at wealthy tax dodgers moving their money through Antiguan bank accounts. Kincaid says the "offshore banks" are modeled after the banks in Switzerland, which provide similar havens to any investor or dictator "who has robbed his country's treasury." Antigua's position as a tax haven for the wealthy and corrupt is a symptom of how poorly Antigua is treated by the rest of the world. Riches and dishonesty are respected while the lives of ordinary people are not.

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