Tourism’s Act of Oppressing Culture in the Caribbean

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

According to Jamaica Kincaid’s biographical essay; A Small Place, the tourists became opposing and also detrimental to the culture of the Antiguans, by showing attributes of superiority. By the American and European’s behavior of entitlement, it has yet been a more modern way of oppressing the natives as if though they were still colonized. Though after Antigua gained their independence, the discrimination and oppression yet continues by modern tourist’s inacceptable behavior. Though Antigua is an independent nation, they are still under a capitalist system which forces the country to succumb to the inherent nature of just being a temporary getaway destination for tourists. Therefore, the natives of Antigua, have no choice but to forcibly adapt to the westernization epidemic whilst loosing their own cultural identity and heritages. Therefore, the constant need to cater to the desires of a foreign population that is nonbeneficial to the country, prevents Antiguans from developing an independent sense of identity.

Tourists make no effort to engage in and understand the local Antiguan people, they see them as alien and other even though it is the tourist who is the stranger on the Antiguan’s land. The tourists only engage with their equals, other Europeans. To back up this ideology the author writes, “You see yourself taking a walk on that beach, you see yourself meeting new people (only new in a very limited way, for they are people just like you).” (Kincaid 13) A key aspect when travelling to a foreign country and fully experiencing the uniqueness of it, is to engage with the native people and try to comprehend their culture and way of living. However, when tourists visit Antigua, they have no interest or intention of engaging with the native people, for they are not worthy of associating with, according to Kincaid. Only fellow tourists are worthy of communicating with, only those who are equal in the eyes of the tourist can be called upon to share ideas, thoughts and opinions.

The tourist only thinks of Antiguan relative to his/her needs; to the tourist, Antigua is not a place full of people with their own autonomous lives but a place full of toys, tools whose only purpose is to pamper and relax the poor weary tourist. When an entire country depends on tourism as its primary source of income, it places the needs of its natives in a compromised position. Due to the advertisement of Antigua as a popular vacation destination, those who visit there see the entire island, including its population, as part of the attraction. The Antiguans are not real people, they are props. “And you look at the things they can do with a piece of ordinary cloth, the things they fashion out of cheap vulgarly colored (to you) twine,” (Kincaid 16) The few unique aspects of culture Antiguans practice are gawked at and patronized by the tourist rather than treated with respect as European cultures would have been. The behavior of the tourist removes dignity from the native, which in turn removes humanity.

The tourist is not concerned about reality or truth, the only thing that concerns the tourist is the illusion of paradise that he/she needs to maintain to fully appreciate the holiday they have decided to spend visiting this place. The fantasy the tourist has fabricated combines a desire to be pampered with delicacies of the highest quality and a vague interest in experiencing the local options, “You long to refresh yourself; you long to eat some nice lobster, some nice local food.” (Kincaid 12) When the tourist arrives in a new place with preconceived notions about the culture they are coming to experience, only to find these expectations perfectly met he/she never questions the authenticity of these things because they are not truly concerned, as long as it matches the illusion they already had in mind. “When you sit down to eat your delicious meal, it’s better that you don’t know that most of what you are eating came off a plane from Miami.” (Kincaid 14) The knowledge that the food that the tourist is eating is not authentic to the place they are visiting is entirely unimportant for it is relevant to the fantasy. This complete disinterest in the reality of their new environment shows a true sense of ignorance and an enormous lack of respect for the culture that is hosting the tourist.

The effect that a tourist visiting a place like Antigua might have on the lives of the island’s inhabitants is irrelevant, any harm that might be inflicted on the natives resulting from the presence of the tourist is meaningless and of no interest to the him/her because he/she does not see the Antiguans as equals. To tourists, countries like Antigua are disposable, they are little more than napkins for the tourist to rub their soiled hands on and toss away. Kincaid alludes to this when referencing the waste disposal system in Antigua, “…the contents of your lavatory might, just might, graze gently against your ankle as you wade carefree in the water, for you see, in Antigua, there is no proper sewage-disposal system.” (Kincaid 14) This description metaphorically shows that the tourist reduces Antigua to an enormous toilet. His/her waste is carelessly dumped into Antigua’s surrounding water making it a dirty soiled thing, just like Antigua itself.

Tourists relish in the idea that they are superior to the Antiguan, they take pleasure in knowing that their ancestors are “superior” to the Antiguans’ ancestors due to the economic prosperity the ancestors of the tourist gained from their ruthlessness. This attitude perpetuates the racist ideologies of the tourist’s colonizing ancestors, who justified their actions with notions of mental and genetic superiority. “…this ugly but joyful thought will swell inside you: their ancestors were not clever in the way yours were, not ruthless in the way yours were, for then would it not be you who would be in harmony with nature and backwards in that charming way?” (Kincaid 17) This comparison of Antiguan culture and European or American culture is an important part of the attraction to the tourist. In their own small lives, tourists may feel unimportant or inferior to their peers, by looking at the misfortune of Antiguans, they are given a feeling of pride in their race and a feeling of smug dominance over the Antiguan. The tourist carries on the legacy of their ancestors by maintaining this attitude.

While in ordinary life, a tourist would be concerned the thoughts and feelings of those around them, they care about the opinions others have of them in whatever environment they are in. However, when in Antigua, how the Antiguan people feel about the tourist is meaningless. The tourist’s lack of concern with the Antiguans opinion of his/herself is a sign that the tourist rejects the idea of the Antiguan’s humanity, the tourist does not worry if an animal has a low opinion of him/her so why should he worry about the opinion of the Antiguan? When describing the relationship between Antiguan and the tourist Kincaid writes, “…it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you,” (Kincaid 17) The fact that it will never even occur to the tourist that they are loathed by the people around them is a strange one, considering that generally, people tend to be sensitive to the feelings of those around them. However, in this case there is no reason to spend a moment analyzing and understanding the feelings of the people around tourists because they are not human enough to be worth analyzing. The culture that the Antiguan people poses, is just an inferior characteristic according to the tourists. “…to being a person marveling at the harmony (ordinarily, what you would say is backwardness) and the union these other people (and they are other people) have with nature.” (Kincaid 16).

It is difficult for countries like Antigua to get up out of the clasps of their once imperialist colonizers. The tourists who pretend to be superior to the native consciously or unconsciously, are following and executing an inhumane ideology. The biased ideologies brought back by them, show how ignorant they could be and also stereotypes the people into mental slavery. The county of Antigua as of may other once colonized counties, is a perfect example of the harmful and devastating effects of colonization. Therefore the tourist cause more damage both physically tp the country, and also mentally. Tourists are unbeneficial to countries like Antigua and many more in the Caribbean.


Read more