Tourism and neocolonialism
Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place
raises several questions that seem to have been largely ignored by other travel writers in the course. First, is tourism only neocolonialism? Second, what is the difference between traveling to Europe or parts of Asia, which have developed, and developing, poor countries?
Kincaid’s writing is not, I think, easy to endure. This is mostly due to the sheer antagonism of her writing. And immediately, with so much hostility aimed loosely at me and mine, I could do nothing but offer counter-arguments, other points. “I,” I thought, “Would not be a tourist like the one you describe. I’d be culturally aware, interested in the history. I would know, as you have said I wouldn’t, ‘the number of black slaves this ocean has swallowed up’ for I am consumed with basic, liberal guilt which isn’t noble, but perhaps at least conscious.” (14)
Or, I thought, “You are not talking about me
. My grandparents on my father's side were poor immigrants. My mother’s side, now dispersed and largely untraceable, seemed to have started in America as indentured servants and haven’t made much progress since. We
were not your oppressors.”
Or, even, “You are being disingenuous. Don’t say that it was the white man who taught everyone slavery and tyranny. Nobody lived in a perfect, egalitarian land before then. The history of the world is the history of slavery.”
But, she is right. Overall, she is right about the effects of travel. And tourism and capitalism and the way America and Europe decides the fate of each and every country we come in contact with through trade, through healthcare, through war and terrorism, is simply neocolonialism. It is not something I believe we are even aware of, but we are complicit with and ignoring it or rebelling against these accusations does nothing to help. The tourist industry in a lot of developing places does amount to exploitation and we should realize this.
We should realize there is greater wealth disparity then we are used to in many countries (though, to be quite fair, America is not in great shape itself) and tourism benefits the rich and only provides a way for many to get by. This isn’t progress. Giving money to a country is not progress when it halts progress, when it only reinforces the power structures already in place. The power structure, mind you, that came out of the legacy that we, as the privileged West, left behind. Moreover, Antingua is not the poorest country in the Caribbean. In fact, when looking at the poverty levels in Antigua they are not as high as one might imagine. Roughly 13.4% of Antinguans live below the poverty line compared to roughly 9.3% in America. However, the poverty line in Antingua is $2,366 (American dollars) comparied to $11,702. It is unthinkable, at least to me, to imagine living under $2,500 a year or $198 a month or even $7 a day, for every single living expense. (Living Conditions in Antigua and Barbuda: Poverty in a Services Economy in Transition
Which brings me to my second question. Is it inherently different to visit poorer countries than places like England, which have not known the real hardship? It must be. It is inevitable. England has history, has and has always had power and influence. By giving money to the tourism industry in these countries we are not asserting our essential influence over them as we would if ever visiting a place like Antigua.
I think, then, I am curious if it is ever right
to visit poorer countries. What if you are the son or daughter of immigrants from these places, should you not have a right to go? What if you are culturally and historically aware of the history of these places, does that mitigate your guilt? What if you’re a socialist, what if you don’t believe in the way your country uses its economy, then can you visit these places? It is hard to say. I don’t think I know.
Living Conditions in Antigua and Barbuda: Poverty in a Services Economy in Transition. Rep. Kairi Consultants Limited, Aug. 2007. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.caribank.org/titanweb/cdb/webcms.nsf/0/63EA7172A19A6608042573D00061C3B3/$File/AntBarbCPAMainReport.pdf>.
"US Census Bureau." Poverty Data. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/index.html>.