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LOW EARTH ORBIT – A Small Place

Jamaica Kincaid - A Small PlaceThis article is going to offend a whole lot of people. At least, I hope it does. Yours Truly also hopes that after my people get over being offended, they will grow up just a little bit, enough to see what a petty and vindictive little place we can be, in this tiny twin-island paradise we call Antigua & Barbuda.

This will also be the kind of article when I think a lot about Jamaica Kincaid. In truth my mind, as we say here in our charming local parlance, “runs a lot” on Jamaica Kincaid. Yours Truly used to flirt with the idea of running off to North America as she and so many others of my generation have been driven to do … until I decided that low Earth orbit would be a better idea: North America isn’t far enough, and Antarctica is too boring even with satellite TV.



Anyway, I wish dear Jamaica and all the others, my sister Megan included, all the best – although to a true child of the Eastern Caribbean arc of islands, wishing Jamaica “all the best” kind of grates on the nerves a bit. I thought my good wishes might possibly go over better if I used her actual birth name – until I checked her biography and found out she abandoned her original name (apparently without the slightest regret) when she fled this small place for wider horizons. So “Jamaica” it shall be.

Of course, you realise that the next reference will be to what one might call Jamaica Kincaid’s “signature” work: “A Small Place,” the novel that made her name a byword for betrayal in the land of her birth. Few Antiguans and Barbudans – with the sole exception of the late Sir Alexander Moody-Stuart and possibly the late Sir Robert Hall – can have been loathed and reviled, and exposed to the levels of public vilification, that the singular Ms Kincaid has endured following the publication of that insightful and revealing book.

To Yours Truly, the most telling and memorable commentary on that period is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a local young lady who fulminated loud and long about the rank betrayal of the perfidious Ms Kincaid. When challenged with the direct question: “But … those things the writer is saying in the book … aren’t they the truth?” The highly indignant young lady is reported to have replied: “Yes … but why did she have to go and tell everybody!”

That remarkable story (and quite possibly true!) just about sums it up: the blind, bland, unshakably complacent belief that if we just close our eyes to our own small-minded hypocrisy, the rest of the world will not notice it either … that everyone will simply agree to see and don’t see. The ability to “see and don’t see” is another example of our charming local parlance, a facility most probably learned in a culture of injustice where one’s life might depend upon the whim of an all-powerful plantation master. That survival tactic persists today as a pervasive blindness to anything beyond one’s own interests, accompanied by a corresponding blindness to the value of the “other”.

It is a mental state that was perfectly adapted for survival during the generations of rule by the Antigua Labour Party, a virtual one-party dictatorship. During those years of divisive vindictiveness the lessons of bile, spleen and bad-mindedness were fully internalized by a traumatized people, brutalized by their own insensitivity to injustice – so long as the injustice was directed towards some other targeted person: the “other”.

Once upon a time the “other” was any unfortunate individual who ran afoul of the then all-powerful ALP/ATLU regime. Many people living today can well remember the bitter, vicious diatribes directed at elements deemed undesirable by the political directorate. Entire generations have been socialized into an unforgiving, resentful, vindictive culture where nothing is ever forgotten … never consigned to the dustbin of history. Every slight, every hurt, every injury, every trespass remains fresh as yesterday – to be exhumed and endured anew on demand.

Now the boot is on the other foot, but the knee-jerk reaction remains the same: nothing is forgiven; nothing forgotten. Every pain, every hurt, every trespass remains fresh as yesterday, haunting the back alleys of the national psyche, ready to break out and wreak havoc among the people. The difference, today, is that a political shift has taken place. Those who once groaned in subjection to neo-colonialist liberators are now higher up in the pecking order – and we want everyone to know it.

And this is what has produced the saddening spectacle of a small people, trained and perfected in their littleness, so easily abandoning any sense of human civility: almost rabid in our surrender to the vindictive impulse toward revenge … forgetting the social convention that says: “Speak well of the dead. The dead can no longer speak for themselves. Soon our mouth too, that so freely spouts condemnation, will be stopped up with dirt. What will those we leave behind speak of us then?”

The truly tragic aspect of the disgusting display of intolerance that followed the death of Vere Bird Jr was this: in a decent, healthy society that shameful performance would never have seen the light of day. The truth is that there was never any question but that Vere Bird Jr is absolutely entitled to an official funeral. His overall record as a parliamentarian militates in favor of such an honor, never mind the opinions of Mr Blom-Cooper – however justified that worthy gentleman and others might deem them to be. No court of law has ever convicted Vere Bird Jr of any crime. His constituents twice thumbed their collective nose at Mr Blom Cooper. Vere Bird Jr subsequently served as a minister of government; so much for his being unfit to hold public office!



It is a sad commentary on the health of Antigua & Barbuda as a community when loyalists of the ruling party demonstrate the truth of a long-held belief of mine. I hold that the damaging influence of the long ALP era is so all-pervasive in the psyche of Antigua & Barbuda that the Father of the Nation also had the privilege of forming the mind of those who would attempt to oppose him. The impulse to deny due honors to the deserving is ample demonstration of that truth.

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8 Comments In This Article   

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Painting on Cover

#8 Lauren » 2013-08-28 10:46

Does anyone know what the name of the painting on the cover of A Small Place?
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Lauren

@ Colin

#7 Dessalines » 2013-04-09 22:14

While I agree with the points made I disagree that this type of behavior is particularly Antiguan or even symptomatic of living in a small place. In the UK (not a small place full of neagar) they are holding Margaret Thatcher parties, the FA has refused to hold minute of silence at the start of their matches, the radio stations are blaring the tens of anti Thatcher songs 24/7 and the song 'Ding dong the witch is dead' is the number 1 downloaded song on iTunes and Amazon. The British are making no secret of how they hate their former PM.
The irony is that you chose A Small Place to characterize our mentality when VCJ was part and parcel of the regime that ostracized Kincaid even to the point of refusing to issue (or withdrawing) her an Antiguan passport although she was a natural born Antiguan, practically exiling her from her country of birth.
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Dessalines

@ Jumbee Picknee

#6 Dessalines » 2013-04-09 21:45

Jamaica was born in Antigua as Elaine Potter. Her mother Annie (Annie John fame) was born in Dominica and migrated to Antigua. The family lived on Nelson St. in Ovals before Jamaica migrated to the USA. One Jamaica's brothers still live in Ovals in the house they grew up in.
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Dessalines

...neargaritist...

#5 Jumbee Picknee » 2013-04-09 20:07

@Collin, you have described the symptoms of one of the most DEBILITATING DISEASE which is reaping havoc, has reaped havoc on the Alkebulan/African Culture's. It's worst than alzheimers. IT CAN BE CALLED 'neargaritist.'
By the way, correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that she was born in Dominica and migrated to Antigua at an early age before moving to the United States.
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Jumbee Picknee

the beating

#4 tenman » 2013-04-09 10:55

Colin, as usual, you help us see our true reflection. Morris has already pointed out a good portion, but another which gets my attention was:
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forgetting the social convention that says: “Speak well of the dead. The dead can no longer speak for themselves. Soon our mouth too, that so freely spouts condemnation, will be stopped up with dirt. What will those we leave behind speak of us then?”
It reflects a bitterness and un-forgiveness that is held tightly in this country. We have this need to belittle persons, in order to feel good. The words that come to mind are apathetic, selfish/ egocentric aka narcissism. I happen to think that the narcissism is really a mask for self hatred (low self esteem).
..
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tenman

Jamaica Kincaid yes; VCJ hell no

#3 Mr. Byam » 2013-04-09 09:39

I’ m a great fan of JK, and with the exception of her books on gardening, I own all of her books. I too have always been puzzled why any native Antiguan would be offended by her books. There isn’t a better writer in the British West Indies. And while too many Antiguans wallow in the smallness of their narrow-mindedness, this can’t be attributed to the opposition to VCJ’s “official funeral”. The Bloom Cooper commission took testimony and evidence for months under oath, and VCJ himself testified. VCJ was found to be complicit beyond any reasonable doubt. By honoring VCJ, the UPP government has shown themselves to be just as morally bankrupt as the ALP. As Time Hector would say “they have made wrong right”, and that is as small as you can get.
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@ Colin

#2 Dr. Patterson Wales » 2013-04-09 09:22

Besides the historical self-centeredness and revengeful that contribute to this SMALL PLACE MENTALITY, there is the puny thinking that there is one way to WIN-you win I lose.

We need to develop healthy compromise, collective victory and comitment to national good.
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RE: LOW EARTH ORBIT – A Small Place

#1 Morris » 2013-04-09 05:38

"...the blind, bland, unshakably complacent belief that if we just close our eyes to our own small-minded hypocrisy, the rest of the world will not notice it either...The ability to “see and don’t see” is another example of our charming local parlance,...That survival tactic persists today as a pervasive blindness to anything beyond one’s own interests, accompanied by a corresponding blindness to the value of the “other”.

Great point Colin! Many seem to have their eyes wide shut to the existence and consequences of this practice.
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Morris

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Mr. Colin Sampson

 Mr. Colin Sampson is a Journalist and the host of "The Colin Sampson Show" on Caribantigua TV 

 

 

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