Sampson is a writer-producer based in Cyprus and the UK. His work has appeared in Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, The Scofield, and The Writers’ Magazine, among others. His short story Flames and Shadows was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. Film projects include Behind the Mirror(writer/producer – winner of Best Thriller in the Manhattan Film Festival 2015), Vita and Virginia and Show Me The Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall(executive producer). He loves Alfred Hitchcock films. And traveling. And the Cloud. And is currently working on a psychological horror script.
‘If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see. If you come by aeroplane, you will land at the V. C. Bird International Airport … As your plane descends to land, you might say, What a beautiful island Antigua is – more beautiful than any of the other islands you have seen, and they were very beautiful, in their way, but they were much too green, much too lush with vegetation, which indicated to you, the tourist, that they got quite a bit of rainfall, and rain is the very thing that you, just now, do not want, for you are thinking of the hard and cold and dark and long days you spent working in North America (or, worse, Europe), earning some money so that you could stay in this place (Antigua) where the sun always shines and where the climate is deliciously hot and dry for the four to ten days you are going to be staying there; and since you are on your holiday, since you are a tourist, the thought of what it might be like for someone who had to live day in, day out in a place that suffers constantly from drought, and so has to watch carefully every drop of fresh water used (while at the same time surrounded by a sea and an ocean – the Caribbean Sea on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other), must never cross your mind.’ ~ A SMALL PLACE
I loved this book, but it has problems, the kind that need pointing out to improve the discussion we’re having right now around race, gender, identity, demographics, and geographical location.
Jamaica Kincaid was angry when she wrote A Small Place, which is why the narrative is so good and true, pointing out the injustices suffered by the colonized world in the hands of its colonists. But what doesn’t seem to cross the author’s mind is that not all Europe is drab, dreary, cold and damp. (An ill-advised overgeneralization.) Nor does it overflow with water and wealth. On the contrary – and this ironically both undermines and buttresses the above excerpt and its driving attitude – Europe is made up of parts that are sunnier, poorer, less organized, and yes, mired in perpetual drought. To refer to Europe as a grey fortress of wealth is ignorant, and to do so because one speaks from an anti-colonial perspective is not an excuse.
I come from an anti/post-colonial place myself. I know. Blaming others is tempting but not the way forward, good and right as it may feel. I’ve come to realize through my limited experience that pointing the finger away from oneself can only take one so far. In the end, we have to face our inequities and deal with our shortcomings. Introspection and inquisition alike. Together, these two approaches and the reflections that arise from them allow us to move ahead. The rote scripture of blaming everything on the imperialists doesn’t help, and neither does engaging in burdensome, inefficient, hypo/er-critical narratives.
The world’s oppressed are guilty of hypocrisy and hypercriticism as much as the world’s oppressors, but no one dares voice this truism. It’s not easy or fashionable to be logical and honest with ourselves. Most of us side with the victims rather than risk being misunderstood.
Sadly, this damages the cause of justice itself, if not the cause of the oppressed at large. We rant and rage and accuse others to the point where we, the victimized, (whom one might deem sensitive to the nuances of the world by now, on account of the injustice we’ve suffered under the monolithic boot) exhibit a surprisingly monolithic attitude. We cling to black and white perspectives, which we perpetuate while pretending not to. We speak of change but we either reverse the order of terms – our viewpoint now white and black – or we just refuse to let go of color. We seek a reversal of roles but insist on framing everything through the lens of the past, which retains the past’s color contrasts.
As a result, the oppressed perpetuate the same old agendas i.e. our former masters’ narratives. Racism and racial prejudice remain alive and well, everything hinging on a dated point of view. The argument has evolved but the problem remains, and so does the racial lens with its dated rendition of the world.
And so, we get to declarations such as the above, statements that flatten Europe into something grey and opulent. The overgeneralization is so gross, it has little to envy from the points of view of the colonialists against whom the author rails. The degree is not the same, the claim comes from a place of observation, not power, but the outlook is ignorant of the complexities of the world.
As everyone knows, it always starts with small ignorant statements.
Not to mention how one can’t be taken seriously when one is guilty of the very thing against which one protests.
We need to do better if we’re to reshape the world.
Parting thought: They said ‘divide and conquer,’ and followed it through, and, lo and behold, the tactic works. To this day the decolonized parts of the world regard the rest of the world with color-challenged eyes. We accuse our persecutors of color-blindness but fail to live up to our shortcomings. Once a victim, accountability is thrown out the window. It’s the invader’s fault, all of it. I know how the argument goes. I come from an ex-colony, grew up with the mantra. The spirit with which Jamaica Kincaid speaks is familiar. I respect her anger and righteousness, and agree with parts of it, but I also know this: victims that blame only their assailants ultimately hurt themselves by denying themselves the benefit of true self-reflection. Their process is – and remains – derivative, perpetuating the supremacist, colonial, imperial politics of yesterday. Being a victim is imperialism’s poor but equally catastrophic cousin. Or as Junot Diaz put it in his spirited book The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, ‘none more oppressive than the oppressed.’
PS – On island psychology: Islands have good reason to be insecure and angry. We’re talking outcroppings of land caught in treacherous currents – wind currents, underwater currents, trade routes, military campaigns, voracious tectonic plates. Earthquakes – terrestrial, political, cultural – are not uncommon, and can be devastating, as can storms and other natural disasters.
In these cases, in such isolated locations – and small places – anger rises to the surface, weaves itself in the cultural DNA. Islanders are sensitive to the forces that come crashing on their shores, their fences and homes. It feels like the end of the world. In that sense, one cannot but feel sympathy for those who suffer such grueling trials, despite the entitled manner with which they often portray themselves, their land, and the forces in whose wake they struggle to survive. I’m familiar with the psychology, I know the narratives well, and choose to speak with candor about them, exposing their dark underbelly, because I’ve realized how counterproductive they are when taken to the extreme, or left unchallenged.
The truth is, the entire world is under siege, and we owe it to ourselves to step out of the shadow of the past and see the world with new eyes, if we want to be rid of colonialism once and for all. Let’s start by checking our overgeneralizations at the door, not expecting a free pass when playing the post-colonial card, making solid arguments that expose past injustices without echoing them. Our anger has room to improve.
I’m not saying we should calm down. On the contrary, let’s stay mad but go about our business differently.
The idea is simple, summed up in this motto: Sound Anger, Lasting Results. As straightforward and mic-dropping as that. It can be done, have no doubt. Small places are capable of giant feats. Some shake their heads, but they forget that the world’s greatest colonial power was an island itself. Such is the power of a small place when it channels its anger.
Yes, we can shape the world in a better way than our predecessors, if our anger is sound, our arguments measured against our own standards, and our perspective united.
‘The face of “evil” is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man [sic] in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: “Wouldn’t you?” Yes you would.’ ~ DEPOSITION: TESTIMONY CONCERNING A SICKNESS (intro to NAKED LUNCH)
This quote puts everything in perspective. It applies not only to junk aka dope aka heroin but also to the junk of life, anything one needs desperately and as a mater of survival: religion, validation, acceptance, a promotion, viability; one’s health; one’s safety and security; forgiveness; a family; intimacy; the obsession to succeed, to be famous and powerful, rich, recognized, or simply left alone, able to go about one’s business without anyone getting in the way; to have peace of mind, tranquility, company, someone to love and by whom to be loved in turn … whatever it is, when we totally depend on it we’ll do anything to preserve it and protect it, and while that may drive us to excel, thrusting us to great heights, someone always bears the brunt of our push, and that – the side-effects of our actions, the perspectives we’ve failed to register – or registered too late, after the damage – is the mark of all evil. The flip side to whatever we do. Good and evil are part of the same coin whether we like it or not, dished out at will. To be conscious is to be good and evil at the same time. To act is to engage both sides of the formula. All those who sell the path of total goodness and righteousness and absolution without acknowledging the currency of evil in every possible choice are swill traders and phonies, snake oil merchants and feelgood populists whose need to make others feel right confirms the rule they so desperately deny. As simple as that. History bears witness. In the name of God, country, social justice, love, family, children … all the evils of the world, committed as a matter of need. Such is the raw reality.
To acknowledge it is to be less cavalier with our righteousness, more responsible with our beliefs.
Some may take advantage, true, eager to get away with murder – ‘if there’s evil in everything we do, why care? why bother?’ – but that’s the copout, a lazy and obtuse response. The reality is deeper and more complicated than that, and at the same time simple and subtle. To acknowledge the evil inherent in every possible choice, including those that do good, is to rest assured that no one is beyond reproach and reform, criticism and restructuring. No one is exempt from judgment. We stand naked in the light of conscious intelligent appraisal, figuring out ways to improve our standing, processing the ongoing dynamic, engaging the vast network in ever-evolving ways, destroying as we create and creating as we destroy, never taking our choices for granted or ourselves (and causes) too seriously. God, to be divine, needs to be fallible, and so do we – fallible to have merit and wrong to have any kind of credibility. Isn’t life’s irony dope?