On Place, Part III (in Multiple Parts)

“[M]ost young people seem almost illiterate. … [T]hey speak English as if it were their sixth language.” (“A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid, 43)

This summer, I did a workshop about the importance of the written word with a group of 50 high school students who were part of a movement through media institute. The workshop was going along just fine, as I did a writing exercise with the students and then gave them an opportunity to practice presenting their written words to two city “councilmen” before the officials themselves arrived.

The students began to get a little restless, as we were wrapping up, and one of my peers stood before the group and talked to them about the importance of civic engagement. He said, “This is about survival, y’all.” I (respectfully) disagreed with him and said so in front of the students.

When we see life as something just to be survive, we’ve set our goal lower than it ever ought to be. Even the Declaration of Independence, a document that didn’t have “us” in mind, I said, as I stepped closer to the students to emphasize how sincere I was, when the authors penned it even says our inalienable rights are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness, not survival.

“[A]ll the laws that you know mysteriously favour you. Do you know why people like me are shy about being capitalists? Well, it’s because we, for as long as we have known you, were capital … and the memory of this is so strong, the experience so recent, that we can’t quite bring ourselves to embrace the idea that you think so much of. As for what we were like before we met you, I no longer care.” (36,37)

There’s a common misconception that an education is a fundamental federal “right” granted to every person born here in America. It isn’t true. It behooves students, their parents and their village to demand that their children stand resolutely in their places (a box so big that it’s perimeter is invisible) and begin to define how they will acquire for themselves a life, a landscape that shines more brilliantly than mere endurance for its own name.

I’m part of a book club. We recently read and subsequently discussed Jamaica Kincaid’s “A Small Place.” (Thank you, Ms. Picker!)

This book, with its 81 pages, packs into itself an expression of every emotion that lies below the surface one: anger. There’s disappointment and frustration there, disbelief and regret, woe, betrayal, disappointment and disappointment about the colonization of the author’s homeland, Antigua.

During our discussion, a group member asked of Kincaid’s colonized homeland, why the Antiguans let the English come in at all. The islanders, of course, didn’t let the colonizers in, for colonizers are not known for employing the best etiquette when they see something they want. They take it.

Kincaid writes:

Have you ever wondered to yourself why it is that all people like me seem to have learned from you is how to imprison and murder each other, how to govern badly, and how to make the wealth of our country and place it in Swiss bank accounts? … You will have to accept that this is mostly your fault. Let me show you how you looked to us. You came. You took things that were not yours, and you did not even, for appearance’s sake, ask first. You could have said, “May I have this, please?” and even though it would have been clear to everybody that a yes or no from us would have been of no consequence you might have looked so much better. (34, 35)

I understand the author’s point. I am, however, afraid the deception of asking “for appearance’s sake” would have been a defrauding even more evil than the oppression the Antiguans (even now, currently) suffer. If there’s one thing that’s worse than a lie, it’s a deception. It’s the intentional misrepresentation of a piece of truth for the deceiver’s benefit.

The English hate each other and they hate England, and the reason they are so miserable now is that they have no place else to go and nobody else to feel better than.

The young people I was with this summer and most of the ones I serve believe this country was built to support them, and this couldn’t be farther from the truth. But to tell them this truth steals some of their innocence, just as the crime of colonization does. The nefariousness of colonization has little to do with the land of some place; it’s the mental space it abuses that proves the most damaging. That is the ground, the small place, we must protect as if our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness depended on it.

“Once you cease to be a master, once you throw off your master’s yoke, you are no longer human rubbish, you are a human being, and all the things that adds up to. So, too, with the slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings.” (81)

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~ by MsInklination on September 28, 2012.

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