Caribbean Travel Writing
3 March 2017
by Keeley Jones
As part of Global Week’s celebration of diversity and culture, Caribbean travel writing is one of many sessions designed to inform people about Caribbean culture and how this is conveyed through Postcolonial travel writing. In a welcoming social environment, students, ambassadors, and passers-by were invited to the talk for an opportunity to make the most of the week’s final events, and learn about a new topic.
Travel writing as a genre often aims to create realistic and descriptive accounts of travel in new locations. More specifically, postcolonial travel writing challenges the Eurocentrism often identified in travel writing, critiquing the world view that appears in western civilization, and western society. Additionally, Postcolonial travel writing aims to write back against cultural stereotypes, and common themes include identity, nation, otherness, diaspora and hybridity. In the discussion held by a current PhD student in the Centre for Travel Writing Studies and the Postcolonial Studies Centre at Nottingham Trent University, the lack of current research about Caribbean British travel narratives was outlined, and why it is so important to learn about the origins of the Caribbean. In addition to the history of the culture, the travel aspect itself has a big impact, and it was further highlighted that an individual’s identity and nationality affects their opinion on travel as a whole.
Whilst the group discussion remained fairly informal and free-flowing, it primarily focused on the work of Caryl Phillips, who was born in the Caribbean and migrated to the UK when he was one year old. In his work, he often describes his journey to the United States and Europe, and his position as black man in Europe. Moreover, Phillips interrogates black European and black British identity, and the prevailing racism throughout Europe. When exploring Phillips’ travel to Amsterdam, it becomes evident to the reader that although black people here are used in the liberal framework that is Amsterdam and the red light district, they are not able to enjoy this as other tourists would. The exploitation highlighted in Phillips’ narrative conveys a lack of progress for what is considered a liberal city, detailing the experience from a personal perspective. As a result of this, Phillips’ travel writing successfully challenges our idea of contemporary Europe, questioning whether it is truly as evolved as we think.
Not only is it important to understand the origins of these cultures through postcolonial travel writing, but it is also important to focus on the need for education in order to eliminate ignorance and the ostracizing of others, purely out of fear of the unknown. Within a European sense of entitlement, we reject ideas which we know very little about, and we are not introduced to wider global issues. Whilst it can be argued this is due to the way we are conditioned in society, it remains an issue nonetheless. As global week comes to an end, the talk on Caribbean travel writing successfully concluded the fundamental lessons to take away: it is important to celebrate diversity in a way that not only embraces other cultures across the globe, but simultaneously educates us. It becomes more evident that Western society is perhaps not as liberal as we think, and education and open-mindedness are the first steps to solving this issue.
Keeley Jones is a second year student on BA (Hons) English at NTU. In Spring 2017, Keeley undertook work placement at the Postcolonial Studies Centre.