Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizin
Englan in reverse.

Dem a pour out a Jamaica
Everybody future plan
Is fe get a big-time job
An settle in de mother lan.

What a islan! What a people!
Man an woman, old an young
Jus a pack dem bag an baggage
An tun history upside dung!

An week by week dem shippin off
Dem countryman like fire,
Fe immigrate an populate
De seat a de Empire.

Oonoo see how life is funny,
Oonoo see de tunabout?
Jamaica live fe box bread
Outa English people mout.

Wat a devilment a Englan!
Dem face war an brave de worse,
But me wonderin how dem gwine stan
Colonizin in reverse.

Excerpts from Colonization in Reverse (1966) by Louise Bennett Coverley

Introduction and background

I believed it was important for me to begin my contribution to this book project with excerpts from the poem titled ‘Colonization in reverse’ by Louise Bennett Coverley, in which she narrates the story of the mass migration of Jamaicans to the United Kingdom (UK) during the post-World War II era from 1948 until about 1973. Up until independence in 1962, Jamaica was a British colony and thousands of Jamaicans were recruited to fill post-War vacancies in the ‘motherland.’  Louise Bennett-Coverley, one of Jamaica’s foremost poets, writers and actors described this mass migration as reverse colonization referencing previous mobilities in the other direction from Britain to the Caribbean during the colonial era.  Of course, while both mobilities served the colonial project through the exploitation and extraction of resources, they were  different – the post-War movement of Jamaicans to Britain was predominantly in the form of flows of human capital where the descendants of formerly enslaved people sought to take their place as equals in the very seat of the empire.  Conversely, mobilities from Britain to Jamaica primarily focused on the trade in goods produced under the system of African enslavement. In ‘Colonization in Reverse’, Bennett-Coverley turned the exploitative colonial relationship between Britain and Jamaica on its head by portraying this mass migration as a positive phenomenon for the former colonised, an opportunity for Jamaicans to improve their lives and livelihoods through working and living in the heart of the empire. At the same time, she was under no illusions that these Jamaican migrants would be welcomed with open arms and indeed she described this as being potentially more problematic for the British than the war and other hardships that had been endured. After all, the British were not used to having descendants of the very people they had enslaved competing with them for jobs in their own country as she so astutely observed in the following two verses of the poem:

Oonoo see how life is funny,
Oonoo see de tunabout?
Jamaica live fe box bread
Outa English people mout.

Wat a devilment a Englan!
Dem face war an brave de worse,
But me wonderin how dem gwine stan
Colonizin in reverse.

According to Schenstead-Harris (2017) “in Bennett’s poem, migration occurs in a context that clearly intends to leverage historical imbalances between colonizer and colonized” (2017, p. 139).  Paul (1997) argues that while these Jamaican migrants may have held British passports, served during the war and might have been documented as British citizens, nevertheless, “because they were black, they were not and never could be British to the first degree” (1997: 129). These early Jamaican migrants (and also those from other Caribbean islands) and their descendants certainly faced significant anti-Black racism in Britain leading to several riots and civil disturbances including in Toxteth, Liverpool (1981) and Brixton, London (1981). While today things have improved, anti-Black racism still exists in almost every sector of the British society. Importantly, the advent of mass tourism in postcolonial Jamaica saw further changes to human mobilities between Britain and Jamaica with tourism being described as neo-colonialism or a new form of imperialism in so far as tourism perpetuates the exploitative relationship that existed under the colonial regime (for more on the link between tourism and colonialism please see for example Bandyopadhyay, 2011; Palmer, 1994; Hall & Tucker, 2004).

Yet Miss Lou, as she was affectionately called in Jamaica, was not always celebrated in Jamaica. Pre-independence in the late 1930s she was, according to Hoenisch perceived by the Jamaican public as:

an entertainer, versatile and skilled, but of limited local and cultural appeal. This image was shaped to a large degree by the fact that she used Jamaican “dialect ”, or creole, in her poems and prose; spoke about everyday experiences of common people; placed her work in the context of folk culture; and chose orality as her medium of expression….For decades, Louise Bennett was caught in the role of an entertaining performer in the medium of folk culture (1993, p. 181).

Indeed, her work:

could be perceived as a direct expression of a somewhat exotic “native” culture, which remained outside the sphere of what was considered literature. This patronizing view of her work, shaped by an implicit acceptance of the dominant culture of the colonizing ‘motherland’, is illustrated by the fact that she was not included in the early literary projects which began to assert an independent Jamaican culture since the late 1930s.  (Hoenisch 1993, p. 182)

It was only when independence from Britain (in 1962) changed the socio-cultural and political landscape that Miss Lou came to be celebrated as a central figure in the development of a unique Jamaican national identity. Through her poems, writings and performances, she led the charge to establish a Jamaican national identity in the post-independence era.

Miss Lou had a significant influence on my own childhood (and I would argue also that of many Jamaican children) as it was through engaging with her poems and performances that I developed a sense of my own identity as a postcolonial subject and its attendant gender, race and class complexities. Miss Lou encouraged Jamaicans to celebrate our unique language (patois/creole), our mixed heritage and to reject white superiority. She did this at a time when English, the language of the British colonisers, was venerated and normalised as the language of the elite and the Jamaican dialect was denigrated as being crude, uncouth and the language of the poor and uneducated. The nomenclature of the Jamaican language as ‘dialect’ itself signified its peripheralisation in the context of the centrality of English (Hoenisch, 1993).

Countless hours of immersion in Miss Lou‘s performances and poetry exposed me at that young age to the nature of colonialism and its effects on the colonised, a theme which was to run throughout my personal and academic life albeit I perhaps was unable to articulate this until much later when I went to university. So it was that the political, economic and cultural integration of the Anglophone Caribbean islands was very important to me as I believed that it was through unity that we, as small island peoples, would be able to triumph against imperialism. I studied International Relations at University and wrote a thesis on the extent to which the peoples of the Caribbean countries that comprised the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) felt a common sense of identity. I was very much interested in matters of Caribbean integration and our relationship with the countries of the Global North and after university I gained employment with the Ministry of Tourism in Jamaica. It was then that I became engaged, from a policy perspective, with tourism as a tool for development in small island countries like Jamaica. I witnessed first-hand the conflict that arose between our emancipation as an island and our dependence on tourists from the countries of the Global North. I witnessed first-hand the inequalities that existed between the Western tourists (predominantly white) and the poorly remunerated tourism workers (predominantly black). I was ambivalent (and perhaps still am) about the value of tourism for small island post-colonial societies like Jamaica as while it is incontrovertible that it has delivered some economic benefits, it is also undeniable that it creates a dependency reminiscent of that which existed during the colonial era, supporting the notion of tourism as a new form of colonialism.

Tourism (re)presentations: Beyond colonialism

I arrived in the United Kingdom in 1998 to undertake a Masters degree in Tourism Management as while I had experience of tourism public policy and the business aspects of tourism I was keen to learn more about tourism as an academic subject and there were unsurprisingly more opportunities to do so in the UK. Given my long-standing interest in politics my Masters thesis examined the role of politics, expressed in the form of public policy, in the development of tourism in Jamaica. I examined two distinct political periods in Jamaica – the first I deemed as the era of socialism between 1972-1980 and the latter the period of capitalism between 1980-1989.  An important part of this exploration was how public policies were influenced by political ideologies and geo-politics and how these affected the development of tourism in the island.  I published a paper from this thesis with my supervisor (Chambers & Airey, 2001) and this was my very first academic publication. My research for this paper examined tourism in Jamaica at a time when the Cold War between capitalist countries (represented by countries in North America, the European Union and their allies) and socialist countries (represented by countries in the former Soviet Union, China and their allies) was at its height and issues of geo-politics were very important. Jamaica, as a small, post-colonial, tourism dependent economy could scarcely hope to chart its own politico-economic destiny, located as it was in the ‘backyard’ of the United States. I argued in this paper that during the era of socialism in the 1970s, the decline in Jamaica’s tourism fortunes demonstrated the:

danger faced by a tourism dependent, small island state in the ‘backyard’ of the United States, articulating an ideology and developing public policies which are antithetical to the latter’s political philosophy (Chambers & Airey, 2001, p. 118)

Whereas during the period of capitalism in the 1980s:

the economic policies of the government [focused] on the encouragement of foreign investment and the reduction of government involvement in industry. The government’s foreign policy of developing friendly relations with the United States impacted positively on the tourism industry (Chambers & Airey, 2001, p. 118).

This research highlighted the politics of tourism and the complexities of tourism development in a small island post-colonial developing state. These themes continued to influence my academic thinking.

After this Masters degree I received a bursary to pursue doctoral studies again in the UK and my interest in the politics of tourism strengthened but this time my attention shifted to issues of power and particularly the power of representation. My focus was on the representation of English heritage and what this said about English national identity. It was only on reflection that I realised that Miss Lou’s poem on Colonization in Reverse had had a significant influence on my desire to understand the link between England’s heritage and its identity as a nation. This doctoral project marked my entry into postcolonial and Foucauldian discourse theory. I remember reading Edward Said’s Orientalism for the first time for my doctoral thesis and it was as if a light bulb had been turned on in my head. At last I had discovered a theoretical framework that provided a plausible explanation for the nature of the postcolonial relationship.

In my doctoral thesis I examined representations of English heritage as portrayed by two iconic English/British institutions – English Heritage and the National Trust. Drawing on postcolonial and discourse theory I wanted to understand not only what was being said about England’s heritage but also the silences and elisions – I had many questions that I wanted to explore including: to what extent was England’s heritage inclusive of its colonial past? Of women? Of the working classes? How powerful were discourses of heritage and how did they frame England’s national identity? How could hegemonic heritage discourses be resisted? My thesis was primarily informed by the writings of Said, Foucault and Laclau and Mouffe. My second academic publication was derived from this doctoral thesis and here I argued that:

heritage and the nation might be perceived as discursive constructions that have been articulated together into a hegemonic discursive formation. This conceptualization of a discursively constructed heritage/nation relationship is important for tourism studies because in a postmodern, global era it is in and through tourism that this relationship is most readily apprehended…this … can open up understanding to those power/knowledge relationships at work in the representation of heritage in and through tourism and how this relates to a national concept. Such understanding can facilitate a rethinking of heritage construction for the tourism industry (Chambers, 2005, p. 241).

I had found that English heritage, as (re)presented in the promotional materials from the institutions English Heritage and the National Trust had occluded Britain’s colonial past, women and the working classes and this had crucial implications for how the national identity of England was (re)presented. I wanted to expose the power relationships at work in these (re)presentations and advocated for change. Since I completed my doctoral thesis, I continued my examination of how people and places are represented within tourism, largely inspired by postcolonial theory. I found postcolonial theory very valuable as it seeks to explore the effects and affects of colonial domination by unpacking the (re)presentations of the former colonised peoples and places in literature, the news media, film, art, tourist brochures and other modes of communication. Postcolonial theory enabled me to appreciate how the way in which we (re)present people and places that were formerly suppressed under colonial rule has implications for how we live our lives today. In one example I drew on postcolonial theory to unpack the phenomenon of gay tourism in Jamaica and argued that Jamaica’s attitude towards homosexuality (which precluded the development of a formal gay tourism product in the island) was linked to its postcolonial condition as a former British colony (Chambers, 2008).

However, as I progressed in my academic career, I became increasingly uncomfortable with postcolonial theory. I realised that like Miss Lou, who had argued for the development of a Jamaican identity that was creolised, an identity that was uniquely Jamaican but which was drawn from a ‘harmonious’ mix between the island’s British and African heritage,  I was actually working within the confines of a predominantly Western construct. I cannot recall the exact moment when I was introduced to alternative theories namely decolonial, critical race theory and black feminism but I was clearly searching for some new understandings that might provide more plausible explanations for my own complex and often difficult experiences as a post-colonial subject trying to make a life for herself on her own in Britain. Consequently, for the past more than ten years I have been reading works from decolonial Latin American scholars including Enrique Dussel, Walter Mignolo, Ramon Grosfoguel, and Gloria Anzaldua. I have been reading works from Black feminist writers including Kimberle Crenshaw, Audre Lorde, Sarah Ahmed, and bell hooks. Linda Tuhawai-Smith’s seminal publication on Decolonizing Methodologies was also instrumental to my rethinking about research and about the production of knowledge.

I remain convinced that decolonial theory presents a more radical approach than traditional postcolonial theorising. This is because it is focused on disrupting the traditionally dominant Anglo/Eurocentric ways in which our knowledge about the world has been produced. It is focused on epistemological decolonisation or put simply, the emancipation or delinking of knowledges from the hegemonic stranglehold of Anglo/Eurocentrism. Decolonisation demands an emancipation that is embodied – that is, one that is corporeal, mental and emotional. Unlike postcolonial theory it is not seeking to ‘use the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house’ (Lorde, 2017, p. 91). Critical race theory is very much aligned to decolonial theory and is focused on the way in which racism is very much a feature of our contemporary societies. Black feminist theory recognises that it is important to explore how the intersection between gender, class and race can help us to understand Black women’s experiences of silencing through racism and sexism. Black feminism suggests that there is no single story about women’s experiences of oppression. Clearly postcolonial, decolonial, critical race theory and black feminism bear family resemblances, and I have applied insights from all these perspectives to my research within the field of tourism.

Using decolonial theory I have argued in my research for an innovative agenda for tourism knowledge production which values perspectives from tourism scholars from the Global South and whose cultural and historical knowledges about their own societies can be used to enrich our understanding of tourism. I have contended that what we have so far been learning about tourism in our universities and colleges has been almost exclusively informed by Anglo/European perspectives which has led to the silencing of knowledges from the Global South. In this sense I am in solidarity with other scholars and student groups who have been advocating for the ‘decolonisation of the academy’ (Chambers & Buzinde, 2015).

Critical race theory and particularly concepts of ‘whiteness’ and ‘white privilege’ has enabled me to analyse white female sex tourism to countries of the Global South. My research in this area has included a critical analysis of two films primarily owing to the complex colonial histories of the destination countries involved and their continued problematic postcolonial presents. The two films are Heading South, set in the Caribbean island of Haiti and released in the UK in 2006, and Paradise Love, set in the sub-Saharan East African country of Kenya, which was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and on general release in 2013. In my analyses of these films I demonstrated that through sex tourism white power is reproduced and re-inscribed in the Caribbean and other parts of the Global South not only by Western men but also by Western women. Exposing the power of whiteness (including its gendered dimension) allows us to highlight a central source of exploitation that persists in tourism. I argue that addressing the continued power of whiteness is a necessary endeavour for the sustainable and ethical development of tourism in the Global South (Chambers, 2021a, 2021b).

Concluding remarks

Overall, my research draws inspiration from my own lived experiences as a postcolonial Caribbean subject, a Black woman working in the field of tourism where our voices were traditionally silenced, where we were often ignored in discussions about tourism knowledge and practices. This elision I would argue is due to the intersectional forces of racism and sexism, both of which were central to the success of the colonial project. Like most qualitative researchers I believe strongly that one’s positionality is important in research and it pervades every aspect of this process from idea conceptualisation through to the interpretation of findings, and its presentation. As I indicated in a previous publication, being explicit about one’s positionality is:

not a call to self-indulgence or solipsism. Rather, I believe that tourism research which seeks to produce new knowledges and which is not deeply self-reflexive in terms of the researcher’s own motivations, experiences and situatedness will have limited value in terms of providing honest solutions for the problems that exist in our increasingly complex world (Chambers, 2018, p. 195).

Underpinning my research is an emancipatory objective in so far as I seek to highlight inequalities and silences in the way that people and places are (re)presented in tourism and in the way in which knowledges about tourism are (re)produced in and through normalising Anglo/Eurocentric discourses.

However, I believe that my research goes beyond examining and exposing elisions in (re)presentations and has practical implications and relevance. It opens up a wide range of necessarily power political discussions about race, gender and privilege and how this pervades every aspect of our social life including tourism policies, practices and research. Like Audre Lorde, I see difference not as something that is divisive but as a productive force. For according to Lorde “it is not difference which immobilises us, but silence. And there are too many silences to be broken” (2017, p. 6)


Written by Donna Chambers, University of Sunderland, UK
Read Donna’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers


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Chambers, D. (2008). A postcolonial interrogation of attitudes toward homosexuality and gay tourism: The case of Jamaica. In M. Daye, D. Chambers & S. Roberts (eds). New Perspectives in Caribbean Tourism (pp. 106-126). London: Routledge.

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Chambers, D. (2021a) Are we all in this together?  Gender intersectionality and sustainable tourism.  Journal of Sustainable Tourism. https://doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2021.1903907

Chambers, D. (2021b). Reflections on the relationship between gender and race in tourism.  In P. Dieke, B. King & R. Sharpley (eds). Tourism in development: reflective essays (p 233-244). CAB International

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Lorde, A. (2017 [1984]). Your silence will not protect you. London: Silver Press

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Schenstead-Harris, L. (2017). Between ‘home’and migritude: Louise Bennett, Kamau Brathwaite and the poet as migrant. Crossings: Journal of Migration & Culture8(2), 131-149.


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Women’s voices in tourism research Copyright © 2021 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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