If you go on vacation to the Caribbean, it is not likely you will get to see or experience it. Around the beachfront property in which you are staying, there will be a high fence. Like all fences, it keeps things out. Mainly, it keeps the Caribbean out. The problem is, you will not see the fence. The landscape artist did his job well. He managed to give the whole resort an illusion of openness - the beach on one side bordered only by the horizon, the perfectly manicured lawns on the other, opening out on to island life behind it.

The fence is invisible. Of course there have been tourists - you may have been one of them - who naturally perceived it, who felt for its weaknesses and escaped into the beautifully ugly, the violently magical, the tragically wonderful thing that is the Caribbean, the place where I grew up. But that story, of tourists who escape finally into their true destinations, discovering then that paradise is at once uglier and more amazing than any brochure could have had them imagine, is not often told. It is not often told because it is neither a good nor a bad story. It simply is.

Its opposite, however, is almost always a bad story, and one that is increasingly told. This is what happened last week in Antigua. For there are moments when it is the Caribbean on the other side placing its large, dark hands against the fence, feeling for weaknesses. Sometimes it isn't tourists that break out, but the Caribbean that breaks in, as it did on Catherine and Benjamin Mullany who found themselves suddenly in the actual place they had flown to - saw it, experienced it and, sadly for Catherine, died for it. In a way, their story isn't new; from Columbus to the present, Europeans have been discovering the islands of the Caribbean and falling in and out of love with them.

I grew up on Jamaica, but if you ask me what it was like growing up on an island, I would tell you it never felt like an island. It felt like the world, which is what it was. For none of us lives in the whole world at any one time. We live in small portions of it and we get to know that small portion. I would say, however, that a hotel in the Caribbean is like an island because it is a small place cut off from the world around it. And on one hand who can blame the hotels for doing what they do, for being what they are? Fenced off, cut off, sterile enclaves that offer Caribbean culture to their guests in the same way that they offer them Caribbean rum - diluted, safe, with pineapples and a cute umbrella.

Full-proof Caribbean culture can be dangerous so the tourist is only given, for the evening's entertainment, a band of toothless men playing banjos, and throughout the day smiling women in bright floral skirts serving mangos and plantains. The tourist comments on how slow and easy the pace of life is in the Caribbean, not having any inkling at the struggle that is underneath those slow songs plucked out on the banjo, how much bread these men and women are fighting for. On one hand, who can blame the hotels for shielding tourists from reality, which is what they are trying to escape from? Who can blame them, except that hotels are inevitably controlled by big money intent on making more money and - here is the sad truth of things - if tourists feel at least a little terrified of outside, of the real Caribbean, they will keep themselves (and their money!) put. It is a balancing act this, making tourists feel safe enough to come to the Caribbean, but not so safe to venture into it. There is a large thing to say about tragedies such as the one in Antigua, and how in the assurances given by its Commissioner of Police (Canadian, incidentally, as if to assure the world that the savage natives do not police themselves) and the promises of beefed-up security around the hotels, an unfortunate kind of tourism is being perpetuated in the Caribbean where the tourist does not know, and is even suspicious of, the native. But that thing is truly large and I do not know how to say it. It would have to be a complicatedly nuanced thing; it would have to make several allowances. After all, the big hotels did not create the outside world they seek to protect tourists from. They only exploit it.

Besides, there is an even larger thing to say about the outside world that came in - about the Caribbean. It is this world which, for a brief moment, many are trying to understand. It is this world which is being explained through history and sociology, which is being summarised by statistics, GDP, indices of poverty, unemployment rates and homicide rates. But the scientific language of statistics and of sociology does not offer a template or a vocabulary to talk about this larger thing that I want to talk about. I want to talk about love and hate, and how these things have been brewing in the Caribbean.

I was born at a time when the word was love. It was the time of "white flight". In those days, Jamaica's most charismatic prime minister, Michael Manley, had mounted a stage and said the four words which would become a mantra for the poor, largely black population. "The word is love," he said. To repeat it now makes it sound like a thing without any real substance or meaning. That was its danger. It was a powerful thing that had no meaning. It was like an Old Testament prophecy - it took root in the hearts of the disenfranchised, and they believed that this word would change them. But it was only rhetoric. They were empowered into nothing.

The time when the word was love was a hateful time. Poor people, previously denied every good thing, who had believed wholeheartedly in their wretchedness and in their physical ugliness, finally began to believe something bigger about themselves. Jamaicans found out suddenly that they could love themselves and who they were and that image they saw in the mirror. They could now look forward to their own possibilities. The only problem was that the government had given them all this hope, all this love, this wide sense of possibility, but no way of achieving it. So the people decided they would achieve it for themselves. What helped was that it was at this very moment that the large-scale importation of illegal guns began.

It was a recipe for instability - arming people with a message and a machine, as if the second could achieve the first, as if guns could achieve love. You cannot fault people for trying. They tried and they are still trying now. It doesn't work. And neither sociology nor homicide statistics can pinpoint the moment when the prophesied love turned into hate, but it happened quickly. As much as people began to love themselves was as much as they began to hate everything that had oppressed them before, every system that had kept them down: the police; the upper class; the middle class; the government; businesses; the school system; the English language. In that hateful time when I was born, the time when the word was love, all over the island a resentful people began to commandeer vehicles and houses and parcels of land. Drawing frightened owners from out of their former homes and cars and farms, dumping them onto the streets, the captors would say triumphantly: "The word is love."

In the time when the word was love, many left. Largely, they were white and Chinese Jamaicans who no longer felt safe. They took their capital with them, leaving Jamaica in an even sorrier state than it was before. Some of these class-war refugees settled in the lands of their summer vacations: Canada, America, England, even Wales like Jeanetta did. Jeanetta became a kind of mother to me when I first moved to Britain. Staying at her home one Christmas, I asked her why she had left Jamaica. Of course, I was too young to remember the 1970s. So she told me: "I was just tired of saying I was sorry. I didn't know how to say it any more. The island I loved turned around and hated me. They hated me for being white." That same evening in Wales a neighbour came over and looked at my dark skin and smiled. She declared: "Oh Jeanetta, finally, a proper Jamaican!" I know this made her sad, and I realised that this thing which happened in the 1970s - when the majority of Jamaicans began to love themselves and hate others - is a complex thing with many truths to it, and many repercussions.

I used to imagine Jeanetta back in Jamaica, and I would imagine her safe in the island of a hotel - fenced off from the Caribbean she grew up in, safe, hoping that it would not break in on her. I only stopped imagining such a thing recently, because Jeanetta really has gone back. She lived in Wales for 20 years but it is the Caribbean she has always loved.

There is something else that grows out of this modern Caribbean - this new equation of sun, and verdant hills, and capitalism, and love, and a crowded population of poor people, and a rhetoric that is like religion and like a prophecy, but that is still waiting to be shaped. Imagine being an artist, a dancer, a songwriter living in the midst of all of that. Then you will undertmusic of such violent urgency, uncomfortable truths and prophecy. This is the power of Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Buju Banton, Bounty Killer. This is the power of Bob Marley on stage flashing his majestic locks and singing over and over, One love, One heart! Perhaps it was this song, playing in the background of a Come To The Caribbean commercial, that Catherine and Benjamin watched. Perhaps it was this that convinced them the Caribbean sea was full of islands of love, and was a perfect place to celebrate theirs. And here is the sad thing - they were right. The islands are full of love. But sometimes that love goes so deep it arrives at its opposite.