Recently, I had the opportunity to view the “The Get Happy” Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial. In the commercial, there is a white Jamaican in an office setting who earnestly tries to cheer up his co-workers from their everyday problems and mundane workday. The Jamaican’s solution for cheering up, was offering his co-workers the opportunity to take a trip in his red, Volkswagen. He managed to enlist two of his coworkers for a joy ride, however upon returning back to work they arrived late, and the Jamaican in the commercial was perceived as nonchalant and happy-go-lucky when his Boss questioned their late return.
Many individuals may have found this commercial racist, however, I thought it was done in good taste, and helped to steer Jamaica away from the typical stereotypes that have prevailed for years. The only criticism I found with the commercial was, the Jamaican being perceived to have a disregard for his job or his Boss.It has been my experience that Jamaica has taken the “heat” for so many negative stereotypes that may exist in our culture.
For instance, the number one stereotype is, “All Jamaicans are happy because they smoke weed”, this is an assumption that many foreigners make. Jamaicans are happy because they have firm religious beliefs and trust that God is their source to all good things. Although Jamaica is noted for harvesting ganja, smoking weed is perceived to most people in Jamaica as a drug habit and against the law. Parents and School Teachers vehemently warn their children from being associated with the herb.
It is true, that some Rastafarians and citizens may indulge occasionally for health or ritualistic reasons, however, that is a small percentage of the country and it should by no means become a symbol or an association for all Jamaicans.
Here are some of the other Stereotypes that you may have heard over the years:
Jamaicans say “man” after everything: There are some Jamaicans who use the word “man” or “mon” after every response, but it is usually heard in the country parts or amongst poor or uneducated Jamaicans. There are times when Jamaicans throw these words in, just to authenticate what they are saying or to enforce their “Jamaicaness”. Most Jamaicans who have an average education pride themselves on their speech patterns. Parents are often diligent in correcting their children when they pronounce their words lazily or choose to use patois on a frequent basis. Jamaica is one of the countries in the Caribbean who offer Speech and Drama as part of their school curriculum. Therefore, it is accurate to say, that almost every Jamaican is capable of speaking perfect English.
The average Jamaican who pronounces his/her words correctly and uses proper English vernacular are sometimes mistaken for British residents.
Jamaicans only listen to reggae: Jamaicans are worldly people. Although we like reggae, calypso and soca, we appreciate all forms of music. Music Appreciation is taught in elementary, high schools and colleges. Children are exposed to classical music from the time they enter kindergarten until they graduate from University. The radio stations in Jamaica play music of such known artists like Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Mathis, and many other artists from around the globe. If one listens intently to Caribbean or Jamaican music, the influence of other forms of music can be detected in some of the notes and rhythms.
Jamaicans are always late: It is often said, that Jamaicans are on their own time, but that only applies to extracurricular activities, such as entertaining or partying. It is true, that a Jamaican party will not start until the late hours in the morning. However, when it comes to matters of importance and work. Most Jamaicans pride themselves on punctuality and non-absenteeism.
Jamaicans have always been known and respected for their reliability and diligence. If a Jamaican is late or calls in sick for work, you can assume that he/she is experiencing matters beyond his/her control or are on his/her death bed. Punctuality and reliability are taught from the early years in Jamaica. It is dinned into school childrens’ brains, “The early bird catches the first worm.”
A mantra that most Jamaicans live by.
Jamaican men like white women with long hair: Jamaican men love women who take care of their hair. The average Jamaican man appreciates beauty. Jamaica is a country that has been blessed with beautiful women from all nationalities and ethnicities. The average Jamaican woman is obsessed with her hair from a young age. Jamaican women are notorious for spending hours on the weekends at the beauty parlour or at home taking care of their luscious locks. From infancy, Jamaican women are taught that their hair is their crowning glory and contributes to their beauty. So, whether a woman is black, white or indigo, if she has a beautiful mane, a Jamaican man is sure to be captivated.
Jamaican men have been portrayed in a negative light because of the “Rent-a-Rasta” scams. Typical Jamaicans do not condone these enterprises. The men who court and woo women for financial gain are just trying to capitalize on the Tourism Industry.
Jamaican men are old-fashioned and are swayed in the direction of their hearts, sensibilities and reasons. If it turns out their spouses are white with hair resembling Lady Godiva then onlookers have to know and trust it is for good reasons.
Jamaicans love to kiss teet: The only time kissing of the teeth can be heard on a regular basis in Jamaica is by the Higglers on the roadside or when visiting The Markets. The only other time kissing of the teeth is heard is perhaps in simple talk amongst males and their friends or girlfriends, who are just trying to get a point across. (e.g.) “Dem mussey tink me a pappy-show….(kiss teet)
Kissing of the teeth is not part of the Jamaican expression and is only used in common circumstances or when a Jamaican is trying to emphasize a point.
Jamaicans can find anything: Jamaicans are explorers by nature. Perhaps it was a gift endowed upon us by Christopher Columbus when he sought refuge in Jamaica while discovering the world. Jamaicans like to travel and they will search heaven and earth to get what they want. If they are living in a new city and have the desire for Jamaican food or products, they will explore until they find an establishment. Jamaicans appreciate good products and craftsmanship, therefore they will not settle for inferior merchandise, even if it means looking all over the world.
Jamaican women are “facety”: Jamaican women are not your ordinary, “run of the mill” type of women. We are intuitive and have the natural ability to assess people and situations for what they truly are. No matter how hard people try to deceive us we generally have an idea what is going on. Therefore, it is best to say, that Jamaican women can be “facety” when confronted with inappropriate situations. Such as derogatory or snide remarks. If someone tries to play a Jamaican woman for a fool or undermine her intelligence, he/she may experience her forthrightness. Many may perceive it as being “facety” but to a Jamaican woman, it really means, she is just telling it like it is.
Jamaicans have many jobs: Jamaicans are notorious for being, creative, industrious and sometimes ingenious. From early on in life, a Jamaican is counseled to be a success. Success for most Jamaicans translate as having a good education, owning houses, cars, and property. Most self-respecting, decent, Jamaicans know that these material things cannot be obtained by “quick money” or drug money. They understand that through hard work, or by obtaining many jobs their goals can be achieved.
Jamaicans are womanizers: It is true that Jamaican men love and appreciate women. Like any other nationality, some Jamaican men cheat. However, there are Jamaican men who are faithful to their wives and girlfriends. Some do not possess roving eyes. Jamaican men are family-oriented, and even if they fall prey to the flesh. They usually make sure their girlfriends, wives and children are well taken care of, and do not flaunt their indiscretions in their spouses’ or girlfriends’ faces. These are one of the many reasons why Jamaican women rarely leave their relationships because their men know their duties as husbands and boyfriends, and although they may roam, they always take care of home.
Jamaicans Practice Voodoo: Obeah and Voodoo have been associated with Caribbean Islands from the year of naught. Obeah became notorious when an English woman by the name of Annie Palmer came to Jamaica to seek her fortune. She married John Palmer and settled in at Rose Hall. It is written in history that she used to practice voodoo with the slaves who worked for her on the Plantation. Like Jews and other nationalities around the world, Jamaicans are aware of the evil eye, good-juju, bad-juju, etc. There are rituals that Jamaicans may do on a daily basis to keep away bad-minded people or negativity. However, it is not part of our culture to hurt people intentionally. Because as Jamaicans we understand, “That what goes around, comes around.”
A Jamaican may use certain aromas to ward off evil spirits, or burn candles to encourage their dearly departed to visit. A mother may dress her children in red to stave off negative vibes and unnecessary hatred from her children. Today, we call these rituals, aromatherapy, feng shui, or metaphysics. Regardless of what it is called, as a people, Jamaicans are extremely religious. The bible tells us, there are good and evil in this world and we must protect ourselves against the evil forces. Therefore, if a Jamaican utilizes spiritual rituals, it is usually for his/her own protection or for the people around him/her.
All Jamaicans are black: This stereotype is the most disheartening of all. I must admit, that the media was partly responsible for depicting Jamaica in an uncultured manner. Many of the commercials in earlier years only showed one side of Jamaica, and that was the poor, impoverished, uneducated, black people. Jamaica is so much more than that, because we are out of many one people.
Jamaicans cannot be judged by the darkness of their skin, because the darkest Jamaican may be mixed with so many other ethnicities. The Jamaican heritage includes, Indians, Spanish, English, Greeks, Irish, Jews, Germans, Chinese and Black. Many of these ethnicities are educated, financially stable and they live well. Jamaicans are warm, friendly individuals , and people of other ethnicities tend to gravitate towards them naturally. Therefore, it is not uncommon, that the average Jamaican may inter-marry to a person from a distant land. It is said, that a Jamaican can be found in any remote part of the world, be it Russia, Czechoslavakia, Lithuania or Siberia, it is part of our heritage to be multi-cultural.
Jamaicans don’t speak English: Jamaicans speak English and some well-traveled Jamaicans speak foreign languages as well. Our dialect, the patois, has been perceived and associated with ignorance, lack of education and criminal behavior. This misconception has greatly retarded us a people. The Jamaican dialect is the use of root words from English and Greek words. Many of the broken words used in the Jamaican dialects and colloquialisms are derived from proper words. Our dialect is no different from the language spoken by the person from Haiti, Trinidad, Guyana, or Grenada. Every dialect has its own rhythm, the patois that Jamaicans speak can be easily fast forwarded into perfect English. As other cultures use their language for privacy, Jamaicans also use their dialects so that other people are unable to eaves drop on their conversations.
Jamaicans are poor: In every culture, there are rich, middle class and poor people. The average Jamaican is acquainted with the terminology “Saving for a rainy day”. It is not far etched to find even the poorest vendor in Jamaica with a hefty back account. Jamaicans will make sacrifices to attain what they want. If it means not dining out 8 times for the week or ‘brown bagging it”, they will cut and carve to attain their goals. To many, watching from the outside, they may misinterpret a Jamaican’s lowly, no frills lifestyle as being poor or impoverished, but to a Jamaican, they are just sacrificing to create the fruition of dreams. It is part of the Jamaican culture to have pride in ownership. Whether it is houses, cars, boats or property, the poorest Jamaican has been taught to own. The street vendor may seem poor or lowly, but he/she may own at least a shack and have money in the bank.
In the Jamaican culture, it is a fact, that you cannot judge a book by its cover or else you will be greatly surprised. Jamaicans are enterprising people, always seeking a better way of life, whether through, education, entrepreneurship or good old fashioned hard work. Many Jamaicans are able to reach their goals and dreams through self-discipline and sacrificing.
A Jamaican will have hard dough bread, corn meal porridge and crackers every day, if it means, at the end of a given time, he/she can own property, land or vehicles. Jamaicans know that true wealth does not come by working for other people but by how much you save or as they say, “Cut n Caarve”.
It is never a good rule to stereotype or categorize people. Most people are a sum of their life experiences and family structures. Therefore, just because a person hails from a certain region of the world, it doesn’t mean they are going to fit all of the characteristics to a “T”. It is best to have an open mind, allowing individuals the time to prove who they really are as human-beings.