I was born and raised in St. Mary, Jamaica, West Indies but if I didn’t tell you that, you probably wouldn’t have guessed. I moved to the United States in 2009. I have been mistaken for a Dominican, Trinidadian, Haitian but never a Jamaican. My very first, “OMG you’re Jamaican” moment happened in the cafeteria at work. The surprise was different, to say the least, in fact, it was borderline disrespectful. After acknowledging my nationality, her statement was “you’re so advanced.” Completely puzzled, I hesitantly replied, “ok” and walked away. I’ve since been asked for my accent which I don’t think we carry around in our back pockets or I have been asked why I don’t look like a Jamaican. Do Jamaicans have a look? When you find out, please tell me.
So, what prompted all this. I like to read the comment section on certain blogs or news articles and recently The Shade Room posted something that may or may not have been written by a Jamaican. There were arguments about the use of the word “pan”. One of the comments was that Jamaicans do not have a language. Maybe to discount the original conclusion but that was just plain ignorance. Now, my blood rose to boiling temperatures but sometimes ignorance should be ignored. Or, in this case, blogged about. I took my concern to Facebook and my telephone contacts and asked, what are some of the most popular Jamaican Stereotypes?
I am about to dispel about 10 widely known myths about Jamaicans. The responses are from Jamaicans living in the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and the UK. We tried to get responses from Jamaicans living in Japan but that just didn’t work. Maybe next time.
- ALL Jamaicans are loud or aggressive: THIS IS A NO. POINT BLANK. Stop it NOW! We speak passionately about things. Yet, that passion is often misconstrued as aggressiveness. Most of us do also speak normally and in hushed tones. Please stop trying to label us as such.
- ALL Jamaicans are from Kingston: Jamaica has 14 beautiful parishes (like states, Provinces, etc). Kingston is the capital of Jamaica, we all can’t be from the same little place. To be fair, it is common knowledge that some Jamaicans will say they are from Kingston when a St. Mary dem come from. Stop it. Be proud of your bush. With that said, we are all not from “bush” or live in huts on the beach. We were raised in homes, some with cable TV, sometimes just an antenna, running water, and yes, modern conveniences.
- Jamaicans do not speak English/Jamaicans do not have a language: The most annoying thing you can ask a Jamaican is to speak Jamaican. The second is massacring the dialect. Contrary to this widely-known misconception, Jamaica’s first language is actually English. The mere fact that we were colonized by the British until our independence in 1962 should be a dead giveaway. Unfortunately, most people do not pay attention to historical facts.
Jamaica does have another language. Yes, patois, Jamaican creole, or the Jamaican dialect but never “Jamaican”. Patois (Patwah) is the language spoken at home and in the streets. A friend of mine was asked if he learned English as a second language and we laughed. We are proud of our patois, but we learned English in school. No shade but the real English. The most interesting thing about the language is its fluidity; strangely, people from certain Parishes uses certain words that others have never heard of. Ask people from Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth.
To help you with a little patois, you might want to check the Jamaican Language Unit at The University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI, MONA). There is also a Jamaican dictionary, Authentic Jamaican Dictionary of the Jamic Language: Featuring, Jamaican Patwa And Rasta Iyaric, Pronunciations And Definitions, by Ras Jabari Reynolds. I met the author and owned a copy. No, this is not a promotion of any sorts, it is actually the closest thing I’ve read or had that helped with pronunciation and definitions. Not that I need it.
- ALL Jamaicans smoke weed: THIS IS ALSO A NO! First of all, who raised y’all? We know what our mothers and grandmothers would say about this so let’s not even go there. Even as adults weed smoking is frowned upon. Yes, our free-spirited folks will blow smoke in your face but really it’s not something every Jamaican does or even want to do. Some of us have asthma.
- ALL Jamaicans have two jobs or in the nursing field: This is a common misconception in the United States. In fact, this might run true for most Caribbean people and even Africans. People, please don’t knock us for our ambition. If we can, you can too. Just get with it or shut up about it.
- ALL Jamaicans can cook: Unfortunately, not all Jamaicans possess our most prized skill, I honestly don’t know what happened here, but I feel for them too. Jamaican food is THE best. Yes, I am completely biased but you’ve never had my mother’s cooking. I don’t personally know of any Jamaican that lacks culinary wizardry, but I’ve heard they exist. Being raised Jamaican and if I may, the Caribbean, cooking might be some weird rite of passage that we must pass. A Jamaican that can’t cook is still baffling to me but true.
- ALL Jamaicans can dance: FALSE. I have two sisters that move, but dancing is not their strong suit. NOPE. There is no shame in not being able to dance. When the music hits, you literally feel no pain. You just need to kick up those legs and do a one skank or whatever is popular these days. There is no question about our ability to dance, it’s a damn shame if you can’t but we’re so innovative, one man’s failure to move with the rhythm might just be a new dance move.
- ALL Jamaicans run or do track and field: Listen, Usain Bolt and those sprinters have the world thinking there is a factory in Jamaica. No, no, no. Not all of us can run. In fact, there is a larger percentage of non-runners in Jamaica. Some of us nice long walks on the beach or naps.
- ALL Jamaicans know Bob Marley or Usain Bolt: Please, this is just plain ignorant. Jamaica is small but not that small. Do all Americans know Beyonce? Do all British folks know Adele? Let’s be realistic here. When you meet us, don’t ask us if we know them. We see them on TV just like you. In Bob’s case, most of us just know his music.
- ALL Jamaicans are black: Our population is so diverse. You might just run into a pearl white man/woman speaking fluent patois. See White Yardie. Although Jamaica is predominantly black, we are home to so many different races. Our motto is: Out of Many, One People. If we aren’t proud of anything, —and we are a proud people, we are proud of our people.
I really hope this helps. Ignorance is never bliss and if you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email. Walk good.