Beyond the cover: Finding my identity in Jamaica

I wrote a post on identity for the official Peace Corps blog in light of Black History Month. While February is over, March is celebrated as Women’s History Month, so I feel it’s still relevant 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Beyond the cover: Finding my identity in Jamaica

  1. It’s an interesting phenomenon when a person lives in a “foreign” country. No matter how open-minded, they will make assumptions and understand things based on their own background and issues.

    First let me personally thank you for coming to Jamaica as a Peace Corp Volunteer and working to help our country and people.

    I must say that you are looking at (and learning about Jamaica) through the prism of the U.S.A. and all that country’s issues with race and identity.

    Racism and classism are human conditions, so I’m sure wherever you go you will find individuals who may be racist and/or classist.

    Anyone who has read or knows Jamaican history knows we were a colony of Britain (and obviously Spain earlier, for a shorter period of time). With that history of slavery, slave rebellions, slave martyrs, our brave national heroes, who fought for equality (that’s what national heroes should be about) etc., how could we not have some of this staining our culture and society. But we also have the history of our national heroes who overcame things to make life better for us today. We also have the fierce maroons who are a wonderful example of resistance to British rule.

    Ask any older Jamaican, my parents ages – early 70s – or older, and they will tell you of a time when many stores after slavery through the 1950s and early 1960s, that were owned by the elite white (Jewish, Syrian, Lebanese, British, Portuguese, etc.) and banks run by such, would not hire dark skinned Jamaicans to work in the front offices. Dark skinned Jamaicans were relegated to back of house. Chinese Jamaican shops seemed to have less of an issue hiring dark skinned Jamaicans to work in their businesses.Thank God our country is ever-evolving and much has changed.

    Consider the fact that beautiful Devon House in Kingston, one of our nation’s prized properties, was owned and left to the country by Jamaica’s first black millionaire in the late 1800s. Today, white Jamaicans are in the minority, although many people have mixed ancestry. But successful dark-skinned Jamaicans are everywhere — we are professors and lecturers; we are actors and actresses; we are bank presidents and business owners; we are television executives; we are writers, painters and sculptors; we are small business owners and farmers; we are doctors, lawyers, teachers; television broadcasters; we are chefs and hotel owners; we are successful athletes such as Usain Bolt, and we have numerous dark skinned Jamaican models — both female and male — who have been and continue to make a name for themselves and our country.

    No one can say in today’s Jamaica that we do not have examples of successful Black people who through education have become shining examples to our young people. Now with all the examples we have, I know a poor child from Trench Town or a community like that, may still not be able to grasp such possibilities and see no way of getting from their present surroundings to success. That’s why our schools are so important. They allow children form all backgrounds to mingle with each other. But we all know some schools are better than others. All high schools are supposed to be equal now, but we all know traditional high schools like Campion, Queens, St. Andrew High School for Girls, Immaculate Conception High School only accept the brightest and best students. (Sorry I digress in my stream of consciousness response to your blog post.)

    No slavery is good, but America had one of the most pernicious forms of slavery in the world. Honestly, I don’t know if South Africa’s apartheid system or the U.S.A. was worst.

    Jamaica may have had its issues of racism and slavery, but thank God we never had Jim Crow laws and segregation after slavery ended.

    Compare us and our issues of racism and slavery to other Caribbean islands that evolved similarly, but please don’t compare us to the horror of racism and segregation to what America did to its Black citizens. There is no way Jamaica can be as bad as the U.S.A. when we are a majority black country.

    On another note, we Jamaicans do have the tendency to give people nicknames based on obvious traits, and sometimes this is not always positive. Many of us dark skinned Jamaicans embrace our complexions, although some (unfortunately it seems to mostly occur in poorer communities) bleach their skin, believing lighter is better. That’s a horrible shame, but we will continue to grow and evolve and love ourselves and live up to our motto “Out of Many One People.”

    In Jamaica racism was often intertwined with classism and, in my opinion, more of the latter than the former existed,

    Jamaica is and was a very different culture than America, and one can in no way compare the racism that existed in Jamaica with that which existed and continues to exist in the United States.

    1. Hi Donna, thanks for reading. I’ve never claimed to be anything except an American living in Jamaica, and I think it would be odd if I didn’t bring my own cultural lens with me when I moved here two years ago. Please don’t misunderstand me; my target audience for this post was other Americans, and in this case I wrote about my experience with them in mind. I do not seek to oversimplify the complex, unique history that the great country of Jamaica has.

      For the record, it’s possible for anyone to be racist, regardless of their own skin color. It is not my belief that the majority of Jamaicans are racist, but I think that we are all guilty of making unfair assumptions of others based on things like skin color, the clothes they wear, or the accent they have. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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