Top Ten Jamaican Stereotypes
There are many false impressions about Jamaica. Many began in the 1970s and 1980s and are so deeply entrenched that some Jamaican residents seem them.
1. Everybody in Jamaica Smokes Marijuana
This is the most popular stereotype of all. People are still surprised to meet Rastafarians who do not smoke marijuana. "Do you smoke weed?" is the most popular question that I am asked when I travel abroad.
In 2009, approximately 13% of Americans uses marijuana, based on information provided by World Drug Report, 2011.
Based on the same report, approximately 10% of the general public of Jamaica smoked marijuana in 2006. The marijuana sub-culture in Jamaica is specific and small. It is however a powerful sub-culture.
2. Jamaican Men are Womanizers
Just because Jamaican men always say nice things to women, does not mean they are haveulterior motives. It is natural for Jamaican men to be polite to women. Women may sometimes misinterpret social signals and assume that men are interested in them sexually or romantically.
Many people believe that most Jamaican men have multiple children all over the world. This may be true for a select few wealthy popular Jamaican men, however most Jamaican men settle down and get married. The divorce rate in Jamaica is even lower than those in first world countries.
3. Every Jamaican is a Rastafarian
As silly as it might sound, a lot of people think that most of the Jamaican population are Rastafarian. On the contrary, only a small amount of the population is Rastafarian—less than 3%.
Propaganda Movies with Negative Stereotypes (indecent language warning)
4. Jamaicans Practice Voodoo
Most Jamaicans know about voodoo from what they see on TV. When I was much younger, I watched the movie Marked for Death and thought that Rastafarians were voodoo witch doctors. I was a bit shocked, because I was pretty sure Rastafarians do not practice voodoo.
Stevens Segal's Marked for Death movie portrays Rastafarians as selling drugs, practicing voodoo, and doing drive by shootings. If the movie producers had done some research about the culture, they would have known that Rastafarians do not partake in these activities. The makers of the movie may be trying to intentionally spread negative propaganda.
5. Marijuana is Legal
Smoking marijuana in public in Jamaica can easily get you arrested. Ever since slave rebellions were associated with marijuana, it has been illegal. I have seen tourists get arrested for possession of marijuana because they did not know the law.
There is some tolerance in rural areas where the penalty for possession can be a fine or a suspended sentence.
6. Jamaicans Are Always Happy Because They Are Under the Influence
Whenever Jamaicans travel to other countries and people notice that the islanders smile and laugh, the first impression is that the islanders may be under the influence. The truth is Jamaicans just smile a lot naturally. According to the 2009 happy planet index, Jamaica is the third happiest country in the world, while the USA ranked 114th on the list.
Jamaicans can be spotted by their outbursts of loud laughter on trains and airplanes.
7. Jamaicans Have Lots of Children
Most people assume that Jamaicans hold the same reproductive beliefs like Bob Marley. This stereotype may have been true back in the baby boomer era, or even 30 years ago. Some popular Jamaicans, such as Bob Marley, may have had several children. The truth is that Jamaica is an under-populated country. The population growth rate is approximately 0.7% annually.
8. Jamaican Violence Affects Tourism
Tourists are much safer in Jamaica than actual Jamaicans. The violence in Jamaica is between specific gangs and crews. Jamaican crime is perpetrated against residents of poor, under-developed communities. Middle class communities are almost crime-free. Upper class communities and tourist communities experience almost no violence at all. Compared to Mexico, Indonesia or Las Vegas, Jamaica is much safer for tourists.
9. Jamaica Is a Poor Country
The government of Jamaica is in a lot of debt. However, there are a lot of successful luxury car dealerships in Jamaica. The real estate market is booming. A lot of people are migrating to Jamaica from first world countries. Even though the Island is not the wealthiest in the Caribbean, it does boast several of the wealthiest people in the region.
Jamaica has an abundance of natural resources which attract a lot of investors. The private sector is still healthy and the employment rate is good. The Jamaican infrastructure for tourism is among the most modern in the world.
10. Jamaicans Do Not Speak English
What language do they speak in Jamaica?
It's best not to ask this question in English. The creole or patois that is spoken in Jamaican is really broken English with several other languages infused. The official language is British English. Jamaican creole is the spoken language with British English being used only in formal settings such as school or work.