When asked to describe what the average Jamaican looks like, most Americans will respond with a depiction of a person somewhat reminiscent of a member of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics Jamaican Bobsled team. When asked why their description of the typical Jamaican might resemble a gold, green, and black spandex-clad figure who walks around Kingston chanting “feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme,” there is only one culprit: Cool Runnings.
For those who are unaware, Cool Runnings is a 1993 US-produced Disney comedic sports film that grossed over 150 million dollars in box office sales. If this still does not ring any bells, do the names Usain Bolt and Bob Marley conjure any images of Jamaica?
The global perception of Jamaica is solidified in its cultural facets, through feats of track and field or beats of Reggae music.These cultural exports, however, obscure the true composition of the island’s contemporary society. Behind a fog of Rastafarian colors and tangles of dreadlocks lies the true diversity of Jamaican society.
For example, an estimated 2.5 million Jamaicans live outside of the 2.6 million strong island. Aptly referred to as the “Jamaican Diaspora,” these Jamaicans separated at birth from their island-dwelling cousins represent a more accurate expanse of Jamaica’s cultural borders, tracing back colonial lines ingrained into the island by the British. For the past century or so, there has been a tremendous exodus of Jamaicans across the globe, spanning from the United States to the United Kingdom and wrapping all the way around to Australia.
Also present in its colonial DNA, non-typified Jamaican society is more diverse than what is normally portrayed about the island. Roughly one quarter of the island nation’s population is not of African descent, with representative groups such as Afro-European, East Indian and Afro-East Indian, Caucasian, Chinese, among others. Furthermore, that statistic is based solely on the island dwelling population and not the immense diversity present in the Diaspora. To contextualize, a mere 1.1 percent of Jamaican are Rastafarians compared to 1.9 percent identifying as Jehova’s Witnesses on the island.
These distinctions about the geographic extent, racial, and religious diversity of Jamaicans have significant implications within the global community. Of such is the island nation’s ability to ship its cultural exports worldwide. This is ascribed to Jamaica’s experience and interactions with an eclectic collection of diasporic influences and racial/cultural diversity on its homefront. For example, Bob Marley was fathered by a white private in the British royal marines, named Norval Sinclair, and produced quintessential Reggae music in Jamaica, the UK, and the US while touring across the globe.
Despite doctored stereotypes of bobsled teams and Rastafarians, the true face of Jamaica is a nation with a global demographic and cultural presence built upon an island society of an incredible diversity of people, backgrounds, and thoughts.
Cool Runnings. WALT DISNEY PICTURES, 1993. https://movies.disney.com/cool-runnings.
“Jamaicans Overseas.” Jamaicans Overseas. Jamaicans.com, 2003. https://jamaicans.com/jamaicansoverseas/index.htm.
“Norval Marley, Capt.” geni_family_tree. Geni, May 23, 2018. https://www.geni.com/people/Norval-Marley-Capt/6000000008744444790.
“STATIN.” STATIN. Statistical Institute of Jamaica, 2016. https://statinja.gov.jm/.