Jamaicans are the stars of the West Indies. If you’re also from the Caribbean and Jamaica isn’t your home country, I likely ruffled your feathers. But, let’s be honest. When most people thinkcol of the Caribbean, they think of Jamaica. We brought the world rebellion, good music, flavorful food, top-tier beaches, hidden surfing spots, the best coffee, and the fastest people on Earth. We have every reason to feel proud of our accomplishments.
Now, are we the best at everything? Absolutely not. Our country celebrated 60 Years of Independence this month and many people felt there was very little to celebrate ― if anything at all. And, our football team (soccer, for the Americans) has not made it to the World Cup since 1998 when the Reggae Boyz rose to fame.
The great thing about Jamaica, however, is that we know what we’re good at and, for better or worse, we stick to it. Sorry, Americans: it’s not drugs that makes our Olympic runners fast. It’s focus. We are a people who know what we bring to the table just as well as we know what we don’t. So, what exactly are we good at?
1. Building a Brand
The Jamaican brand did not develop by accident. Politicians and patriots have spent decades curating a particular image of Jamaica that it markets to potential tourists abroad. Consequently, when people think of Jamaica, they have a very clear picture in their minds of what they expect to encounter there. Most foreigners think of pristine beaches, refreshing coconuts, lazy days in a hammock, and a puff of Mary Jane if they smoke.
This image has its downsides, of course. Americans constantly assume I smoke and having dreads does not help matters. They also have such a set idea of what Jamaicans should sound like that I have been called an imposter for speaking English. One White man recently messaged me on YouTube to say he has listened to my videos and can tell I’m a fake Jamaican because I have a flat accent. He later deleted the comment when he realized I immigrated to America at 26 years old.
Nevertheless, marketing is one of the things we do well ― and even better, we deliver. When you come to Jamaica, you will get your pristine beaches, coconuts, weed, and the accent. Whether it represents all of us or not is irrelevant. Out of many, one people.
2. Winning Races
Jamaica has dominated the Olympic races for as long as I can remember. These days we talk about Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, but it didn’t start with them. Growing up, it was a common saying, especially while making a joke, that someone ran as fast as Merlene Ottey. She represented Jamaica from the 1970s to 2002 when she joined the Slovenia Team.
She paved the way for the runners we have today who continue to do Jamaicans proud. Jamaicans are so invested in track and field that employers rarely chastise us for pausing work to watch the races. When I lived and worked in Jamaica, my managers were out in the waiting room jumping and cheering while our athletes raced to the finish line to put new meaning to the gold in our flag.
Yes, our flag is actually black, green, and gold. Not black, green, and yellow. Technically, the gold is for our tropical sunshine, but at this rate, we might need to change it!
3. Making Great Food
Jamaicans take serious pride in our food and our ability to make our dishes. Women learn at a young age how to cook and you’d be surprised to see how well our men throw down in the kitchen. Our street food is legendary, creating the likes of jerk chicken, which has become almost synonymous with Jamaican culture. Jamaican patties are also a staple for most of us and there is one for everyone: from soy patties to lobster and beef.
When it comes to coffee, we set a world standard there, too. We are constantly at war with Colombia over who gets to call themselves the best coffee maker, but there’s a very good reason everyday people cannot subsist on Blue Mountain coffee. It is expensive.
The affordable versions are “watered down” with coffee of lesser quality. What makes it so great? You can make it as strong as you want and the flavor remains impeccable. But, be careful. Jamaican coffee can have you bouncing off the walls for days if you overdo it.
Finally, there’s the rum. There are a lot of companies claiming to sell Jamaican rum, but let me tell you now. If it’s not Appleton or Jay, Wray & Nephew, we don’t claim them. These brands do have some subsidiaries. For example, Jay, Wray & Nephew makes Sangster’s rum cream, which is like Irish whiskey but so much better. I stopped drinking rum when I moved overseas because every other rum tastes like piss water in comparison.
4. Welcoming Foreigners
Despite our small size and limited resources, we have thousands of illegal immigrants from the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, China, India, Cuba, and Haiti. Yet, Jamaica is not as concerned about having illegal immigrants within our borders as America and other developed nations.
We know they’re there and, quite often, we know who they are. Typically, once they are already settled on the island, the government only gets involved if they seem to be avoiding immigration on purpose to evade taxes or if they pose a threat to national security.
For example, in 2017, while the Trump Administration was talking about building walls to keep out its Southern neighbors, Jamaica took a different approach. The Jamaican government had identified roughly 20,000 persons living illegally on the island. Instead of deporting them to their home countries, the National Security Minister chose to offer amnesty.
Our overall welcoming nature toward foreigners is one of the top reasons our tourism industry does so well. Most people who have visited my tiny island in the sun tell me they have never met such a friendly and charismatic group of people in their lives. Some Jamaicans take their friendliness a little too far or have ulterior motives, but every country has its bad apples.
5. Providing a Solid Education
Twice during my childhood, my parents contemplated moving me from Jamaica to attend school in the U.S. with my cousins. The final attempt was right when Columbine happened. My mother instantly changed her mind. She said she absolutely would not send her only child to the United States to be shot in a classroom. Decades later, not much has changed, eh?
Looking back, I’m glad I finished all my schooling in Jamaica. I have more intelligent conversations with the Jamaicans who dropped out of school than most U.S. college graduates I know. Even “uneducated” Jamaicans keep up with local politics, read the newspapers, know basic science, understand world economics, and can engage in discussions on everything from religion to sociology. What Americans have to pay extra money to learn as African American studies in college, we learn in the second grade for free.
Our education system is modelled off the British system but is very much West Indian. In fact, there is one indispensable benefit of learning history in a country like Jamaica. They tell us the truth because the victims of colonization have far less to hide than colonizers trying to protect their reputations in an era when imperialism has lost its good looks.
While Americans and Canadians are telling their kids that Native Americans had a blissful turkey dinner with them, Jamaican children learn about conquistadores cutting off Tainos’s heads for sport. Knowing our history and where we come from plays a vital role in our racial identity and is something I wish more People of Colour, especially Blacks, had the opportunity to learn FREE OF COST in America.
6. Riling People Up
There’s no two ways about it: Jamaicans are troublemakers. You know it. We know it.
In 2020, I wrote an article entitled Why Are Jamaicans So Mean? Over the years, dozens of people have left angry and even rude comments about how terrible Jamaicans are. I didn’t write the article to rile them up, but boy did it work anyway. What can I say? Apparently, I have a natural talent.
Gimmicksing is actually a crucial part of our culture and probably explains why Jamaicans have low suicide rates despite having real problems most First Worlders never have to think about. We could sit around and mope, or we could joke about Hurricane Gilbert blowing our houses away because…why not?
Another excellent example is that time we stole Rihanna and confused the world about her nationality. Barbados brought the battle and we fought a war while laughing our way through the gates of damnation. This is fairly common. Other West Indian countries often get into sibling rivalry wars with us. However, a lot of them really do take these squabbles seriously and we never do.
While we akiki (laugh, for the Americans) in the comments, they are big mad. And the madder they get, the more hilarious it is to us because we cannot understand what they’re getting so worked up about. It was one of these scenarios that led to us stealing Rihanna, confusing foreigners, perverting search engine results, and ticking off the Bajans.
What can we say? We love a good race, good laugh, and good rum.
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