Jamaican White Girl Problems

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I’ve been thinking, on and off, about how great it would be to start a Jamaican-centric blog. Highlight the great places to eat, sleep and play, highlight the talented Jamaican artists that could use a little free publicity, talk about how wonderful it is to live on this little island, (and frustrating at the same time), and generally, focus on the happenings of a single place, rather than the world at large, as I do right now. 

However, I keep coming back to this unique problem. Even though I was born in Jamaica, graduated from High School in Jamaica, and currently, after a decade long sabbatical, reside in Jamaica, I do not feel that Jamaicans believe I am Jamaican. Perhaps it is because I am asked, daily, where I am from? Perhaps it is because I don’t speak patois, or really understand it, too much. Maybe it’s because my accent isn’t “upper St. Andrew”, or “foreign”, but rather a mix of American and Jamaican Standard English. Perhaps it is because I am white. Not “Jamaican white–meaning a fair, brown-skinned person”, but an actual white person. Not even white, like those white country people that speak the most terrible broad patois ever imagined, to prove they aren’t white. Nope. I am simply a white New York-er living in this island paradise.

When the window washers seek my attention, they scream: white lady! When random strangers approach me in conversation, they immediately begin to twang. I am constantly reminded, every day of life, that I am not “one of”, but rather, “other”, in the land of my birth. 

And what is most baffling to people, is that I don’t try to change myself to suit them. I don’t pretend I understand what they are saying, when they speak patois. I don’t try to matriculate into the dancehall culture, or attempt to make my niche in the uptown circles. I don’t clamor for attention on Page 2, in a scantily clad dress and bevy of designer baubles. Maybe it’s because I’m too old to change who I am, or maybe it’s because I’m lazy. I guess I could fit into one of the limited “Jamaican molds”, if I really tried. 

(Actually, no I couldn’t. I really am quite lazy, and the word “try”, when not applied to something I really care about, makes me exhausted). 

So, this is why I haven’t gone ahead with my Jamaica-centric blog. I don’t believe I can give an authentic, believable account of what it’s like to live in Jamaica, to other Jamaicans. I can probably use my angle as an “outsider in my own land”, to portray my experience to non-Jamaicans, but there’s something very hollow in that for me. Although the country motto is, “out of many one people”, I don’t feel like that ideal is actually embraced by the general population. I think it’s fine if you are mixed, like my husband is, with a couple different races, but not if you’re a straight-up white girl, like me. 

If we ever have a kid, then he/ she will probably do a better job about meeting expectations set out by the Jamaican population on how to look, sound and act, but for me, I’m afraid, my ship has sailed. 

So I guess, in penning this post, I’m asking for your advice. What do you think of me, the most non-Jamaican, Jamaican girl, writing a Jamaica-centric blog? Would you read it? Would you believe it, and embrace it as “Jamaican”, or would you treat it like you treat me, as “other”?

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17 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anna on November 25, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    My mother is a straight-up white woman, though not born in Jamaica, has lived here since her primary school days and has never lived elsewhere since. We have found and sort of accepted that all will consider her a newbie to the island. None will assume that she was born her and thus does not deserve the stripes that allow her the pride of being Jamaican.

    As someone who can relate to both worlds, I will read and enjoy your blog!!!!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Mya on November 25, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Here is my opinion. The fact that you were born and raised in Jamaica does not make you a Jamaican, even if you had the nationality and knew everything about the country. I’m a black West African; if I was born and raised in China, Chinese people would never consider me as Chinese because my origins are not Chinese. And I know it is annoying to have lived in a country almost all your life and still not feel like you fit in. However, it is what it is! Now, because you live in Jamaica and this is the place that you know the most, me being a non-Jamaican, I will certainly believe whatever you write about Jamaica because it is your reality, your experiences as a Jamaican resident. It would have nothing to do with your race…

    Reply

    • Thank you May. I do agree with what you are saying. I’ve lived my whole life accepting the disappointment on the faces of those who expected to get “the stereotypical Jamaican” and ending up with me, instead. But Jamaicans tend to take their “Jamaican-ness” very seriously. I’m not sure how they would receive my blog on Jamaica. I guess I could try and see. No harm done. Thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate it.

      Reply

  3. I read anything you write. Because you’re a good writer captivates her audience. So write!

    Reply

  4. Posted by petagayle on November 25, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    I agree with Mick….just write…your audience will come

    Reply

  5. Posted by NMAB on November 25, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    To me there is no such thing as a typical Jamaican. Your Jamaican reality is just as Jamaican as another person’s. I am a Jamaican living in another Caribbean island and am told constantly that I don’t act or sound like a “real” Jamaican whatever that means.

    I’m dark brown in complexion with ‘natural African” hair but I don’t think that makes me any more Jamaican than you. My reality is that I spent half of my life in Jamaica and half of my life outside of Jamaica so my accent reflects that. My taste in music reflects that and the way I view certain social issues reflects that too. Somehow the fact that I don’t speak like Vybz Kartel or Buju Banton or Lady Saw makes me a fake Jamaican but whatever I don’t care, my identity is not determined by other people’s perceptions of me. I wasn’t allowed to speak patois growing up so even when I try to speak it, it comes of as non-authentic.

    In my opinion, the concept of national identity is a farce created to keep people pacified and forces people into boxes that they may not necessarily fit in.

    Write your blog. Your reality is your reality. No two “Jamaicans” experience Jamaica the same way even if they live next to each other.

    I’ve learned by living a broad and socializing with other Jamaicans that we do not view Jamaica the same way and it is nearly impossible to agree on what being Jamaican really means. In conversations with non-Jamaicans about Jamaica, we oflten end up clashing in our views. My friend who grew up in Westmoreland has a different view of Jamaica from my friend who grew up in MoBay. Both differ from my supposed uptown St. Andrew reality, which ironically differs from the reality of others who grew up in the same circles as I did.

    I have always wondered if non-black/non-mixed Jamaicans or even mixed Jamaicans ever struggled with identity and acceptance as Jamaicans and so it would really be interesting to read your blog. Never knew you didn’t feel accepted in Jamaica, always thought you had fit right in but that was just from observing you at school and not really knowing you.

    Reply

    • First off, thanks for the comment. Sounds like you have probably experienced a very similar reality as me, just outside Jamaica. It’s funny that you mention me fitting in at school. I fit in great at Immaculate. I had lots of friends and generally found that everyone in high school pretty much accepted me, for me. It’s when I returned as an adult that things got weird. Even though, (my high school friends will attest), I always had a slightly American accent and always acted basically as I do now. In fact, I don’t really think I’ve changed AT ALL since high school. For some reason, though, my experience as an adult in Jamaica has been one riddled with rejection.

      Reply

  6. Posted by Jeneil Chang on November 26, 2013 at 12:02 am

    You are one of the realest people I know. I might not know you very well but it is clear that you are yourself with no pretencies or apologies and yes I would definitely read it. I had no idea that you were so funny & such a talented writer. I guess I have just been living under a stone. I know you will write your experiences as a Jamaican who might not look like the majority of Jamaicans but that’s fine. Do it, I’m looking forward to reading it. I wouldn’t be labeling you as ‘Jamaican’ or ‘other’.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Sharri on November 26, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Write your blog. I think it would be fascinating hearing what you have to say.

    Definitely you can and should create this Jamaica focused blog. At the same time I don’t think it would be possible for you to produce this blog that give an ‘authentic Jamaican experience’. I don’t believe this would be possible because as stated before, your reality is different from this next person, so one’s subject views and experiences will not capture this generalized notion of an ‘authentic Jamaican experience’. You can only write from your position or angle which influences the experiences you have had… that being of a white Jamaican woman.

    Since we live in a politicized world, I would believe there are privileges associated with or positives to being a white Jamaican, living in Jamaica. But as you have also pointed out there are drawbacks, one being made to feel like an outsider within you own country. But you know what, I think this a recipe for an interesting angle when writing your blog. My father who is ‘full Indian’ told me of various stories from his childhood. Due to his physical features he was called certain names or excluded from certain things. I on the other was never called names or made to feel like an outsider due to my physical features.(However feeling like I fit in is a different story). So reading this brief post above on your experience was interesting and whatever else you write, I would read.

    You also mentioned not being able to speak patois and not fully understanding it. Fine, there are certain households that did not allow the children to speak patois. To each his own. This is another reason why you creating a blog to capture an ‘authentic Jamaican experience’ would not be possible. Studying socio- cultural anthropology I have come to realize the importance of language as a reflection of and an important piece to a culture. Yes our official language is English but for those Jamaicans who can’t speak or don’t understand patois, I think it would be a disservice in trying give an account of an ‘authentic Jamaican experience’. Note I am not saying you must inject patois into your blog. But for me patois captures certain elements perfectly that will lose its impact when stated in English and its just overall colourful. And for anyone to attempt to give this generalized ‘authentic account’ it must capture this important part of our culture.

    You are Jamaican, like it or not you will be seen or treated a particular way because of your position as a white Jamaican.And hear what…We all are treated in various ways due to our physical (it may not be being made to feel like a non Jamaican but it would be something else). Embracing this as you said you have done and writing from your vantage point about Jamaica can be good and I would surely read your posts.

    You are Jamaican, you are within your rights to do so…so why not write the blog?
    All the best.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Fionab on December 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Of course you will write your blog. It has grabbed people’s attention already!

    I am biased you see. I am a rare species of the Jamaican white girl/woman born, raised, working and even had my children here!

    The question really is, “Do you dare to be different?” Most of the time I revel in being different.

    Sometimes it is tough of course. Mostly, the world will show us what we are looking for. So look for the good things.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Kim on January 20, 2014 at 12:21 am

    “Not even white, like those white country people that speak the most terrible broad patois ever imagined, to prove they aren’t white.” I don’t like that, maybe because I’m from one of those sets of people. Their patois has slightly different influences, they’re not proving anything with it & it is most certainly not terrible. Your struggle is very real, but stepping on the toes of some of the few people on the island who may understand it won’t gain you acceptance.

    Reply

  10. OMG my boyfriend feels your pain. I am a dark-skinned girl (mix up in my own ways) with Locs on my head. And he is as WHITE as they come. Very Jamaican but still faces a lot of misconceptions from the average person and it’s very frustrating for him. Just imagine how most people assume right off the bat that I have betrayed the black man to go and be with a foreigner or that I’m a rent-a-dread, when in truth and fact we are just two Jamaicans who love each other. That whole motto we love to sing on when it suits us is really something that many of us don’t accept. That has to do with the fact that white folks are rarely seen by the majority and the concept of a proper white Jamaican is not wide spread. But I digress…

    You seem to have knowledge of Jamaica and interest in Jamaican things. What’s stopping you from blogging about what you like? It’s a blog that is catered towards your own experiences and personality and frankly, my dear, you don’t need to ask what we think. By now you should be bullet proof and ready to fight with your pen. Do what you want to. Do what you love. Your race should have nothing to do with what you’re willing to share with us. I’m pretty sure you’ll have a wonderful audience regardless.

    Good luck!

    Reply

  11. Doesn’t really matter what people think or say. It’s more, how you feel about yourself in any space you live in. I have two sons. One looks white and was born in America. The other looks mixed race and was born in Jamaica. They were both raised in Jamaica, the older one having spent more time on the island than the one who was born there. Well, the older one considers himself Jamaican and the younger one does not. Why? Because the older one spent his formative years there while the younger one spent his formative years in America. You make your own place in this world.Labels about who you are sometimes blur.

    Reply

  12. Posted by jamaica on August 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    What makes you not want to embrace the Jamaican culture? Is it because your parents do noy embrace so your just following their lead? Or is it that your so used to not fitting in that you subconsciously try not to engage in your culture, which inadvertently causes you to not understanding your own language. That’s like a black person born and living in Spain and never learning to speak spanish nor even tried, of course they wouldn’t “fit in”. Maybe their not accepted because they never accepted their own culture, how can you want to be accepted by a culture you reject.

    Reply

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