Jamaica Gleaner

Tourism brand hurts Ja­maican iden­tity

- Kamille Gen­tles Peart GUEST COLUM­NIST

WHEN WE con­struct the iden­tity of a coun­try, we not only cre­ate the im­age for an ab­stract en­tity, we cre­ate the im­age of the peo­ple. There­fore, the ex­ist­ing global im­age of Ja­maica in­flu­ences how Ja­maicans are per­ceived and treated, par­tic­u­larly when they go over­seas.

In the Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, for ex­am­ple, the tourism model used to pro­mote Ja­maica cre­ates the idea of Ja­maicans as ex­perts in tak­ing care of tourists and uniquely skilled in the area of ser­vice. Within this tourism frame­work, Ja­maicans, par­tic­u­larly black Ja­maicans, oc­cupy ser­vice-ori­ented, sub­servient eco­nomic and so­cial po­si­tions.

The ideas and im­ages of Ja­maicans in the US date back to colo­nial­ism when to ful­fil the agenda of the Bri­tish, Ja­maicans were painted as poor, de­pen­dent, child­like, but happy to serve. How­ever, these ideas are re­in­forced by Ja­maica’s own prac­tices and pro­jec­tion of its peo­ple to the world. In the na­tion’s own mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, Ja­maican peo­ple, specif­i­cally black Ja­maican peo­ple, are pre­sented as ‘oth­ers’ from a dis­tant par­adise who are there to serve and ser­vice white for­eign­ers. In essence, Ja­maica’s of­fi­cial im­age sup­ports racist and colo­nial dis­courses that present Ja­maicans as ex­otic black peo- ple who ex­cel in the ser­vice in­dus­try.

So what is it like to be a Ja­maican liv­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment where these ideas about Ja­maicans are wide­spread and be­lieved to be true? How does the cur­rent na­tional iden­tity of Ja­maica as a tourist’s par­adise in­flu­ence the real lives of Ja­maicans in the US? My re­search with low- to mid­dlein­come black Ja­maican women in New York City re­veals that the ef­fects are sig­nif­i­cant.


One ma­jor im­pact of Ja­maica’s rep­u­ta­tion as a tourist des­ti­na­tion is eco­nomic and so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion for Ja­maican women. One of the first things that one no­tices about low- and mid­dle-in­come Ja­maican women in the US is that they, at least for a time, work as low-paid child­care work­ers, do­mes­tic help, and low-tier health-care work­ers such as health aides and nurs­ing-home as­sis­tants.

This con­cen­tra­tion of black Ja­maican women in the per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ser­vice in­dus­tries in the US can be at­trib­uted to two main so­cial fac­tors: It is the re­sult of women fol­low­ing the path of fam­ily and friends who have suc­cess­fully found em­ploy­ment in those fields. It is also the re­sult of US immigratio­n poli­cies that pro­vide visas for these women to work in the ser­vice fields.

How­ever, both of these rea­sons are re­lated to the per­cep­tion of Ja­maicans as good for ser­vice; it is the im­age and rep- uta­tion of Ja­maican black women as built for servi­tude that fa­cil­i­tates their en­trance into the ser­vice sec­tor (as op­posed to more lu­cra­tive, white col­lar) and forms the foun­da­tion for US immigratio­n poli­cies.

Of course, other fac­tors, such as ed­u­ca­tion level and race in­flu­ence the women’s par­tici- pa­tion in other parts of the Amer­i­can econ­omy. How­ever, we can­not deny that the per­cep­tions of Ja­maicans as happy ser­vants af­fect black Ja­maican women’s chances to ad­vance in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

Fur­ther­more, Ja­maican women are treated as in­fe­rior be­cause of their cul­tural her­itage. The women who work as child­care work­ers and nan­nies de­scribe be­ing treated as if they are il­lit­er­ate by their white Amer­i­can em­ploy­ers and their friends. They talk about feel­ing in­fan­tilised by their em­ploy­ers who try to con­trol and man­age their sched­ules and who ha­bit­u­ally in­trude and make de­mands on their time and lives.

Ja­maican women in other sec­tors of the US work­force also share nu­mer­ous ac­counts of ex­pe­ri­ences with black and white Amer­i­can col­leagues who treat them as sim­ple-minded and un­so­phis­ti­cated and not very use­ful in con­texts that re­quire cre­ativ­ity and orig­i­nal thought.

The women’s ed­u­ca­tion is also de­val­ued and un­der­mined be­cause of their her­itage. A com­mon theme among the women who at­tended pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tional in­sti- tu­tions in the US is that of be­ing held back or be­ing placed in a lower grade when they en­ter Amer­i­can schools be­cause of the per­ceived in­fe­ri­or­ity of the ed­u­ca­tion they re­ceived in Ja­maica.

In other words, the per­cep­tion of Ja­maicans as good at ser­vice helps to up­hold a sys­tem that puts black Ja­maicans at a disad­van­tage. Their rep­u­ta­tion as pre­dom­i­nantly ser­vice work­ers un­der­mines their skills and ed­u­ca­tion and tracks them into low-pay­ing ser­vice jobs. There­fore, while Ja­maican cul­ture and prod­ucts are taken up and adopted around the world, Ja­maican black women con­tinue to be ex­cluded from many spa­ces.


A sec­ond ma­jor im­pact of Ja­maica’s tourism iden­tity is alien­ation of the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion. Women born in the US to Ja­maican par­ents are dis­as­so­ci­at­ing from Ja­maica. For ex­am­ple, some of the women of this group dis­tance them­selves from Ja­maicans be­cause of the rep­u­ta­tion that Ja­maicans have of be­ing in­for­mal and un­pro­fes­sional.

The Ja­maican ethos of ‘no prob­lem, mon’, which at­tracts tourists to the is­land, im­plies a sloppy ap­proach to busi­ness that does not work well in mod­ern so­ci­eties. In fact, Ja­maican peo­ple in the US, par­tic­u­larly their ac­cents, are used to rep­re­sent care­free liv­ing, not pro­fes­sion­al­ism and good busi­ness sense. There­fore, the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion women some­times hide signs of their her­itage in pro­fes­sional con­texts.

Many of the women also dis­tance them­selves from Ja­maicans be­cause of the rep­u­ta­tion of Ja­maicans as un­so­phis­ti­cated and un­pro­gres­sive. Ja­maicans are per­ceived as up­hold­ing con­ser­va­tive ideas, par­tic­u­larly about gen­der and sex­u­al­ity, ideas that are out of sync with the ‘de­vel­oped’ world.

Still, other sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion

women dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves from Ja­maicans be­cause of the im­age of Ja­maicans as hav­ing bad taste, par­tic­u­larly in fash­ion and style. Ja­maican fash­ion sense is seen as out­dated and a failed im­i­ta­tion of Amer­i­can styles. For these rea­sons, the women would rather be seen as Amer­i­can (not Ja­maican) when it comes to their po­si­tion on so­cial is­sues and stylish­ness.

In sum, the tourism brand – which presents Ja­maicans as ser­vice-ori­ented (not pro­fes­sional), fol­low­ers (not lead­ers), and sim­ple-minded (not ad­vanced) – is caus­ing sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion women to dis­as­so­ci­ate from Ja­maica.


Ja­maica needs to recog­nise the role of its in­sis­tent tourism brand in re­in­forc­ing neg­a­tive ideas about its pop­u­la­tion, par­tic­u­larly black Ja­maicans. This must be­gin with con­fronting the ob­vi­ous un­equal po­si­tion­ing of its black pop­u­la­tion in the na­tion’s ac­tual and pro­jected iden­tity.

Ja­maica’s cur­rent na­tional nar­ra­tives and tourism brand­ing strat­egy have the coun­try’s black pop­u­la­tion at the fore­front, but this is only sym­bolic. In re­al­ity, black Ja­maicans con­tinue to oc­cupy lower so­cial and eco­nomic po­si­tions than their brown and white coun­ter­parts and con­tinue to be con­structed as only good for ser­vice.

This re­al­ity of the black Ja­maican ex­pe­ri­ence makes a mock­ery of the motto, ‘Out of Many, One Peo­ple’, and neg­a­tively shapes the lives of black Ja­maicans – at home and abroad.

 ?? FILE ?? Ringo (Carl Brad­shaw, left) and Joe (Stan Irons), in the roles of wait staff at a ho­tel, go through their paces at the 100th cel­e­bra­tion per­for­mance of Trevor Rhone’s hit play ‘Smile Or­ange’ at the Barn Theatre in 1972. Ja­maicans’ im­age as...
FILE Ringo (Carl Brad­shaw, left) and Joe (Stan Irons), in the roles of wait staff at a ho­tel, go through their paces at the 100th cel­e­bra­tion per­for­mance of Trevor Rhone’s hit play ‘Smile Or­ange’ at the Barn Theatre in 1972. Ja­maicans’ im­age as...
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