Jamaicans all smoke too much ganja. They only listen to reggae. Everyone is a rasta. These are common stereotypes—and they are simply not true. Here are seven lies we’ve heard again and again, and why you shouldn’t believe them.
1. Kingston is dangerous:
Sure, there are areas in Kingston that are less than glamorous, but the same goes for any city, country or island in the world. Avoiding Kingston would mean missing out on a chance to dig deeper into the cultural DNA of the island. You wouldn’t get to visit the Institute of Jamaica, an organization that is dedicated to furthering and preserving Jamaica’s heritage. You would skip the freshly cooked i-tal meal at IBO SPICE—the guava drink alone is worth a trip. And you wouldn’t witness the beautifully painted murals along Fleet Street. In short: You wouldn’t be seeing the real Jamaica.
2. Everyone is a Rastafarian.
The Rastafarian religion is not even the most popular religious affiliation on the island—it’s actually a minority. According to the most recent census, less than one percent of the 2.7 million people living in Jamaica identify as Rastafarian. The leading religion affiliations are: Church of God (24%), Seventh-day Adventist (11%), Pentecostal (10%) and Baptist (7%). PS: Having dreadlocks does not make someone a Rasta!
3. Jamaican people aren’t friendly.
The drive down the Blue Mountain Hills in Kingston is long and winding. “I hadn’t expected everyone to be so warm and friendly,” said photographer Daniela Spector, on her first trip to Jamaica this summer. “As we were driving down the hill, everyone would honk and wave at each other. It was so nice to see, especially coming from New York City. I enjoyed waving back, actually!”
4. Everyone smokes marijuana.
Every T-shirt, snow globe and souvenir at the airport gift shop would lead you to believe that the cannabis plant is the unofficial logo of Jamaica, and that everyone on the island partakes. First of all, marijuana is not legal (yet!). The government did recently pass the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015, which decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. Not every citizen smokes marijuana—and the reasons for not indulging vary from religion to personal convictions. Bottom line: Don’t assume that because someone is Jamaican, they must smoke cannabis.
5. All Jamaicans are fast runners.
We love that the world recognizes Jamaica as a nation of fast runners, but we are talented in other areas. We’re looking at you, Marlon James, recent winner of the Man Booker Prize. By the way, the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, claims that his secret weapon for shattering world-records is… wait for it…yams. The next time you are in Jamaica, try our yams and see if your time improves.
6. Jamaicans only listen to reggae.
Deep in the mountains you’ll hear a sound system blasting Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One.” Turn on the radio in Jamaica and you will hear Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift. Yes, we love reggae, but it is one of many genres we listen to.
7. There is no real sense of community.
Anyone who believes there is no sense of community in Jamaica hasn’t visited Jamnesia—a youth-focused surfing enclave in Kingston—or watched an episode of “Talk Up Yout,” a media platform for teenagers and young adults. Series creator Emprezz Goulding has spent years creating a safe haven for the island’s youth. The fishermen of the Oracabessa Bay, who banded together to help save the coral reefs, serve as further proof of community and philanthropy. Jamaica is one giant community, and we would love to welcome you into the fold.
Image courtesy of Adrian Boot