Debunking Some Myths About the Caribbean
When you think of the Caribbean, what comes to mind?
White, sandy beaches? Clear blue water? Reggae music, palm trees, resorts, cruises and relaxation.
For those who may not have the good fortune of engaging with many Caribbean people, you may have succumbed to a few assumptions and stereotypes that are exaggerated and untrue. Fortunately for you, I am here to debunk the most common stereotypes about the Caribbean and its people.
Caribbean is just Jamaica, Mexico and Cuba.
Take a second to revisit the map above. I know we are all tempted to ignore photos of maps but we are breaching the point of ignorance here.
The Caribbean, informally known as the West Indies (yes, they are the same thing!), is more than just Jamaica, Mexico and Cuba. The Caribbean is made up of 13 sovereign island nations and 12 dependent territories (25 islands and another 10 Latin American on coastlines along the Caribbean); Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, United States, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana (not, Ghana— different countries on different continents!), Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and the overseas territories of France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. This sounds like a lot more than just Jamaica, man.
No one in the Caribbean speaks English.
Those from countries like Jamaica, Antigua, The Bahamas, etc. may have a stronger accent that may be difficult to understand but no, they speak English, too. Officially about six languages are spoken; Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Haitian Creole and Papiamento.
The Caribbean consists of just black people.
To debunk this myth, you have to understand the history of most Caribbean islands. Most Caribbean nations were colonized by European settlers– just like in the United States. There are classes of slaves that transitioned into interracial relations with some slaves, and established family units. When these nations declared their independence, it would only make sense that those who were born and raised in that country would remain. It’s all they have ever known! People immigrate from all over the world for all types of reasons; a job opportunity, economic prosperity, warm weather, whatever. It just doesn’t make sense to assume that only one race of people would exist in the Caribbean.
Caribbean people live in huts without the internet.
This is one of the most common stereotypes about the Caribbean. Many first-time, inexperienced travelers may stay at a luxury resort on an island, venture out on the streets and find beggars on the street, or more impoverished areas beyond the main tourist streets. They take this snippet of information and generalize the country as poor. Yes, many Caribbean nations do suffer with poverty for a variety of reasons not unlike anything you haven’t heard of before. Political corruption, social welfare programs that work to alleviate rather than reduce poverty, intergenerational poverty, destabilized economic diversification, and all that jazz.
Bermuda, Cayman and the British Virgin Islands are the richest Caribbean islands, while Haiti, Jamaica and Dominica are the poorest. This doesn’t mean, however, that all Caribbeans are living below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet while living in a shanty house on the side of the road desperately relying on the aid of international visitors. Tourism is a major source of income for the Caribbean, yes, but it’s not the only one. This just means that certain luxuries you may take for granted living as a middle-class American, are not readily accessible in Barbados or the Bahamas.
I’d encourage you to educate yourself on the history of a few Caribbean countries to understand why other islands do better than others.
Everyone drinks and smokes weed.
Yes, there is a heavier partying and drinking culture but there are plenty of other countries that embody a similar sentiment: America, Germany, Poland, Russia, etc. As for marijuana use, just like with any group of people where you reside, choosing to partake in recreational activities is dependent on your views. Not everyone anywhere in the world does anything. Not every Caribbean drinks alcohol or smokes just like not every American drinks, smokes or owns a gun.
Caribbeans are very sexual.
I mean, technically true but once again, take this with a grain of salt. Caribbean music, especially Soca and Dancehall can be very sexual. The whole concept of Carnival is sexual. The dancing can be perceived as sexual, yes, but not everyone chooses to express themselves this way. In some conservative areas of the world, the Caribbean can be considered very expressive and free but that doesn’t mean every stranger you pass on the road is a sexual person.
Believe it or not, there are many pious Caribbean people. The country with the most churches per square mile is Jamaica!
I’ve really grown to love the Caribbean and the awesome people from there. The food is beyond amazing. Ackee and saltfish remains one of my favorite breakfasts ever, and I’d kill for some Trinidadian doubles right now. The music is dope, and Spotify did call me out for playing Dancehall the most in 2020.
I’m often baffled by how obnoxious and ignorant many of these misconceptions are about the Caribbean. How can you ask a leading question, starting with such a far-off assumption or generalization? I encourage you to be curious, but treat everyone as your equal. Ask simple questions and allow the other person to fill in the blanks. You may find they are some of the most passionate, hospitable and funniest people out there.
What stereotypes did I miss? What should I debunk next?