Class Structure of Jamaica
The class structure in modern Jamaica breaks down roughly along these lines: 1% of the population is upper or upper-middle class; 18.5% falls into the “lower middle class”; and the remaining 75% or more are classified among the “lower classes”: small farmers, working class and the unemployed. Interesting to note is the racial percentages of the some two million Jamaicans: 1% are of Afro-European descent; 15% Chinese/Afro-Chinese; 1% East Indian; and 78% black.
And while gross social and economic divisions are based on color, there is no longer any rigid caste structure. “The occasional black to be successful…would undergo an amazing transformation of social standing.” However, the derogatory term “roast breadfruit” (black on the outside, white on the inside) is often applied to this group by the lower classes. The same social situations can also be found among the black middle class in America: money breaks down social barriers, but those left behind accuse the successful of becoming “Oreos.”
An even more important change, which took place in the 1950s and 1960s, was the birth of the bauxite industry. Currently, bauxite is the leading export of Jamaica and has transformed an overwhelmingly agricultural economy with a huge labor surplus into one based on modern industries.
The transformation from a plantation economy has not been with out its difficulties. Underdevelopment has been the most glaring problem, leading to discontent and unrest. In 1980, 57% of the labor force was either unemployed or engaged in “petty capitalist production” such as farming. This “lack of homogeneous socio-economic” structure has kept Jamaica in third-world status. As one observer bluntly put it: “Capitalism directly…or indirectly exploits the majority of Jamaicans.”
Economic change in developing nations is a struggle against the colonial legacy of dependence. For three centuries, Jamaicans relied upon Britain to provide work, government, education, social structure and stability. After independence, the new leaders still carry the prevalent view that the population has a limited capacity to transform themselves or their environment. Thus the leadership of the new nation sees its own people as an impediment to progress. Combine this colonial holdover with the social inequalities in Jamaican society, and that nation’s struggle becomes all the more apparent.