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Examining Race in Jamaica: How Racial Category and Skin Color Structure Social Inequality

Abstract

Jamaica’s social inequality is primarily held to be class-based due, in part, to the country’s perceived ethno-racial homogeneity and to the particularities of its colonial past. However, whether “race” also systemically shapes inequality in Jamaica remains understudied. To address this empirical lacuna, I examine the effects of two measures of race—categorical race and skin color—on years of schooling and household amenities using data from the 2014 AmericasBarometer social survey. I find that access to household amenities and years of schooling are starkly structured by racial category, and even more robustly by skin color, across all dimensions. The findings challenge long-held assumptions that marginalize race with regards to social inequality in Jamaica. They also suggest the importance of a multidimensional approach to studying the effects of race for understanding stratification dynamics in Jamaica. As an English-speaking, majority Afro-descent society in the Caribbean, the study’s findings add a unique country case for comparison to Latin America and may also speak to other similar contexts in the region.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Stanley Bailey for his extensive feedback, support, and wonderful mentoring. I also thank Ann Hironaka, Sabrina Strings, Julia Lerch, Stephanie Pulles, Noemi Linares-Ramirez, Julie Kim, and the anonymous reviewers for providing generous and valuable comments and suggestions that helped to refine this article.

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Appendix

Appendix

See Table 3.

Table 3 OLS standardized coefficients of household amenities and years of schooling by racial category and skin color, LAPOP (2014) (N = 1004).

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Kelly, M.D.A. Examining Race in Jamaica: How Racial Category and Skin Color Structure Social Inequality. Race Soc Probl 12, 300–312 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12552-020-09287-z

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Keywords

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Social inequality
  • Caribbean
  • Jamaica