Jamaicans - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Slave society was stratified into three castes: a small number of Whites, a smaller number of "free people of color" (generally mulattoes), and a huge Black slave population. White-minority rule led to the development of a "white bias": European phenotypic and cultural traits were more highly valued than their African or Creole counterparts. With Emancipation, the castes were transformed into classes, but the White bias persisted, resulting in a "color-class pyramid": a White upper class, a "Brown" middle class, and a Black lower-class majority. The addition of Chinese, East Indian, and Lebanese immigrants, who did not have a clear place in the color-class pyramid, made stratification more complex. Color and ethnicity still influence social interactions, but the White bias and the color-class pyramid have become less evident since the mid-twentieth century. Nevertheless, Jamaica is still highly stratified by wealth; it has a very small, prosperous upper class, a small middle class, and a huge, impoverished lower class. In the mid-1960s Jamaica had the highest rate of income inequality in the world.

Political Organization. Jamaica was ruled by a governor appointed by the Crown and an elected House of Assembly until the peasant uprising at Morant Bay in 1865. This event ignited fear among the White oligarchy that democracy would lead to Black rule; so the British abolished the assembly in 1866 and imposed a Crown Colony government, run by the governor and an imperial bureaucracy. Democracy was not restored until 1944, when an elected House of Representatives was created by a new constitution, and full internal self-government was granted in 1957. Jamaica joined the short-lived Federation of the West Indies in 1959 but left it in 1961; the following year Jamaica became an independent nation in the British Commonwealth. The present system of government is a constitutional monarchy with two houses of Parliament. The ceremonial head of state is the governor-general, who is appointed by and represents the British monarch. The sixty members of the House of Representatives are elected for a term of five years—or less, if an early election is called. The leader of the majority party in the House becomes prime minister and selects a cabinet. The twenty-one members of the Senate are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. The two major political parties are the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP). The National Workers Union (NWU) is affiliated with the PNP, and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) is affiliated with the JLP, giving each party a solid core of supporters. Jamaicans are fervently partisan and strongly identify with political leaders, but the political system is remarkably stable. Party support is not clearly related to racial, ethnic, class, or regional divisions; both the PNP and the JLP have governed at various times since the 1940s. Michael Manley, the leader of the PNP, succeeded Edward Seaga, the leader of the JLP, as prime minister after the 1989 elections. Percival J. Patterson became prime minister on 30 March 1992, and his PNP won a 52-to-8 majority in the lower house of Parliament in the March 1993 election. The PNP and the JLP agree that a president should replace the British Crown as constitutional head of state but disagree as to the precise role and scope of the presidency.

Social Control. Ostracism, gossip, derision, and sorcery are the main sanctions in rural communities, where crime (with the exception of theft of crops) is relatively infrequent. In urban areas, however, crime has become a very serious problem. A rapidly escalating rate of violent attacks with firearms led to the passage, in 1974, of legislation providing severe penalties for gun offenders and creating a special Gun Court. The main function of the army (the Jamaica Defense Force) has been to augment the police (the Jamaica Constabulary Force), particularly in efforts to control unrest and suppress the drug trade.

Conflict. Jamaica has a history of organized violence, including many slave revolts, some peasant uprisings, and labor and urban unrest. Individual acts of violence were at one time relatively uncommon; the recent increase in urban violence can largely be attributed to the gangs that protect ghetto neighborhoods and control the drug trade. During the 1970s, gangs also supported politicians and political parties. Over 700 people died in politically related violence during the election of 1980, but there were few fatalities in the 1989 election. The 1993 election was also marred by violence.


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