Jamaicans are exceptional–in the truest sense of that word. They like to feel special about themselves, and they like when others treat them specially. If they are not given that special treatment automatically, they usually extract it, sometimes forcefully. However, this exceptionalism is not necessarily always a good thing. Let’s look at some examples of exceptionalism in Jamaican daily life.
Driving can be tedious: roads are narrow and traffic is sometimes heavy. Jamaican exceptionalism comes into play, however, when drivers decide that it is within their rights to drive on the wrong side of the road. Why not? It’s clear, or at least, mostly clear. So, off they go, blaring horns and flashing lights at oncoming vehicles and drivers who mistakenly think that they have right of way. If the oncoming driver dares challenge with gesture or comment the ‘exceptional Jamaican’, woe betide him or her as a barrage of cuss words come flying forth like water from a power hose.
Do you ever go to an airport? Try flying when Jamaicans are travelling. Weight limits? Baggage limits? What foolishness, is this? Jamaicans always travel with lots of heavy bags, because they have lots of relatives and friends abroad who need to be fed with the goodness that is Jamaica–patties, fruit, liquor, pepper. When Jamaicans are returning from abroad, then naturally they have to come back with all the goodies that foreign places offer. It makes sense. Who can travel with one piece of carry-on luggage? “That hefty bag that is being hauled wont go into the overhead bin, madam.” Who told the air steward to say that? “Young miss! That is my special bag with the jewels given to me by Granma Beatrice. I cannot let it go into the hold. You’ll have to drag it from me!” So, a fracas ensues, and much cussing and vilifying of whatever country the air steward represents. The less-exceptional Jamaicans on the plane are covering their faces and keeping their heads low.
Jamaicans sometimes have really thin skin when others decide to show them disregard or disrespect. Trinidad is getting the brunt of that right now, after 13 Jamaicans were denied entry and deported. Now, the ire of Jamaicans–in the pursuit of their right to enter any and every country they wish–is in full flow. Anything related to Trinidad is now a target. Boycott! Ban them! Deport them! It was the same much of last year, when Barbadian officials felt inclined to physically abuse a Jamaican woman while denying her entry at the international airport. The regional courts agreed with Jamaicans that they were exceptional that Barbadian officials needed to get themselves out of people’s underwear in the pursuit of border control.
Jamaicans are now wholly accustomed to being exceptional in the world of athletics. If there are three medals to be won, Jamaicans want them all, and all of them to be gold. Imagine our frustration during the last Olympics, when we had four men in the 100 metres final. Of course, we took the first four places, and had we really focused, we would have arranged a dead heat and forced the giving of four gold medals. As it was, our quartet gets the top four places, take three medals and make sure that the world understands by winning the 4×100 metres relay. We are the best, so why fret about the rest?
Jamaican exceptionalism is about to face a stern test. We have a singer who is trying to bust her lungs and impress American audiences. Tessanne Chin is a typical Jamaican–evident when she opens her mouth and says “bred and butta”–who has an exceptional singing voice. Now, every Jamaican expects Tessanne to win on The Voice, and if she does not, then it is one big plot by Americans. Of course, our barely 3 million Jamaicans here can’t out vote 360 million Americans. So, we have to convince a lot of them to vote for our girl, by phone, or online (Twitter handle @Tessanne). Some of our brethren and sistrin in America will vote for Tessanne, of course, but what can we do to get about 359 million non-Jamericans to vote for she? I would love it if our Prime Minister, rather than heading to China or Europe to talk up Jamaica, went to America to talk up Tessanne. That’s an exceptional gesture that would be very much in keeping with thinking that Jamaicans are the exceptions that prove the rule.