Caribbean Journal of Psychology: Vol. 2, Issue 2, 2007

Article 4
Do Race and Ethnicity Matter in Jamaica? Category Labels versus Personal Self descriptions of Identity

Marina Ramkissoon
Tracy McFarlane
Clement Branche
University of the West Indies, Mona


Race and ethnicity as broad analytic categories, are often used to group and label persons for research, including national censuses, and in everyday interactions. This paper examines the use of the categories and category labels of race, ethnicity and colour in self descriptions of identity in Jamaica. Questions are raised about the use of these as broad categories and category labels by and for whom. It is argued for example, that “Black” as a census category does not adequately capture the social-psychological complexity of identity available through self-descriptions, or the varied interpretations of “being Black”. Qualitative data from 104 Jamaican undergraduate students yielded 15 self-descriptions of racial/ethnic identity. Findings from content and discourse analysis supported the argument for variability in identification, even beyond the salience of race, as well as allude to the social-psychological complexities involved. It is proposed that prospective researchers continue to examine these issues as well as their methodologies when studying race and ethnicity.