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Garvey: His Work and Impact - Race, Class and Social Mobility in Jamaica

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Garvey: His Work and Impact - Race, Class and Social Mobility in Jamaica

Source: GARVEY: His Work and Impact ( ISER) 1988

edited by Rupert Lewis & Patrick'Bryan

Race, Class and Social Mobility in Jamaica

Derek Gordon

Department of Sociology and Social Work University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica


'7f you were to go into all the offices throughout Jamaica you would not find one percent of black clerks employed. You will find nearly all white and coloured persons, including men and women ; for proofplease go through outpost Office, Government Offices and stores in Kingston, and you see only white and coloured men and women in positions of importance and trust and you will find the black men and women as store-men, messengers, attendants and common servants. In the country pans you will find the same order of things, On the Estates and Plantations you will find the black man and woman as the labourer, the coloured man as clerk and sometimes owner and the white man generally as master, White and coloured women are absent from the fields of labour. The professions aregenerally taken up by the white and coloured men because they have the means to equip themselves ".I GARVEY MADE these observations on Jamaican society during World War One. Although it is generally conceded that the correlation between race and class position, in which light-skinned people are concentrated at the top of the class structure and black Jamaicans are concentrated at the bottom , remains a feature of contemporary Jamaican society, there is considerable debate about the contemporary extent of this correlation and its significance. While conceding that racial differentials in economic position and opportunity continue to exist, Adam Kuper has argued that these differentials can be reduced to prior class differences between racial groups . As he puts it: If your ancestors were poor you will be much less likely to be well-off than another man whose ancestors were rich. The average black is worse-off than the average coloured Jamaican; but then, in England, the average descendant of a mill-hand is no doubt worse-off than the average descendant of a mill-owner .2

This paper considers the extent of changes in the position of the major racial groups in the post-World War Two period, one of important qualitative and quantitative changes in the economy and class structure of the country. It also examines Kuper's thesis by presenting new data on racial differentials in social mobility from the 1984 National Mobility Survey.3 Finally, the paper offers some reflections on the nature of the relationship between race and class in Jamaica.

Table 2. The Changing Occupational Composition of Racial Groups : 1943-1984


Higher Mgmt., Prof. Lower Mgmt., Sup.


0.12 0. 26



1.27 2.09


0.24 0.22



6.25 4.17




5.23 3.56


8.72 5.53

White, etc.





233 2.48

1 .26 4,31

1.60 3.35

19.44 8.33

0A8 0 ,58

Lower Prof.

Acctg., Sec. Clerks










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