Communication Styles: My Jamaican-American Culture


Comments motivated this post. One of the most consistent feedback I get from readers is my tendency to generalize. Often I don’t even realize I generalized.  One question is does “generalizing” get in the way of my message? Another question is does this kind of feedback reflect cultural indifference?

My culture is Jamaican-American. We tend to be quick and loud talkers. Hearing our conversation from a distance, people unfamiliar with the culture incorrectly assume we’re arguing, but that is a regular passionate discussion. Further, if you listen carefully, you will hear many generalizations.

I grew up in a culture where we communicated in generalities. When I talk with family, we understand each other despite speaking in generalities. You see it’s a given that not every white person is racist or hate black people. Does common sense need to be prefaced? We understand our communication style and so do not get caught in what I term semantics.

Cultures communicate differently. To appreciate each other, shouldn’t we embrace our different communication styles?

A 2008 survey showed almost 50% of whites believed blacks had achieved racial equality as opposed to 11% of blacks. Nearly 75% of blacks thought racism was still a significant problem as opposed to about a third of whites. That highlights a cultural difference in perception about the existence of racism.

Does generalizing get in the way of the message? For a culture that wants assimilation yes it does. For a culture that is unwilling to embrace other cultures yes it does.  For a culture that is indifferent yes it does.

Going forward, I welcome more feedback.   Presume unless I say 100% I don’t mean everyone. We learn from each other by communicating.  Lack of communication is what divides us so let’s be flexible and use common sense when we communicate.

What is more important in communication?  Understanding the culture and message of the communicator or making sure the communicator assimilates to the prevailing values and standards.
With that said, I recognize there will be a price to pay for my communication style.

My intent is to increase awareness and get readers thinking about issues surrounding culture and social justice.


Author: Angela Grant

Angela Grant is a medical doctor. For 22 years, she practiced emergency medicine and internal medicine. She studied for one year at Harvard T. H Chan School Of Public Health. She writes about culture, race, and health.

14 thoughts on “Communication Styles: My Jamaican-American Culture

  1. That was a fascinating insight with how you were raised. I personally don’t know that many people of Jamaican descent, but I thought it was great how you talked about the cultural aspects with that community. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Curtis. I’m glad you found it interesting. So often people don’t take the time to respect cultural differences in communication styles.

      Having to care for patients, I learned to be patient when listening to people; it’s fascinating how patients describe their symptoms from the sane to the insane of different cultures. Much of it is storytelling, sometimes it’s mystical and seems imaginary, but it’s a real story. Often a challenging story to unravel and figure out what’s going on.

      I recall being asked to accept a patient because another physician felt threatened by the patient’s loud voice. The patient was no threat that was the patient’s communication style. It was interesting that both the physician who felt threatened and the patient were white.

      1. You’re welcome. I wish more people would learn and respect different communication styles.

        That makes a lot of sense from that perspective. I guess being a doctor can be like being a detective not just because of detecting symptoms, but for decoding anything about someone’s story.

        That’s not surprising. Granted, I can be loud sometimes, but some people have a problem with me just talking in an indoor voice since they think it’s too loud or if I’m in working with some female co-workers some have complained about a male voice even though I’m just asking questions or talking to someone where the conversation is relevant to my work.

        1. “I guess being a doctor can be like being a detective not just because of detecting symptoms, but for decoding anything about someone’s story.” I often felt like Sherlock Holmes when I approached a complicated case or reviewed patient medical records. Reading the chart, talking and actively listening to patients helped me make some remarkable diagnoses and saved many lives.

          The beauty of being a doctor is saving lives not taking them.

          The prevailing culture tends to be hypocritical when it comes to embracing different communication styles. Sadly that costs lives in medicine when doctors don’t take the time to listen to patients. Medical errors are the third leading cost of death in the US. That is mind-blowing. That opens a host of issues revolving around the risks of poor health care.

          1. That doesn’t surprise me. I’m glad you’re able to listen to these patients and do your best to help them.

            Amen to that.

            Oh yeah, and I’ve really started to become aware of that over the past few years. Medical errors are that prevalent when it came to US deaths? Wow.

  2. Black people talk to each other emotion and feeling, that how we connect with each other. It’s doesn’t where we are around the earth, that hasn’t changed. Generalization can be a mixed bag as it can hurt or harm.

      1. Black people actually communicate by feelings and emotions, We are connected spiritually and we can feel each other vibes.

  3. Your post reminded me of a scene from the movie “Crash” where a brother was thrash talking, but the White off-duty cop thought he was being threatening.

    On a personal level, it doesn’t have to be generalizations but cultural ignorance. On the phone with a White friend once, I was testifying of how God blessed and delivered me out of a situation. Rather than her listen to my words, she thought my tone was argumentative and apologized for saying something which she thought upset me. She also wanted to know who I was referring to when saying “Lord”. (sigh)

    1. Fantastic movie! So many dimensions that made Crash a great movie. The distrust among communities or ethnic groups was palpable. If it’s not your words, it’s your tone or the look on your face or your posture anything to not listen to your words. If that fails, ask a dumb question to change the discussion. (sigh)

  4. I love the different styles and accents! Do you still have your Jamaican accent, Angela?

  5. Great post. I have to have 2 styles of talking for in my normal tone of voice i get accused all of the time of being overly aggressive when speaking to and around people who don’t me. And truth be told it is a pain the ass.

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