In my family, on both sides, the countries represented are Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Jamaica, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago & The United States Virgin Islands. I was watching a YouTube video in which one of the questions posed was “Do Dominicans & other Africans of Caribbean decent think they are better than American blacks?” Being completely honest, some Carribbean people do turn their noses up at people of African decent in America & I was of the opinion that it is for ONE reason only. I believed it was simply cultural.
When I speak with older members of my family they always describe the hurt they have felt by being verbally abused, misunderstood, judged & essentially rejected all together by Americans of African decent when first entering this country. My mother describes being called a monkey, asked if she lived in trees & how she got her clothes so white because the assumption was that she was uncivilized & therefore less than because of where she came from. My father often talks about the way the community would come together to help a neighbor harvest his crops if he was short handed & had mouths to feed, but was then taken advantage of by his own people when he came to THIS country. I have had experiences in which I forced myself to lose my “mother tongue” because I was being severly teased & embarrassed by adults & children alike. In school a teacher even suggested I take ESL because of her judgement of the way I spoke & implied I wasn’t intelligent & even removed me from my honors classes & placed me in slower paced classes because of it. My mother had to come to my school & raise hell & explain to her that even though I spoke with an accent I didn’t think with one. I say all this to say there is some prejudice in the Carribbean community towards American blacks & it has been my experience that it is because of how we are treated when we get here.
The same was done to my Nigerian uncles, cousins, aunts & friends when they come to this country. We are not always welcomed so it absolutely pisses me off when I see others put on my culture for sport like a new pair of Js, but when my parents were growing up, even when I was growing up, we were ridiculed by people who look like us. Is there an air of superiority present in our culture? Absolutely yes, by some, but it IS present & it in my opinion was PURELY a cultural difference. Caribbean culture is one that is connected with the land & nature & the natural world in general. It is very organic & we have customs that still reflect those of our African counterparts, which is why we mesh very well, I feel, with the African community. In Houston it is not uncommon to see Caribbeans & Africans moving in the exact same circles, harmoniously & willingly. Americans of African decent we view either as not having culture or one that we do not respect & it is not their fault because “colonizers” took it from them by force & gave them division instead. However, the general lack of respect for self, others & the inability to unify I feel pushes us apart.
On July 5th 2014 roughly 32 members of my family & close friends were celebrating J‘ouvert & unfortunately 4 people were shot. What was also unfortunate is that while it is wrong for us to do so, especially when as far as I am aware they have yet to be caught, we automatically made the assumption that the culprit was American & this is due to the heavy association of Americans of African decent with violence, with several examples of instances of violence at social events to support this. Jamaica’s national motto is “Out of many, one people” & it has been my experience that this is also the general philosophy of most West Indian & Carribbean people. There are exceptions to this of course. Americans of African decent don’t typically subscribe to this idea because of the tragic effects of slavery. So, here is present a tension that causes some of us to say “I am not associating myself with THAT” and separate ourselves from the culture because it is easier. When I say I am West Indian I am distancing myself from THAT culture. Is it right? No but it is understandable how it could possibly occur. Our experience with Americans of African decent is that they do not view us as an extention of themselves & therefore perpetuate the same divisive practices with foreign blacks as is perpetrated amongst themselves. Our reaction, broken down to is simplest form, is as a result of being rejected & misunderstood by people we expected to embrace & welcome us & instead were treated like step-children.
What changed my mind about this whole thing is when I spoke to my mother about this topic before posting it & was informed that when her family migrated from St. Kitts & Nevis to the United States Virgin Islands they were met with the same hostility that she subsequently experienced from American blacks when she later attended college. With that being said I am very aware of the fact that discrimination exists amongst the West Indian & Carribbean community as well. Dr. Phil says that habits begin for one reason & continue for another. I am in no way suggesting that this is just some little bad habit that can be corrected in 21 days BUT it HAS led me to wonder if the fact that they were foreign is the cause for the rejection & hostility initially & the disharmony left over from the effects of slavery are why it continues. I am VERY open to being absolutely wrong about all of this & of course I will not take it personal if I am. The point is “out of many, one people” ONE PEOPLE. One people with diverse backgrounds & one common experience. We HAVE to do better but as Great Mother Vanzant says we can not change what we don’t acknowledge. This exists. Let’s do what is required to change it.