[Black] West Indian and African-American Tension: My Two Cents

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the tension that exists between Black West Indian immigrants and African-Americans. I started thinking about this subject after reading Moving Back to Jamaica’s blog and finding myself in a heated debate with a fellow Jamaican on a message board. As a Jamerican, I feel like I’m the rope in a game of tug-o-war. I’ve always argued that African-Americans and West Indians have far more in common than some people like to acknowledge or admit. Yes, there are differences in culture, language, and sometimes in perspective but in the end we’re both Black people coming from a legacy of slavery. In America we are both affected by the sting of racism.

Caught in the Middle
When I was younger, being Jamaican/West Indian was not considered exotic or beautiful. To be Jamaican invoked images of a very dark-skinned person with dreads who smoked ganja incessantly, listened to nothing but reggae music and spoke with a “funny accent.” People (more pointedly, African-Americans) would ask me if Jamaicans lived in trees and wore grass skirts. I remember being called a “West Indian monkey” or “coconut.” People cracked jokes about my family members having three jobs (courtesy of the ‘In Living Color’ skits.) In fact, I was told that we came over here and took jobs from the African-Americans who needed them. To add insult to the injury, we behaved as if we were better than other Black people. (A friend of my family actually went into a rage when we were discussing the subject. He eventually told me to ‘go back to where I come from.’) I can’t count the amount of times I’ve listened to African-American women characterize Jamaican and other West Indian men as crazy, abusive, possessive and backwards. Similarly, I’ve heard African-American men say that Jamaican and other West Indian women are psycho, lustful, and the type you need to keep your eye on since they (we) practice voodoo.

By the same token, some of the Jamaican/West Indian family and friends I was around had their own thoughts. I was told that African-Americans were criminals. You had to be careful when around “them.” Rather than work hard and invest in their (our) communities, they (we) were content to live on welfare. They (we) blamed racism for their condition when it was clear all they really needed to do was sacrifice and work hard for what they wanted. Pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Some of us had come here with nothing but we were making a living, why couldn’t they? I was warned away from African-American men who would surely impregnate me and run away, leaving me with a baby to care for on my own.

Passing: My Identity Crisis
Despite the negative images of African-Americans I was given by other West Indians, I made a choice about my how I was going to identify. Sadly, as a young person, I didn’t want to associate myself with my Jamaican heritage. I was in the Midwest where there were few Jamaicans or West Indian families. To embrace that identity meant to mark myself as permanently “different.” I wanted to have friends, date boys and be accepted by my peer group. As shameful as it is to admit (even now), I didn’t want to be Jamaican. I didn’t want to be associated with the nappy-headed, ganja smoking representations of Jamaicans in the United States (even if I knew it was untrue.) I shunned any connection to my Jamaican heritage. I didn’t want to speak Pawta or take trips back home. It was hard enough being poor (which meant not having the latest clothes), being accused of “talking White”, and being considered a nerd. Adding another layer of difference to my identity? No thank you.

Once I was in college I began to rethink my choice. I was learning about Marcus Garvey (and other West Indian contributions to the Black American liberation struggle), the history of slavery in the Caribbean and the United States and the Pan-African movement. At the same time I was embarking on a study of my family history (which meant frequent conversations with my grandmother- the unofficial preserver of the family’s Jamaican heritage). Slowly, I was forging the bonds again. I spent hours on the phone and in person speaking with my grandmother about our family. With her encouragement I took trips back home in order to reconnect with my family. By the time she passed away, I had become completely absorbed in my Jamaican culture. Shamefully, I admit to shunning my African-American side just as I had done previously with my Jamaican side. (You’d think I had learned).

Moving to South Florida didn’t help my predicament at all. The tension between West Indian immigrants and African-Americans down there was worse than anything I’d seen in the Midwest. If I ever felt like I had to choose between my two cultures it was then. Since I had reconnected with my Caribbean identity, it was only fitting that I chose to identify myself as Jamaican instead of African-American. (If you had met me during that time, you’d swear I’d just stepped off the plane from Jamaica. You’d never guess I had African-American family or that I’d previously passed as African-American).

Once I was living as a “full Jamaican” I realized how much insensitivity there was towards the plight of African-American people. I remember having lunch with a few of my co-workers who were from Latin America and the Caribbean. Somehow we started discussing race. Pretty much everyone agreed that African-Americans were “too sensitive” when it came to the subject. They wondered why African-Americans couldn’t simply “get over it”. We were in a new age where opportunity was abundant. Instead of complaining, African-Americans needed to apply their energy towards a career or an education and stop using race as a crutch. I quickly figured out the ethnic/racial hierarchy in South Florida. It went like this: White Americans (on top), White Latinos (starting with Cubans) followed next, Black Latinos and other Caribbean Blacks (minus Haitians) were after that, followed by African-Americans and lastly Haitians.

Yes, I was enjoying the status of being a West Indian but my soul was troubled. I was bothered by the way people freely promoted stereotypes about African-American people or spoke about them (us) as if they (we) were the most depraved people on the earth. Close friends of mine made comments about not wanting to be associated with “those people” and said they’d be upset if their children ever brought home someone who is African-American. I saw how some friends of mine did everything they could to distinguish themselves from African-Americans (even if it meant trying to hold on to their Caribbean accent with all their might.) The very same people never seemed to recognize the achievements of African-Americans locally or nationally. Most of the West Indians I was around clung to their view of African-Americans as ghetto, criminal, violent and lazy. West Indians who engaged in drug trafficking or violence were dismissed as exceptions to the rule.

To be fair, I’m sure there are African-Americans in South Florida who also have negative views of West Indian immigrants. Since I was passing I was not privy to those conversations.

The Broker
Like many bi-cultural and bi-racial people, I eventually came to place where I reconciled my two identities. Passing was not only emotionally taxing but dishonest. In some ways I felt like an ethnic voyeur. I realized I owed it to myself and to my family to proudly represent both cultures. More importantly, I needed to challenge stereotypes and prejudices displayed by both groups. (Otherwise I was complicit in the behavior). In some situations I have been called a traitor for being honest about the prejudice I’ve seen on both sides. In the spirit of political correctness, people don’t want to admit to the horrible things they say or think about each other. They definitely don’t take kindly to interlopers like me revealing their behind-closed-door discussions to the other party or to the public. But I’ve never been a fan of denial and certainly don’t believe in sugar coating things.

As I said in the beginning, I feel that African-Americans and Black West Indians have more in common than not. Both of us suffered the traumatic experience of slavery (slaves were often shipped back and forth between the Caribbean and the United States), were cut off from our African homelands (forcing us to create a new identity in the new world), and both of us have Black skin in a racist society. Jockeying for White attention and acceptance is not going to change the racist power structure in any way. Perpetuating stereotypes about one another won’t help us either. What we need is to build alliances with one another. Though I am prone to skepticism, in this situation I actually believe there’s hope. After all, I’m here aren’t I?

I’m interested in hearing your feedback…

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42 responses to “[Black] West Indian and African-American Tension: My Two Cents

  1. as salaamu alaikum sister,
    this topic is of particular importance to our family. my dh is from the caribbean and i am from here. although we both define ourselves as “black” and focus on the commonalities, we are acutely aware of those forces, even within our families, that seek to focus on the differences and define each other as the “other”.
    i am more concerned that our child, hmc, won’t get to experience much of her father’s culture since we live here and have not been back “home”. i want hmc to be proud of being “black” and to embrace both cultures, insha Allah.

  2. Jamerican Muslimah

    Walaikum salaam muslimahlocs, how are you?

    Your hubby is from Dominica right? So your daughter is a “Domerican?” Yes, I invented the term, lol. Maybe your daughter will have to experience her culture through her father and the Dominican community in the United States. I’ve been thinking about how I will connect my future children (insha’allah) with their Caribbean culture.I don’t want it to end with me. My hubby is African-American so it will be on me to make sure it happens.

    It’s sad when people try to place their prejudices on others. It’s the story of my life. A Jamaican friend mine recently called me to tell me about her move to another city. She started complaining about the fact that the only other Black (Muslim) people she could find in her new city were African-Americans and she didn’t want her daughters around “them.” Not even thinking about it, she said, “You know what I mean.” I was so shocked to hear those words come out of her mouth! And I was just about to tell her I got married…I don’t have to guess how she must feel about it.

  3. Charles Hassan Ali Catchings

    Salaam.

    See, this is one of the many reasons we need that full-fledged site.

    Anyway, this breaks my heart. I remember when I was told of my West Indian history. As a boy I always bugged my mom, uncles and aunts about why the older people talked funny. As a kid, my line of thought was, if you talked funny, you weren’t black or were ‘African’. When my Mom finally told me my grandmother’s father was Indian, I assumed she meant he was Native American…until I saw a picture of him later. The dude was Indian, East Indian and that blew my mine. As it turned out he was one of thousands of East Indians hired to come over and work in the Antilles.

    I felt bad because I didn’t know this until I was a teenager. My grandmother was, and is a very secretive person so she didn’t like to answer questions about her history.

    Even though she cooked certain foods, I never thought that the food was ‘different’. I just ate it. Later, I started traveling the world and went back to St. Kitts and Trinidad where I was told some of my folks still were. I was accepted as West Indian, sort of, until I wanted to get with a local girl. Then I became all parts American and Black. And to this day I have no way of refuting that. I mean, my great-grandad was almost Garvey’s elder. What claim do I have really?

    Now granted, for you JM, I feel worse because Jamaicans are not quite like Kittitians. Jamaicans to me, tend to be a little rougher about lineage. I think Kittitians ‘lime alul moah’ than Jamaicans with regard to heritage because St. Kitts still has a lot of Dutch whites.

    Sometimes I get sad because my lineage gets drowned and replaced with Black and American, which, in comparison, seems rather drab.

  4. USA BLUE & GOLD

    I have decided to call myself a true American. Why, because like the country I am everything. Bajan (although Irish and Black Bajan grandparents) and American black ( although grandmother is 100% Cherokee ). I am the product of a melting pot. I wonder what my poor nephew will think of himself. His grandparents are as follows: parental grand father bajan (half black half white), maternal grand father chinese, maternal grandmother 100% black trinidian and Maternal grandmother half black half Cherokee . Do you have a name for him? I do, “A Blessed Mess”, LOL.

    When I was growing up I was called a half breed by both sides of the family. I was part foreigner aka coconut and American aka Yankee. I laugh at this now and remember, everyone ate the same foods thats for sure. Especially fish on Fridays. Go figure .

    P.S.
    His maternal grandfather wants him raised the chinese way, what every that is. He is teaching him Cantonese.

  5. The Black Snob

    It always depresses me when black people hold ignorant views of other black people. On face value that seems patently ridiculous and if confronted all sides would deny they would ever beat up on their fellow AA, black Muslim, West Indies, South American, African brothers and sisters.

    But the reality is, we do. And it has always annoyed me. Especially when people would argue that it was better that we were brought to the “New World” as slaves considering things were so “awful” in Africa. I try to point out to people that this logic is faulty as the current state of African is directly do to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and eventual colonialism that brought us here in the first place.

    So I just don’t get it. I wasn’t raised that way and save for some pretty ignorant thoughts my classmates had about Africans, I’ve mostly avoided the sheer stupidity of this logic.

    What’s REALLY depressing about it all that essentially all black and African people have the exact same negative stereotypes for each other, the same stereotypes western Whites and Europeans gave us. You think people would listen to themselves. We’re all unceremoniously labeled as shiftless, lazy, morally loose, repugnant, violent, prurient beasts with animal-like behaviors and sensibility.

    It’s all just nonsense and I hate it. Black people have enough problems to be wasting time fighting with one another.

  6. theangrymuslimah

    SIs,

    I understand your feelings and thoughts. I have the same problem with being half dominican…

    But when asked what I am I never know what to say. When in the Dominican republic they remind me of my american-black status….
    and when in the US they remind me of my dominican black status..

    hmmm I guess I don’t know how to identify….so I get in where I fit in and sumtimes that is no where at all….

    I hate being in the position to have to choose? why? what for?

    oh well….

    • Be proud of who you are and forget what others say. Black people remember a house divided can never will never stand. My family is creole on my mothers side and So what? God looks at the heart and so should man.

  7. “domerican”. i like that. as long as i don’t have to footnote it each time i use it, i think that i just might.
    i know how those types of comments just let the wind out of your sails, but just momentarily becuase they caught you off-guard. i am still trying to wrap my mind around two siblings that i know…one “black” and one “other”. and, yes they have the same two parents.

  8. Sister Seeking

    Salaam’Alaikum Jermican,

    Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal struggle, and journey with us.
    My husband is from West Africa (Senegal), and I’m African American—I too am from the Midwest. Your article has provided me with much needed insight to what my daughter may experience.

    You’re an excellent writer—I love how you can write from your being! I felt my self right along besides you as you spoke of your journey. It could be because I as an adult have experienced some of the conversations with African immigrants—including those who are Muslim.

    I don’t know your schedule but I believe that you could write a short story about your experience for all children who are bi-cultural. I hope you can make dua about this, and consider it seriously. I’d love for my daughter to get to know some one like you.

    Now back to entering time cards!

    Blah!

    : )

  9. Assalamalecoum
    @Sister Seeking
    I am a Senegalese Brother and Welcome to the Senegalese Family ,Hope you all had a chance to go to Senegal to visit and to connect ………
    Interesting Article i just read it and I think that regardless of what had happened before West Indians ,African American,African are all Black
    We are Black without any distinction ,Black we are no matter what we want to believe or think
    If One is not white ………….He/She is Black
    I am saddened by all this going on among Us Black …….we need a Strong Leader who will get us through this craziness………Black is Black !!!!!!!!!

  10. Great essay. I’m full African-American but this subject began to hit home after I started dating a young lady whose parents were West African. I could see how she struggled with being Americanized but living in an African home and having an African family. Although we are no longer together I do not regret the experience because it opened my eyes. Being from the South it’s even worst because we rarely interact with non-African American black people. So the stereotypes I think are even more extreme. Even after my family met this young lady, saw she was no different and even liked her they still asked me silly questions about how she and her family lived. I just chalk that up to ignorance. I do think there are differences between the cultures, but I believe once a generation is born in America those differences diminish. The real problem is we are so far removed from our roots that we no longer realize how much we have in common. We don’t realize that our language, our food, and our traditions are similar even though we are thousands of miles apart. The more we learn these commonalities the easier it will be for us to unite.

  11. Jmaerican, I find this article very interesting from a UK perspective. In fact Jamerican, I find most of your African American/’West Indian’ articles perplexing from a UK perspective. The reason is that here in the UK, African Caribbeans (thats the term used in the Uk for West Indians) are the African Americans of Britain. They are the original blacks (i.e they came to Britain first in the 1940s/50s and are in their 4th generation) and are looked down upon (for want of a better word)by West and East Africans (who have tended to arrive only in the last 10-15 years and are in their first generation)in their own particular ways. African Caribbeans/Jamaicans whether inside Islam or outside of Islam are generally stereotyped as being loud, aggresive, poor, lazy, welfare addicts, baby maddars or baby faddars, criminals, non family orientated, destructive and generally unproductive. I understand that these are wild stereotypes but in the parts of Britain where African Caribbeans have fairly large numbers (such as London, Birmingham, Bristol) these are the images that would be apparent to any newcomer.

    The points you raised about Needing to emphasise our shared history are baffling (I assume people would already know this) in that from this side of the pond most African Caribbeans view African Americans as their cousins in terms of history and development. Seriously in every facet of life I find it hard to locate any major difference between African Americans and African Caribbeans. I understand that in Jamaica the poorer and less educated came to live in the UK and Canada whilst the more uptown went and lived in New York or Washington, but surely Caribbeans in America aren’t that different. From Looks (yes looks- you’ve written a blog or two about this issue, but anyone with a bit of exposure to ACs know they generally look virtualy the same as AAs ), outlook, history, educational perspective,mentality, shared heroes, mores, culture, family structure (or lack of family structure) etc etc etc there’s TOO much in common. There are a few differences such as dialect, food, location etc but the shared commonalities almost speak for themselves. In fact one could easily write a book on the commonalities.

    One of the most obvious illustrations of our commonaliites is how we react to Islam upon embracing it. Due to the issue of lack of identity and dislocation because of slavery, within Islam many of us are patently lopsided, out of place and dysfuntional in our expression of Islam whether we are in Canada, the US or the UK. The issues that Professor Sherman Jackson raises in ‘Islam and the Black American’ or Robert Dannin raises in ‘Black Pilgrimage to Islam’ immediately translate into the consciousness of most African Caribbeans in my experience in a way that most native Africans find hard to relate to.

    Additionally, It’s ironic that Muslim daees such as Khalid Yasin, Zaid Shakir, Abu Usaamah ath-thahabi are attributed a ‘Jamaican’ identity by most ignorant Arab, African and Desi audiences in this country whilst American bloggers repeatedly emphasise that AAs are ‘different’.

    I find these differences the equivalent of Moroccans going on about their differences from Libyans, Somalis vs Djiboutians or White Brits vs Australians. Ok Ok I understand that you are not exactly the same but in a cosmological standpoint any differences are small fry compared to the similarities.

  12. As salaam alaikum seeker,

    I appreciate you passing through and offering your perspective from the UK. The US perspective is indeed perplexing. It seems to me that many West Indians in America strive very hard to seperate themselves from African-Americans. They immediately come here and build on the existing stereotypes about African-Americans- the very same ones that you have mentioned exist in the UK about African Caribbeans. (I usually point this out to West Indians in America to illustrate the trap they have fallen into). In the US it does not seem to be the case- generally speaking- that African Caribbeans view African-Americans as cousins. It is quite the opposite. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard West Indians talk about African-Americans needing to “get over” slavery, stop crying racism, get off of public assistance, stop being lazy etc.

    One of the things that happens in America (I have personally experienced it) is that White Americans pit Black immigrants against African-Americans. They hold Black immigrants up as the “model minority”, meanwhile disparaging African-Americans for not achieving the same level of success as Black immigrants. As you can imagine this creates in-fighting amongst the Black immigrants and African-Americans.

    At the end of the day, I think what people are responding to is the racial hierarchy in the United States that places Black people on the bottom- period. Many Caribbean immigrants come here and recognize the unique position they suddenly find themselves in. They (we) look just like the “despised people” on the bottom of the hierarchy. The only thing they can do is separate themselves by playing up their Caribbean heritage (under the guise of not forgetting where they come from of course ;) ) and by captializing on the existing stereotypes about African-Americans.

    If you can, I encourage you to read a book by Mary C. Waters called Black Indentities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realities.

  13. BTW, Seeker. You said “One of the most obvious illustrations of our commonaliites is how we react to Islam upon embracing it. Due to the issue of lack of identity and dislocation because of slavery, within Islam many of us are patently lopsided, out of place and dysfuntional in our expression of Islam whether we are in Canada, the US or the UK. The issues that Professor Sherman Jackson raises in ‘Islam and the Black American’ or Robert Dannin raises in ‘Black Pilgrimage to Islam’ immediately translate into the consciousness of most African Caribbeans in my experience in a way that most native Africans find hard to relate to. ”

    I couldn’t agree more!

  14. Salaams Jamerican,
    Without going around in circles, it is quite funny that you have stated that in the US, African-Caribbeans state that African Americans need to “get over” slavery, stop crying racism, get off of public assistance, stop being lazy etc. It’s funny because in the UK this is exactly the same thing that West Africans would say about ‘those useless Jamaicans’.

    This African Caribbean, USA vs UK succes dichotomy shows that it’s ignorant to believe that some men are born to be welfare junky, shotta, lazy, baby fadda gyalists. It is often the environment that will either fuel the best or the worst within somebody. Another community who are very similar to ACs in demonstrating the difference between a UK diasporan experience in relation to a US diasporan experience is the Somali community ( do a little research). In my opinion one of the problems of the UK is that welfarism here brings out the worst in peoples who are environmentally (i.e depends upon their environment) inclined towards ‘taking it easy’. Whereas in the US, because of the lack of a welfare system it means that it forces people and thus their communities to be ambitious and have aspirations. I get the impression that Canada is a bit more balanced in that it is less cut throat to its residents than the US but doesn’t cuddle people so they become unproductive like the UK.
    ‘The Caterpillar grows strength in its struggle to tear out out of its cocoon. Without the struggle it does not have the strength to fly.’

    One of the reasons ACs have been particularly affected by the ‘on-it’ ‘off-it’ approach to Islam in the UK is because of our backgrounds prior to Islam. I pray that you keep doing your thing and we here can benefit from it, inshallah. Keep up the good work as your articles are very touching and are just applicable here as they are in the US.
    Gwan gyal, cut an go tru an na badda watch na bad vibes. Know seh wah yu dem pon a di lick. Nuff times me haffi tell a bredrin or sistren coo yah pon dis deh article and dem seh: dat deh article she write, it dun mek it- A wah tek her fe nice it up so, mashallah.

  15. An article about the impact of Jamaican culture in the UK. It shows how even the children of the elite are affected by it.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/677d827a-411f-11da-a208-00000e2511c8.html

    Here is a ‘parody’ of this type of white youth imitation and emulation of Jamaicans by the most famous UK comedian export – Ali G-

  16. Hmmm….Been reading this article (04/18/09); and it’s very interesting, but as relates to bigotry–tell me something….do you think The Ku Klux Klan would care if you are either African American or West Indian? Black is Black to them.

    And for those West Indians who hold such views of African Americans, African American history is vast and readily assessible for anyone to learn. Do they have libraries in the West Indies?

    Sorry if I sound sarcastic, but I just don’t get it.

    I don’t like stupid people and if there are West Indians who are ignorant enough to play upon stereotypes about African Americans, then the next time one of them gets deported, show them your birth certificate and see if being West Indian will prompt the agents hauling their Black asses off to the airport will matter.

    • Sonya, Did you also notice that I wrote about the negative views some African-Americans have of West Indians? This issue pushes on both sides. I think there are reasons both groups old negative views about one another and I think it has more to do with jockeying for White approval and acceptance and also for resources. Divide and rule…

      • I agree that the white owned/controlled media has a lot to do with how we view ourselves as Black people and it is true–African Americans have been bigoted–no doubt, but I do think that many are embracing West Indians and Africans a lot more.

        One of my aunts was married to a Nigerian–although, I think he just married her to gain citizenship, but nonethesame, she still carries his last name. One of my cousins is married to a Jamaican, just had a baby boy. Another cousin is engaged to a Haitian. And yet another cousin is dating a guy from Trinidad.

        So, they(West Indians) are already in my family. As well as a native born African.

        Basically, we shouldn’t discriminate against each other and if it will make you feel any better–personally, I think many West Indian men are sexy and fine as hell.

  17. I agree, it definitely is not one sided. At the end of the day you have groups of people struggling for betterment, that may look similar and have similar experiences, however to a degree have different world views.

  18. I read your blog and I loved it because it rings so true to me. After moving to America from St. Kitts I expected to have a greater bond with African Americans or people who generally looked like me. But as i found out most of them thought of me as “out of AFRICA”, most of the time I would get mistaked up with begining a Haitian or a Jamaican. the funny thing is that with-in our own islands we sterotype each other. I remeber when I visited my dad in florida. He told me plan out that Hatians were stupid, AIDS carries who were uneducated. Well I do not speak to my dad now for many reason and one of the reason is his views on other people.To me he has become an African American the one I do not like. Like you said you tried to not be too west indian I did the same thing because I did not want to get mixed up with being called a Haitian or Jamaican because I feared the sterotypes that was associated with them. Now as I get older these things do not bother me at all…but I still find that I do not have a connection with too many African Americans who are my peer and most of my friends are West Indians, Whites, Mexicans, Asians and even native americans. If I do share a relationship with an African American it is usually with a more mature crowd in their early 30′s and older and I am only 24.

  19. Pingback: Why Can't Black Groups Get Along??? - Page 4 - Jamaica Talk - Jamaican Forums

  20. To those from the UK, I wanna explain something to you in regard to WI-afro american relations in the US…………No disrespect but I think yall have a romanticized view of afro americans………..now, dont get stuff confused, there are many successful, productive, hardworking and friendly members of the african american community; however, the community has its bad apples like every other one and thats part of how the problems start. there were members of the black american community, esp. in the northern cities where most WI migrated to (New York, Boston, Various locations throughout NJ and CT) that displayed open hostility and prejudice towards WI. A significant number of them ridiculed (or in the very least gave dirty looks) to WI just cuz of the way they talk, dress, the kind of foods we eat and etc. Not to mention that BA in the north on average are not nearly as friendly as their counterparts in the southern states like NC, GA, Alabama, etc (heck they do a lot of the same shit to their southern relatives). In addition, there are members of hte black american community who felt WIndians are taking all their jobs and etc. When you factor that in, a lot of West Indians felt alienated from black americans based on those interactions. Theres also ignorance. Its no secret that the very worst that black americans have to offer is whats most highly promoted not only in the media, but also among the ignorant. Esp when you factor in that many west indians (as well as africans) tend to start out in ghetto communities where ignorance is ramapant. So they also see black americans at their worst and conclude that this is all the b.americans have to offer. Also remember that nuff west indians (as well as other foreign blacks) come to notice the many self hate wars that black americans wage on each other…………West indians promote pride in their island/territory and instill in their children mainly not to forget where theyre from, but also not to be ashamed. Also, the differences between the 2 cultures can be quite stark, so its not like theres little difference between the two (although theres more commonalities than one will realize). They also didnt want their children to get caught up in the negative elements that they saw in black american culture, so they remind them by saying “youre not a black american”. The latter is also said cuz theres nuff afro americans that will remind a WI/african that they dont have the extensive history in the US that they do.

    NOw west indians tend to get in the wrong mainly by assuming that ALL black americans are ignorant, hostile welfare cases. On one hand, its hard to convince them otherwise when thats all they saw from afro americans. they dont often see the more progressive and positive elements that black americans can offer.

  21. alright some ppl hate some ppl love i choose to love becouse in the end we are all equal. and far as that video some ppl wish they cud speak jamaican seriouly i wish i could too its becouse its very sexy just like speakin french i wish i could certain jobs want a worker 2 be able to translate verbally. i have dated/friends with all races

  22. I’m sorry, but that last comment is a lie. West Indians see African American progress all the time. ALL THE TIME. In fact, in America, everything black is African American–not West Indian, and not African. And that is the real problem, here. Unlike in Canada and the UK,
    African American culture is celebrated in the US, and West Indian and African culture are not. I have witnessed West Indians get very resentful of this, which starts the I went to XXX school and got XXX degree. And?? Of course, if our families were here since slavery, we have deeper roots here in the US. And just like WIs, we have our own culture as well. I don;t have to tell you that most black stars, athletes, intellectuals, superstars, commentators in the U.S. are Black American. So, I don’t think AAs remind you that we have deeper roots in the US, its the truth. In my expereince, West Indians are bothered very much by AAs like me. I am educated, with a PhD, homeowner, well spoken, very attractive. But the minute a WI finds out I’m African American, they go out of their way to bring up stereotypes of AAs or make any biting comment to knock me down a peg. I believe it is because an essential part of West Indian identity in America is denouncing and denigrating AAs. This feeds their feeling of superiority. But when an AA in high achieving they feel quite uncomfortable because it forces them to reevaluate the bottom of the hierarchy.

    Also I believe many WIs feel that since they believe they are superior to AAs, then we feel they are as well, which is not true by any means. The accomplishments of AAs are known around the world, but if you choose to act like you don’t know, then that’s your problem. There is nothing any WI could ever say or do to make me feel that they are superior to me or anyone else. NOTHING. The same way that they are proud of their culture, I am proud of mine. The only difference is I don;t have to couch my cultural pride with denigrating any other group, but then again, I am not looking for whites to pat me on the head, either.
    I have never met a WEst Indian that did not have something negative to say about an AA, but they seem to have an acute case of amnesia ( or ignorance) when it comes to any negative behavior of any members of their own group.

    AAs also dont appreciate the fact that WIs go out of their way to distinguish themselves,especially in front of whites, but will be quick to “pass” as AAs as soon as we have any resources for anything and then will smile up in our faces while taking as if they are entitled to anything we have. This leads AA to view WIs as backstabbers, opportunists, and duplicitous.

    Please note that AAs have no problem not being around WIs; we do not go out of our way to be with them. It is they who come in our cultural spaces; we do not go to theirs—there’s no need to. We have an infrastructure that started before they started immigrating to the US we generally don’t need them. Also, please be know that AAs are aware of many WI managers, directors, and others who undercover hire only WIs, no matter how lazy or mediocre, and don’t do the same for AAs, but will them come to AAs for employment (such as at HBCUs) acting as if we are required to hire them–something they would never do. Most AAs I know don’t have a problem with WIs, just the phony superiority complex that I definitely don’t get after having visited the Caribbean on several occasions. It’s all good, though. *Shrugs*

  23. As salaamu alaikum,

    In general, I have had a much more harmonious experience. I grew up in New York (upstate). I have some Bahamian/Turks Island heritage myself, but I identify as African American, since everyone in the two previous generations of my family was born in the U.S. and identifies as African American. I grew up going to school with, working with, and having many Jamaican close friends (who often spoke to me in patois) and identifying with their culture, music, and cuisine (some of it evoking beautiful, fascinating childhood memories of my mother’s Caribbean grandparents – i.e. making sorrel, eating sugarcane, coconut water). I also grew up knowing a few Muslim black Jamaican families with children my age. While many of my Jamaican friends were living in the projects, many owned homes in “nice” areas, like the African Americans in my community, so they could not really be stereotyped in a way that was particularly distinguishable from African Americans (except they tended to have more successful businesses which I think is more attributable to general trends in immigrant communities). At our prom (I did not attend), a harmonious blend of mostly reggae and hip-hop/r&b was played, which was enjoyed by all (except perhaps the small white minority).

    Even though I have moved and am somewhat disconnected from Jamaican culture, my best friend (Guyanese) often calls me a fake Jamaican, since I tend to be much more current on Caribbean (especially Jamaican) affairs, culture and music than her…I’m not trying to be something I’m not, but it does feel like that informs part of my identity. There were actually a number of true “ja-fake-ans” in my community, who were raised by African American mothers, but took to a total appropriation of Jamaican identity (speaking in patois all the time, etc). It could be, since we were in the migrant farm-working belt, that they actually had a Jamaican father. I know whole families where all (or most) of the African American women have half-Jamaican children (who do not know their fathers)…so it happens.

    In my experience, African Americans seemed to be overall in admiration of Jamaican culture, if only because it seemed to impart a stronger sense of identity and community. Also, I appreciated that the parents of my Jamaican friends of all socioeconomic statuses seemed to universally value my intelligence and ambition, whereas many African Americans seemed indifferent. But, that is just to say that, though tension may have existed, I only noticed and participated in respect and sharing between our cultures.

  24. Naima—

    That is a very nice essay, however, I can’t help but notice how you are typically positive with regard to your description of West Indians vis-a-vis negative views about black Americans, which causes me to think that you are, in fact, West Indian. I am glad that you have had a positive experience with West Indians. I however, have not. And neither have many of my colleagues and friends. In my experience, West Indians go out of their way to disrespect and discredit African Americans, especially in the presence of whites. It is not uncommon for black Americans to engage in conversation and a random West Indian will join in with the typical negative, dismissive attitude about whatever the subject matter, but particularly if it involves Black Americans. Also, while you might have had a positive experience with West Indians, please know that many Black Americans have experienced West Indians that routinely go out of their way to distinguish themselves from Black Americans when convenient, but then gripe and complain about not receiving the resources of Black Americans (as is the cultures are conflated–which they are not). In short, it’s “identify as Black American when one can get benefits from it, and denigrate them when West Indians cannot. ” Also, much like in your own writing, my experience has been that West Indians seem to think they are somehow inherently superior to Black Americans, or at least that’s what they want Black Americans (and whites) to think. I am also confused about the “what’s yours in ours” mentality of West Indians, since they” do not relate to us” and do not have the history that Black Americans do, but seem to think that Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey have somehow entitled them to Black American resources. Black Americans had a culture and experience prior to West Indians immigrating here, but it appears that West Indians co-opt the Black American experience when convenient. Selective migration has indeed added to the PERCEPTION that West Indians are all hard working, studious, super-serious, well-behaved beings, and they have certainly enjoyed this positive stereotype at the expense of Black Americans, (the cause of much distrust and resentment) however, how do they explain their crime statistics, educational performance, work ethic, etc. in places where there are no Black Americans to dump on or hide behind such as Canada and the UK? Hmmmmm…. Again, I am glad that YOU have had a positive experience with West Indians, but they are not all great, and have the same flaws and vices as any other group.

  25. I know im late byt i have to applaud nikki with both of her post. I am a black american man and i agreee with her 100%. She’s absolutely right. The rift comes from the fact that africans and west indians are completely delusional in their view of blacks in america

  26. Thx, KONY. No hate, just stating. I love my people, and will step to anyone–from brooklyn to brixton—who disrespects. Real Talk.

    • “West Indian think they are entitled to african american resources” what resources are you talking about exactly. ” West Indians distinguish themselves from AA”, don’t you distinguish yourself form an African or even an American white person, so what’s your point ? what was your culture and experience before west indians migrated here. Do you know you yourself probably came form west indian ancestry who were probably brought to the us as a slave from a Caribbean plantation as was frequently done. I am sorry if you and other african americans have an inferiority complex from the white dominance in this country. West Indians come from all black societies where there governments schools and media is all black. we do not have the complex that arise from the racial bigotry in this country and the effects of being the underclass. Try understanding that and not speak in ignorance.

  27. I am a black american of caribbean grandparents[maternal]and i tell you it’s part of the plan,divide and conquer.most of us don’t even know why we hate each other,all black americans are not lazy and all west indians are not hard working,we have alot in common whether we believe that or not!the slave mind remains in effect and it will be OUR destruction .

  28. So, I am white and people ask if I discriminate on race? Sure I say- they are shocked..
    I don’t like whites from Alabama, I like Texas blacks as they are independent minded and Louisianna blacks are sweet. The local blacks talk real trash about blacks from North Carolina. (roll eyes)

    I like the local Virginia blacks and Jamaicans. I don’t like anyone from Chicago hardly.

    /go figure

  29. I know I’m late. Very interesting article. I grew up in South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale) in Lauderhill – which was a mostly African-Caribbean area. I recall thinking everyone was from the States when I was in elementary school. People started “pairing off” in middle school. Then in high school came the big change. My friends that I had grown up with decided they were either Jamaican, Haitian, or Bahamian. Strangely, the black Canadians seemed to most identify with black Americans. The high school cafeteria was divided by which country you came from – even though mostly everyone there was black. This is when I truly began to notice “differences.” To me, all Caribbean people became arrogant and rude. One guy I liked quit me because his mother told him “doan marry no Yankee gyal.” I often had to remind them that their families got to Jamaica, the same way mine got to America. I’ve gotten into some heated battles and have come to realize that many of my Caribbean peers really don’t realize that black Americans have nowhere to go. You can move from a third to a first world country, take a minimum wage job, and move up from there because (generally) American money has more value. You can send it home and do more things with it. If you’re an American, all your family is from America, and you’re black, are you going to move to a third world country? Most likely not. To the white American, native Africans and Caribbean people are “exotic.” They were not born being taught not to trust white people (as I was) and in the minority (racially). So some white Americans may look at AA’s as arrogant. Some people may disagree, but I feel you are born with the spirit of wherever you’re from. Being American teaches us not to trust white people and stick with our own. I think under the spirit of segregation, black Americans see black as black and when the Africans and Caribbeans don’t and try and separate themselves from we AAs, it hurts and we begin to accept and perpetuate the sterotypes of one another. We don’t realize that these people are coming from places where there was no segregation and no KKK and expect them to have the same attitude toward racism and whites. I strongly believe any black person moving to America from another country needs to take a course on American history before they come here. Just my two cents. And if you think about it, American black pride began with a Jamaican (Marcus Garvey). Malcolm X’s mother was from Grenada and she was the “fiery” one. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) was originally from Trinidad. Even Aime Cesaire, creator of the literary movement “”negritude” was from Martinique. So maybe all you African-Caribbeans out there are responsible for the AA attitudes, lol. Just kidding. But really, I did enjoy the essay and was just trying to offer maybe a little bit of insight on AA and AC culture wars without denigrating or tearing anyone down.

  30. Black people were never the “same” people no more than a italian is the same as a frenchman, yes we share similar or same struggles and that gives us a kinship, but just like europeans are strength is in our diversity.
    Even on the slave ships we could not talk to one another because we did not speak the same languages it became an advantage for slavers and a integral part of why our history was lost.
    Marcus Garvey’s dream was for a independent black nation, as caribbean people we have achieved that an more. I will never be able to claim my african heritage, africa is a continent with over 2000 languages spoken ill never find my true roots but my roots start in the west indies, so where ever i roam no matter where my children will be born they will understand where they come from and what they are, for identifying ourselves by our ethnicity, honours the memory of our ancestors.

    I think there is something harmful in pretending that all black people are the same on multiple levels, especially when lumped together in a foreign country, not only does it obscure social issues within black cultures, that are harder to address and be identified and the fact that so many people like to live up to negative stereotypes about themselves, often stereotypes that don’t belong to them.

    When you say you seen west indian and AA’s being pitted against each other by white americans, what you are not seeing is west indians breaking racial stereotypes, if black folks from overseas can come to america and highlight their acheivements it shows AA’s that guess what, you need to lose all that mental conditioning that you have received throughout time saying that you cannot do it, it also highlights to white america that these problems within the AA community are social issues created by america and not some kind of genetic predisposition argument.

    As far as west indian stereotypes vs african american stereotypes its less about how people are stereotyped and more about how much of it is true, these dynamics are much different in different countries with black people and also differs according to generation and by island

    Before the 1980′s negative stereotypes about west indians were largely unfounded and untrue, in fact in the united kingdom, there were more west indian homeowners in britain than native britons.

    The violence and criminality in the west indian community as a whole where people began living up to stereotypes more or less started after the 1980′s elections in jamaica , when the so called “badman” mentality started to spread with the introduction of guns in jamaica by the c.i.a and political factions, and the rise of drug kingpins in the 80′s throughout the caribbean then this imagery was transferred through music (dancehall reggae and gangsta rap) and impressionable young people were indoctrinated with this thinking and it created a social issue amongst west indians that had not previously existed.

    In 1970 there were 152 murders in jamaica, today there is around 1600

    http://www.jamaicanews.info/2010/01/jamaicas-year-to-tear-murder-rate-1970-2009/

    So in fact when west indians back in the day said hey, were not like them it was true the data backs it up, because the upbringing of west indians during the early part of the last century blacks in the british west indies were brought up much different than african americans, this was well documented in the bbc windrush documentary.

    link to part one: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2618093601046655014

    Even african americans joke about west indians having many jobs and then resent it when they achieve.

    West indians are not insensitive to african americans so much as they are uninterested in excuses, they treat their own kids with the same insensitivities that african americans complain they receive from west indians.

    Yes west indians and african americans have many things in common, but we have many differences as well, our differences should be embraced, but they should not be divisive. But we all we need to take charge of the issues in our own respective communities, we have to also be honest about the landscape of discrimination, west indians are a minority group within the black community and immigrants who came wanting to get along with african americans, go anywhere in the west indies right now or ask anyone from there 30, 40, 50 or 60 years ago if they had any negative opinions about african americans before they arrived in the u.s you’ll get a resounding no, men like sam cooke and various artists during the soul r&b era were tremendous influences on caribbean music, nowadays west indians even start give up cricket for basketball they look up to these african americans so much. we changed the way the world looked at us with cricket.
    Link to “fire in babylon” http://www.icefilms.info/ip.php?v=135057& especially after the civil rights movement west indians started to really be discriminated against, so not only did the west indian have to worry about the white man holding him down, he had to worry about the african american putting him down, then he had to listen to african american putting him down talk about how he can’t get a job because of the colour of his skin meanwhile he’s running jokes about west indian having 3-4 jobs.

    There are 38.9 million blacks in america, 2.5 million of them are of either french dutch or english speaking west indians, this is not david vs goliath thing where west indians just came hating on african americans and white people didnt cause AA’s to be ignorant to west indians and even if that was the case no self respecting west indian would take that as a valid excuse.

  31. my grandparents are trinidadian both we are mixed race in the white man eyes because we look greek or itailian sometimes aremainian both my mother and father said say your black and i have no problem with that because it flows in my blood but in school and work i wasn’t black enough and when i said my family trinis there was a lot of hate by black AA both thier was also hate with in my own west indian commuities because my family didn’t like hatitian were nasty, dirty and there food stinks.I think we are all black remember the white man took us from our true home Africa we are brothers and sisters just diivied by oceans we are family it doesn’t matter if you have 100% or 10%blackness you are not white in america never forget your pride the motherland.

  32. I am not hurt when West Indians and Africans separate themselves from us, as long as they are not benefitting from our resources or cultural experience…

  33. General Natty,

    I think one of the major problems between West Indians and african americans can be applied to your post. As usual, you speak about your own group in self-aggrandizing terms, and give a subliminal cheap shot to black americans as if they haven;t accomplished anything. It is not the case that all west indians are brilliant, hardworking, super industrious people, you need only look at WIs in the UK, hell in the islands, and see that, but like most west indians, you downplay anything negative about your own to feel superior to black americans. Please show me where black americans have tried to recruit you in anything, even in kinship? Your condescending manner is what the problem is. What on earth do you mean “we can show that you can make it?” why don’t you show your bretheren in your islands, the UK, and Canada that? Did you know that every subliminal stereotype you try to use for black Americans has been said about your people there? And if not, why don’t you know? Is it because you don[t want to, or because it doesn’t go with your west indian=good and black american equals=bad. If you were inherently better than us or any other group, why don’t you make it everywhere? I’ll tell you why. Because you didn’t have a built in infrastructure to help upon arrival anywhere else but in America. Why is it wherever you people predominate that you don’t make it? (UK, your own island, Canada) How do you explain this? Why won’t you address this? You have benefitted off the backs of my people, not the other way around. I think that your
    attempt paint your own people in positive terms and diss mine is nothing more than yet another attempt to skirt the fact that you are jealous because your culture gets no shine here, and you hate it very much. And the notion that you are superior to us in anyway has already been disproven. But who believed that other than West Indians, anyway? Also, most of the black wealth in this culture is in the hands of black americans. RESPECT. (We don’t need yours)

  34. Also, why do west indians always put so much emphasis on being “different” from african americans, as if aas are trying to recruit them or something when the exact opposite is true? Black Americans do not seek West indians out and don’t go out of their way to be around them. West Indians are always in Black American’s cultural space, not the other way around. We would love it if we could have our own cultural space separate from both West Indians and West Africans, but despite the fact that both groups talk about Black Americans like dogs behind their backs, (especially around whites, whom they think they curry favor with) neither group will stay away from us. That seems to be a simple solution. But then, we are the ones with the infrastructure here in America, so using us for resources is attractive, I guess.

  35. I 100% agree with Nikki’s post. In my experience in New Orleans many WI are eager to put down AA. I always viewed it as WI feeling inferior, so they put down AA in an attempt to make themselves feel better about their country, culture, people, etc.

    Whats funny tho, aside from all the crap they say about AA, many are quick to try and claim Louisiana Creoles (a culture and people unique to the US) as Haitian and/or Caribbean. I even had one Haitian guy try to tell me Beyonce was actually Haitian Creole….WTF!! lol

    Whatever tho…its all love at the end of the day :)

  36. ASA,

    A little history lesson:

    The first wave of WI immigrants to the US were slaves who were “seasoned” in the West Indies and then brought to Charleston, S.C., Baltimore, MD and any of the other seaports along the Eastern seaboard. My the late 1700′s there was no longer a need to import slaves and in fact, the importation of slaves to the US was outlawed in 1808. Interstae slavery was of course still legal and business was brisk. The plantation system in the US was able to “breed” enough slaves to repopulate their slave population. In the WI, this was not the case. Slave mortality was extremely high causing the importation of people directly from Africa to happen more frequently. The slaves in the WI were also much more isolated from their European owners and were able to maintain many aspects of their African culture than there counterparts in the US. There are pockets of coastal areas and swamp areas in the US where slaves were able to retain as much if not more of their African culture than their counterparts like the Maroons in the WI. Hence, the Gullah, Creole and Mulegeon cultures in the American south still in existence today. Slavery ended in the English colonies in 1832, therefore making it idiotic for any Black to voluntarily come to the US from the WI from that point until after 1865 when slavery in the US was abolished by an act of congress. AA did extremely well in the years following the Civil War, establishing Universities still in existence today, Benevolent Societies, Businesses, etc… There has been evidence of a few immigrants coming to the US from the WI aat this time by you could count them on one hand. What stopped AA progress in it’s tracks? Jim Crow and the KKK. Google it if your not sure what that meant. in the early 1900′s larger waves of WI immigrants came to the US because of the limited opportunities in their countries. Some like many AA managed to do well for themselves and others like many AA did not. The difference back then was that once here they did display a pride of their homeland in WI but they identified more with the AA community because they were all in the struggle for equal treatment together. My Bajan ancestors came to the US with this wave of West Indians whose children for the most part identified as AA because without facebook, pr even phones for that matter you did not keep in touch with relatives back home. Some of these immigrants founded Black Nationalist Movements like Marcus Garvey and William Blyden which created the momentum along with movements already started by American born blacks like the NAACP started by WEB Dubois and the Nation of Islam, etc for the Civil Rights Movement. Many Southern blacks including the descendants of my AA family who had been here since the 1780′s fought, marched and died for the benefit of future generations. Fast Forward 1964. Civil Rights act signed by President Johnson also included at the bequest of MLK and othe Civil Rights leaders, a clause to open immigration to the black, brown and yellow people of the world. Up until that point immigration had been severely restricted for people of color. Afterwards the largest emigration of people from the WI began. The first generation with their immigrant work ethic did better on average than their urban AA counterparts because they were motivated not to return back home. AA

  37. Now if you compared urban poor AA to their southern counterparts, the southern, mid western and western AA also fared better than their urban AA counterparts. What happened with the children of this biggest wave of WI immigrants? Some continued to run family businesses, or start businesses of their own but for the most part they were not shown to have done any better than AAs. In fact because of technology and the ability to maintain close ties with family and other networks back home, these second generation kids became some of the biggest drug dealers on the East Coast and in Florida. They brought the drug trade to a whole new level by bringing many of the guerilla tactics from the so called Third World. Pappy Mason who ran a drug empire with Fat Cat Nichols had a cop in NYC gunned down just to show his power. This would have been unheard of by the likes of Frank Lucas or Nicky Barnes who understood the way things worked in the US and paid cops off instead. Drive-bys, killing rivals and hitting innocent bystanders, was a new phenomenon. Lawlessness, corruption and poverty still prevails in many WI countries and on the continent of Africa. When I ask the more recent WI in my family why this is they say that the US and Europe designed it that way. That they want us to fail because Black countries with strong leadership and strong economies are a threat to the Western World. I then pose the question that perhaps the system here in the US is designed for AA’s to fail. And like me if your WI ancestors came here 100 years ago you barely identify as such the system might be designed for their grandchildren to fail as well. One thing that i do know is that Allahu Akbar! G’d is Great! and by the meercy of G’d we will insh’Allah/G’d willing learn to live as G’d intended. One Ummah. One People. Until that time we have to stop the divisive stupidity. We are all part of the African diaspora and must help each other out.

  38. Pan-Afrikan folks — no matter where you come from, keep this in mind.. A dumb darky is a dumb darky.,, Octroon, Quadroon.. DONT MATTER!! WE ARE NOT IN A PLACE TO ADOPT AND ENACT THE SAME DIRTY BEHAVIORS OF OUR FORMER (SOME MIGHT SAY STILL “CURRENT”) OWNERS!! HIS WAYS ARE MEANT FOR THE ONES IN POWER/AUTHORITY.. NOT FOR THOSE WHO ARE DESIGNATED (NOTE I DID NOT SAY “DESTINED”) TO SERVE THE WHOLE OF MANKIND (EXCLUDING OTHER PAN-AFRIKAN PEOPLES)

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