A perspective on West Indians in the U.S.

I came across this post today, discussing the possible reasons for the “differences” between African-Americans and West Indian immgrants in the U.S. Although the article is a trifle full of generalisations, I found it interesting reading. See what you think.

To a West Indian, black is a literal description: you are black if your skin is black.

The implication of West Indian success is that racism does not really exist at all–at least, not in the form that we have assumed it does. The implication is that the key factor in understanding racial prejudice is not the behavior and attitudes of whites but the behavior and attitudes of blacks–not white discrimination but black culture. It implies that when the conservatives in Congress say the responsibility for ending urban poverty lies not with collective action but with the poor themselves they are right

This idea of the West Indian as a kind of superior black is not a new one. When the first wave of Caribbean immigrants came to New York and Boston, in the early nineteen-hundreds, other blacks dubbed them Jewmaicans, in derisive reference to the emphasis they placed on hard work and education.

she lived in a country that had blacks and browns in every position of authority, so her personal experience gave the lie to what she read in the encyclopedia. This, I think, is what Noel means when he says that he cannot quite appreciate what it is that weighs black Americans down, because he encountered the debilitating effects of racism late, when he was much stronger. He came of age in a country where he belonged to the majority.

The success of West Indians is not proof that discrimination against American blacks does not exist. Rather, it is the means by which discrimination against American blacks is given one last, vicious twist: I am not so shallow as to despise you for the color of your skin, because I have found people your color that I like. Now I can despise you for who you are.

There is also no small measure of guilt here, for West Indians cannot escape the fact that their success has come, to some extent, at the expense of American blacks, and that as they have noisily differentiated themselves from African-Americans–promoting the stereotype of themselves as the good blacks–they have made it easier for whites to join in. It does not help matters that the same kinds of distinctions between good and bad blacks which govern the immigrant experience here have always lurked just below the surface of life in the West Indies as well. It was the infusion of white blood that gave the colored class its status in the Caribbean, and the members of this class have never forgotten that, nor have they failed, in a thousand subtle ways, to distance themselves from those around them who experienced a darker and less privileged past.

In the new racism, as in the old, somebody always has to be the nigger.

You know, this is why I choose to live in the Caribbean. Coming to terms with your personal and collective identity is difficult enough without having to take into consideration an outsiders’ set of rules.

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About BBB
yingyangHi there! Pam Northman* (aka BlahBlohBlog) here, live and direct from Grenada. I'm a 40something, uber-liberal, working, single mother. In my time off I indulge my web, TV & pop culture addiction, revel in my attempts at nerd-girlishness and moonlight as a passionate Caribbeanista.
*looooooong story!

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