black-women-friends-640x325

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I learned very early on that being Haitian wasn’t exactly the thing to be.  When my family moved to a new town, my older brother and I simply hid it. Nobody asked, so we didn’t tell. Then it all began to unravel. My third grader teacher assigned a family tree diagram which forced me to reveal our heritage  I recall coming home from school that day feeling dread as I told my older brother (by two years) that the jig was up. The tears came quickly, from both us, as we understood all too well what it would mean to reveal that we were Haitian. The teasing would be brutal, but tolerable. Feeling ostracized was what we feared the most.

But then we grew up, and like most people, the very thing we were teased about as children became the thing we cherished with the upmost pride. We embraced our heritage, and slowly the larger West-Indian community began to accept us. Gaining this acceptance, however, came at a price. While I had always heard family members speak with disdain about Black Americans, it wasn’t until I was a teenager when I learned that this us vs. them mentality spanned across West-Indian cultures. When I’d hear West-Indians attributing certain stereotypes to Black Americans,  I found myself nodding in agreement.  We were different, I insisted. We  were educated. Our children were better behaved. We were hard-working. Our food tasted better. African Americans gave us all a bad name, and while we would befriend them in public, in private, we’d deride them for being stereotypical.

I carried this belief with me to college. I was even proud when white people would praise me for being different from what they’d imagined. My French last name was also a crowd-pleaser. I ate it all up with a spoon. My false pride, however,  came to an abrupt halt towards the end of my freshman year when one of my white dorm-mates told me to, “Go back to Africa.” I was stunned. Surely, she couldn’t mean me? I had the perfectly straight hair. I dressed well. I made the Dean’s list. I spoke properly. How could she, in a moment of anger, reduce me to being a black face just like any other? I was different. Wasn’t I? It was a hard lesson, but she woke me up good and proper. I’ve never been the same and I’m proud that I did not go into adulthood carrying that load of self-hatred with me.

Recently, Huffington Post writer , who is of Cameroonian heritage, penned an open letter to African immigrants, urging them to not fall victim to the same belief system.  She writes:

White Americans will say you are better than American blacks, but please do not fall for this trap. You will be told you behave better, work harder, and are more educated than American blacks. You will be tempted to agree and will sometimes want to shout, “YES, I’M NOT LIKE THEM, WE AFRICANS ARE DIFFERENT!” Just don’t…don’t even think it.

The praise of your acquired characteristic and culture becomes a justification for white Americans to perpetuate discriminatory treatments towards American blacks. These statements of praise have an underlying message of, “If Africans can do so well then surely racism has nothing to do with anything, therefore, American Blacks are to be blamed for their condition in America”. This problematic line of reasoning sustains cultural racism. I beg of you, refrain from nodding in agreement when you receive such faulty praise.

Indeed, West Indians, like the African immigrants described in Seppou’s letter, are guilty of the same misdeeds. In wanting to carve out a place for ourselves in a society where being black places you on the bottom rung, we have perpetuated the belief that we are better than our African American counterparts.

Caribbean culture and African culture are different than African American culture. But when we celebrate our uniqueness, it should never be to shame African American culture.

I'm a Lipstick-obsessed Journalist and Fashion Blogger. You can find me over on my blog or youtube channel swatching lippies and strutting around in 5-inch heels. I'm a also a brand coach, specializing in video marketing and digital brand development. Find me @lisaalamode.

Leave a Reply

325 Comments on "How I Learned That Being West Indian Didn’t Make Me Better Than African Americans"

Notify of
avatar
Rishona Campbell
Great piece! My father is Jamaican and my mother is African-American. Their relationship didn’t last past my toddler years, so I grew up with both dynamics. I heard the superiority talk from my Jamaican family; although being that we didn’t live in an area with a large West Indian population, when it came down to it, they were solidly a part of the local African-American community. Being born and raised in the US though, I found no distinction between myself and African-Americans; except that I listened to more reggae, could understand (but didn’t talk) patois, and we ate different food… Read more »
Emjay Mangual
I am a Black American and I wittnessed blatant racism by two West Indian women. I was at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in NYC, with my mother, waiting to have my cast removed. There were many people waiting to be seen. (White, Black, Hispanic, etc..) A middle aged black man was upset, because he was waiting for a long time, while others who supposedly came after him, went in before him. So he voiced his aggressions towards the women. (Both nurses at the orthopedic Dept.) Well when he walked away after more than a few choice words, the racial slurs… Read more »
Colleen Birchett
Have you read the “Willy Lynch Letter” lately? The basic principles in it may be able to be applied here. Are we not being divided from one another while interests of globalization and neocolonialism are distracting us from any investment in what happens to our mother countries and the continent of Africa? Once we start playing the “better than thou” and “exceptionalism” games, we pass this down to future generations. Then we run the risk of losing everything we have. Isn’t it interesting that the same corporate interests that divide Black people are unsuccessful in dividing people of Jewish descent… Read more »
64TayeFosterBradshaw82
64TayeFosterBradshaw82
This is a good message. I identify as Black, first, because it connects me with my melaninated brothers and sisters in the Americans, Central & South America, the Caribbean, and the motherland continent, Africa. We were all enslaved or ruled through colonialism. Those of us outside Africa, one of our ancestors was kidnapped and put on a slave ship and just dropped off at different ports. My heritage is Creole (New Orleans, free people of color) with known beginnings in Haiti & The Dominican Republic and Lyon, France. I am a fortunate “American black” in that our family was able… Read more »
Blue Bell

you do know creoles from Haiti and Dominican Republic who came to America were slave owners escaping the revolution…yes Creoles in the Caribbean owned blacks as slaves…

Pepie
What is Creole(s)? Is it a person, a language or a culture? If I may, let me explain. The whole of the Caribbean has a Creole culture and can be regarded as creoles. The culture is simply a mixture of different cultures using a common European language in a broken form, which includes words and terms from other African, Indigenous and Asian languages. So we have Haitian Creole language, which to a large extent is a broken form of French with a heavy influence of African languages. St. Lucians also speak a broken form of french mixed with other languages,… Read more »
Linda Beamon

Awesome statement of truth….Thank you!

Khalid Henriques

Great post. *applause* you wonderfully articulated my exact sentiments.

maralondon
A more in depth knowledge of our origins is what is needed. I live in England parents are from the Caribbean. I also have a ton of family living in America as well as Canada. I’m always drawn to my people no matter which corner of the earth they happen to reside. I understand that there are cultural differences among us but I also know there are many things we have in common. Let’s not forget that this disdain for one another started with the WM. It was his mission to disconnect us from each other and needless to say… Read more »
TWA4now

…we have a lot more in common than .not. If our features and skin color is one shade darker than theirs, rest assure they ALREADY made a choice to ensure they know we are black no matter what part of Africa a person is from. Skin color should NOT be an issue these days but sadly it STILL is.

OXxo

The civil war and genocide in Rwanda was on perceived differences between two tribes. Yet if you looked at pictures of them they would look the same simply because there was a lot of intermarriage between them.

People who believe they are better than another group who have the same skin colour as them obviously have never heard of the WM’s trick of divide and conquer. It was used to keep slaves of different main ethnicities and religions from joining together in their colonies to over throw them.

TWA4now

True and I am well aware of what you are saying….i.know it steams from slavery. I am prior military, read books, and have too many overseas friends.not to understand colorism and racism…plus I have experienced this at some level.

V.
Well, as a Nigerian American, my take on it is this. Many Americans, because of the lack of exposure to African and Caribbean cultures, fail to see black people beyond anything but black american. Compared to, say London, where there are many black people from many different countries, l stereotypes applied to a black american will not be the same as those applied to a Jamaican, a ghanian, an Ethiopian, and a Haitian. But in America they are. Sure, someone walking down the street doesn’t know I am of nigerian heritage, but that doesn’t change my upbringing, values, and culture.… Read more »
Journey T.
I don’t think Africans and West Indians know how much Black Americans are aware of their perceived superiority and how much it has hurt them. We are not at all interested in collaborating with either at all, but both are constantly in our cultural space trying to benefit or enrich themselves. I noticed this first at Howard University, whereby many rudely couldn’t wait to tell you how much better than were than American blacks, but were all attending on scholarships meant for black Americans while denigrating black Americans at every chance. Both groups benefit heavily from our history, culture and… Read more »
Colleen
It is all about colonialism and slavery. When I was in college, I worked for the summer one year, in London. There, some of the White English people at my job talked against the Black immigrants from their former colonies who had immigrated there to find jobs. They told me that I talked better worked harder, etc., etc., etc. They said they just generally liked African Americans better and that African Americans were smarter, and were not “heathens”. But I saw it as the same old routine. — pitting one group against another, due to the differences in the historical… Read more »
TWA4now

If culture seems to be a dividing factor, there MUST be something else that binds us together. To be honest, I had people from other colors, creeds, and religions help me more in my life than my own culture. We need to look past culture and color and see the heart of a person.

maralondon

Funny how they(Europeans) more or less got along when they decided the fate of our African Ancestors. The real reason they don’t get along is greed, they have a history of fighting for dominance over land, minerals, you name it, all of which doesn’t belong to them. So on he surface it would seem that they hate the very sight of one another but trust me they know when it’s necessary to come together.

kb

Your comparison to London, is inaccurate tho, NYC has many more blacks and from different countries. People assume you’re Black American because we have long history in the US ( 400) yrs unlike Blacks in London who arrived only after WWII Finally, you don’t like us, but you do have to respect us bc w/out US you couldn’t be here.

tracienatural
kb, it’s interesting you state that non-African-Americans couldn’t be in America if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of African-Americans. Interesting. First of all, the statement negates the West Indians who were part of the struggle for black freedom in this country. Many of your historical leaders actually had West Indian heritage. For example, Malcolm X (Grenadian mother), Stokley Carmichael (Trinidadian), Marcus Garvey (Jamaican), Louis Farakhan (Barbadian or “Bajan”/Jamaican parents), Colin Powell (Jamaican parentage), Shirley Chisolm (Bajan parents), and many, many more. As an aside, even the Haitian revolution had a Pan-African element: one of the three “Haitian” freedom fighters was… Read more »
Journey T.

But if you can even admit that you benefit from black Americans when you get here while carrying thoughts of superiority how would you expect black Americans would treat or feel about you?

Black Americans are fully aware that you think you are superior. But since we know you are not, it doesn’t phase us we just don’t want you hanging out in our cultural space or benefitting from us. That is all….

Anya W

Please see the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate against someone not only based on their race, but also their national origin. This is a law that would not exist without African Americans. Granted, immigration was not the focus of the Civil Rights Movement, but our fight did, in fact, hugely benefit immigrants to the United States.

lis

Actually…….Black Americans did fight for more Black immigrants to come here…that was a key point……and the immigration reform act of 196? came about because of the civil rights movement…before that the whites in power were very systematic in only allowing, for the most part, white European immigration….The civil rights movement changed that and it benefited all groups.

Journey T.

And we deeply regret having done so….

kb

Thanks for responding, African Americans don’t influence immigration policy, by the attitudes behind them. Our civil rights’ struggles, and our subsequent social, economic gains, have made the US palatable for Africans, Latinos, Asians, etc. Our fight for improved treatment produced an environment that has improved social and economic access for everyone.

Tracienatural
Hi kb. Glad you responded. You’d be surprised that immigration laws have not been greatly impacted by the civil rights struggle. This is why Haitian refugees are turned around at sea by the Coast Guard (to even die on the high seas) while mostly white Cubans are allowed to stay under the “wet foot dry foot” policy. White Europeans are recruited to come here, while blacks join an immigration lottery system that can take over 20 years to complete. White immigrant families migrate together while black families are broken up with parents leaving their children behind for sometimes a decade… Read more »
TWA4now

I like London! Awesome London Fog coats and clocks! 🙂

maralondon

For your information England has always been multi cultural. Yes there was mass migration after WW2 from the Caribbean and later Africa but Blacks along with other ethnic groups have always been present not just in England but Europe as a whole. Unfortunately the British schools do not teach us this.

kb

I did know that actually, Liverpool was a slave port but You really can’t compare American Black History to the Black history in the UK tho. American Blacks have been in the US for longer time and in greater numbers

Pepie

or there in the UK. The period after the WWII that saw the heavy migration to the UK is call the Wind Rush period. UK needed labour to rebuild her country and she looked to her colonies.

kb

You really can’t compare American Black History to the Black history in the UK tho. American Blacks have been in the US for longer time and in greater numbers

Milly
I’m glad you said this, because it’s so true. As much as it saddens me, that’s simply how human nature is. I don’t live in America, but I am an East African living in South Africa and you can see the exact same behaviour here. Elders in the EA community will say that South African blacks are wilder, more promiscuous, lazy, uneducated, basically echoing what white people say. People in this country will hire foreigners, most commonly Zimbabweans for jobs, because they are “more reliable”, “less likely to steal” or whatever else reason people will someone would come up with.… Read more »
smartytrousers
So you’re comparing London, a place where a person’s parents or grandparents are from an exact country and still possess their African name and culture to America where most of us have the last name what can be assumed to be of a slave master and first and middle names that are English, Greek, French and more and unless the slave masters kept excellent records, we wouldn’t have a chance in he’ll to trace our ancestors to a specific country. Yep! Definitely the same. *sarcasm* Black American people hold onto the idea of being black so badly because what else… Read more »
Aaron

I think.it.makes.more.sense to include your history with anybody of the same ethnicity as you. Black history is any history in the world where your race had a hand in. This is not a nationality thing. Its an ethnicity thing. I celebrate black history around the globe as my own. I could.never limit it to a nation
A nation didnt birth me

lordblazer

but many americans literally lack exposure to black american culture and even interactions with black americans are fucking limited.

Windy Cat

Are you new to the U.S.? Many Americans ‘do not’ lack exposure to Black America, no not in 2015. Black people are everywhere in the U.S. Other races/ethnicities choose to not acknowledge Black people/Black culture because of racist views and history dating back hundreds of years. People were told ignorant bad things about Black people and ignorant stupid people believed it (still do).

V.

I agree. I just wish in Americans as a whole had a better understanding of REAL African American culture (not this rap and hip hop culture that everyone believes is the extent of it) as well as african and carribean and even black hispanic cultures (heck, we can even through in australian aborigines) so that people would not be so small minded as to what it means to be black.

Guest

This article just went straight over your head.

Yemi
THIS!!! I was born in Nigeria and lived there for most of my formative years. I am also a naturalized American and have now lived in the U.S. for longer than I ever did in my country. I identify as Nigerian American because no matter how American I have become, much of who I am today was shaped by my experiences as a Nigerian, first and foremost, and I still maintain strong ties to my culture. Yes, that heritage DOES make me very different from Black Americans. But it doesn’t make me some kind of special, magical African snowflake. At… Read more »
V.
I never said being of direct African descent made me special, I said it doesn’t make me have the same culture and history as a black american whose history in America can be traced back to the 1500-1600s when mine can only be traced to the late 90s. Obviously I know I’m black and that society will place my blackness above my being Nigerian. What I’m saying is that doesn’t mean I should disregard my entire culture and ancestry simply because small minded people have only 1 idea of what it means to be black. I was raised in predominantly… Read more »
Journey T.

But where in this article did it say that? This article was about feeling superior to black Americans. Which is your problem, not ours…,

Journey T.

But we already know you don’t have the same history so what is your point here? You want to be considered the same when it comes to black American resources, though, which makes you an exploiter and user, no?

Pepie

I once liked a Nigerian girl and she said, bare in mind I am Nigerian. I have no knowledge what that was but I left here alone. LOLOL. You see, I am West Indian and when people talk like that the first thing comes to mind is Obeah. LMAO.

Guest

I understood your post, but my point was just that, all of the other stuff you brought up–identifying with being Nigerian instead of just black and etc, had ZERO to do with what the article was about.

Angela Booker

Yemi well said!

Esha Fowlin

it really did lol wow

Jovi

The Point Is To Be Kumbaya. It Seems You’re Saying Thanks, But No Thanks. Thanks For Paying The Price, But Hold Up Dnt Pass Me The Bill. Smh. Dnt Be Like The Chinese, Hispanics, or Europeans. That Have Self Hate. Be Black ! Be African !

lis
Hmmmm…….sick of this topic but I’ll bite anyway….It’s obvious Caribbeans and Africans look at Black Americans through the racist white lenses….and some seem to NEED to so call look down on Black Americans…they NEED to…but I don’t think Black Americans care because hate to tell them they’re fooling themselves because 75% of Black Americans are in the middle class and Black Americans are some of the wealthiest and most educated Blacks in the world….blah blah blah…….Can they say the same…..and I do not dislike Caribbeans or Africans…that would be dumb to dislike people I don’t know who look like me… Read more »
Ganadora Loteria

And black Americans don’t look at non-US black people through the racist white lens??? I would address everything else in your post but it is clear how uninformed and ignorant you are.

tracienatural
I know I should stop reading these comments, but I’m so curious about what my people’s thoughts are on these topics. I keep picking up on a theme of assimilation, though. Question: why are some of my African-American sisters minimizing/ignoring/denying the differences of their African and Caribbean counterparts? Let’s use Africa as an example: 54 countries, tribes and languages in the 1000s. The diversity in one African country is vast, and none of it is like African-American culture. Why would anyone think it was? They are 1000s of miles away, many without contact to African-Americans or other diasporan Africans. Now,… Read more »
lis
I know this and I know Africans and West Indians are diverse in culture, language and everything else that makes up a people…so are Black Americans. ….I have been to the Caribbean and Africa….I’m not ignorant….what I and others are arguing against, and maybe I am interpreting this incorrectly, is the disgusting assumption by you all that Black Americans are not educated, all in jail, do not have or come from people, all live in slums, listen to rap or whatever other shitty RACIST conclusions you have convinced yourselves of concerning Black Americans…Black Americans are educated/want higher education, want and… Read more »
Felina Femenina
Oops. Have to repost my comment because I accidentally edited, and BGLH doesn’t seem to ever approve twice. Shrugs. Black people in the U.S. are more educated and more frequently found in the middle class, yes, but what you forget is that Caribbeans, Africans and black Latin Americans in the U.S. are counted among the numbers of educated and middle class black people in the U.S. If you do a Google search on the percentage of foreign black students vs. native-born black students attending American universities, you’ll see many established, respectable publications report that the number of foreign-born blacks in… Read more »
Journey T.
What is your point about Ivy Leagues though. Black Smerucans don’t think you are nothing if you don’t go to one. There are thousands that go to HBCUs and none feel inferior to West Indians or Africans. I received all three degrees from HBCUs and a doctorate from Howard and is dint and will never feel inferior to you, if I had none. And if you are in these Uvey Leagues, please know that you obviously bypassed every University in the West Indies and Africa, correct? Why is that? Your people and culture are superior, right? Listen, we are never… Read more »
Esha Fowlin

its really not that different and excellent point.

Ganadora Loteria

It really is very different.

Felina Femenina
Black people in the U.S. are more educated and more frequently found in the middle class, yes, but what you are forgetting is that Caribbeans, Africans and black Latin Americans in the U.S. are counted among those numbers of educated and middle class black people in the U.S. If you do a Google search on the percentage of foreign black students vs. native-born black students attending American universities, you’ll see many established, respectable publications report that the number of foreign-born blacks in American universities far outpaces the number of native-born ones. 18% of U.S.-born blacks are college graduates. 40.9% of… Read more »
Journey T.

They are very selective in who gets to the US. Let’s compare all of your people in your country and here with all black Americans.

I can’t believe you are here trying to argue that you are superior and then wonder why you are hated.

If you go to both Jamaica and Bugerua right now you would be straight up embarrassed by what you see, but you already know this. Disgusting with deep feelings of inferiority that you could not make it in a Black Country. Period…

Steven C Scott
How different? Very different and not so much. My parents are Jamaican so can only speak on that. But Afriacans for one come from different countries so by that nature there are many differences. From a Jamaican perspective, our language (british english and a dialect), our food, our dance, our religions much more diverse christianity and more importantly we are a mixed people. I am not sure how you cannot think there is a difference. I mean heck I see a difference in a black american that grew up in Denver, CO and one from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. To be… Read more »
StraightShooter

Honestly, this division is something I don’t understand. When non-American Blacks come to America they are able to enjoy certain things because of the struggle of Black Americans. The acceptance that many non-American Black people receive from whites is quite conditional. The same way non-American Black people deride Black Americans in private, white people do the same to you also.

Janet Holmes

They do the same thing to us.

Felina Femenina

Don’t forget that West Indians were in the U.S. and played a major role in the Civil Rights struggle in this country.

Cosita

Marcus Garvey for one.

maralondon
Tell me about it. I remember visiting New Orleans back in 1996 and on one occasion I approached a WM on the street to ask him the time. Before I could even open my mouth he told me he didn’t have any spare change and hurriedly walked past me. Black people no matter where you’re from, we are all seen in the same light. Massa might give you a pass for your obedient behaviour but he knows exactly his motives for doing so. All he is doing is carrying on the works of his forefathers by pitting us against each… Read more »
Aal

Well, when the klu Klux Klan enters the room. We will all see who is left standing. Anything oher than white will be hunted and hung. Smh

Janet Holmes

So true. Those cave beast is fill with pure hate

Steven C Scott

Not sure why you would take offense, sounds like SS is saying the same as you. ‘quite conditional’ NOT unconditional.

cryssi
Amen!!! I didn’t discover Africans and West Indians felt this way until my freshman year in college. One of my African friends was riding with me on the bus to the grocery store when a louder group of black college students got on. Then he stated to me, an African American young woman from Detroit, that this is why he would never a black American. They’re too lazy, irresponsible, disrespectful, loud, and wild. I stared at him blankly, confused by this foolishness coming from his mouth. I tutor you in Calc and get better grades. As I continued to stare… Read more »
reina lockhart

I agreed with your comment up until the part about having “better grades”. There’s no need for the comparison. By comparing grades your implying that your ethnicity had something to do with your accomplishments and so makes your entire comment appear to be hypocritical. Otherwise, the guy could benefit from putting aside his racist lens. Especially since he profits from the hard work and history of the “black Americans” he seems to know so little of.

rainbow

You lack reading comprehension

Anon126554

How, ironic. Clearly you’re the one who lacks reading comprehension. Not reina. Try again, maybe this time you’ll get it.

reina lockhart
I have no reason to believe why I do seeing as you provided zero explanation. Everything I wrote was the truth. She pointed out that her race (African american) did not hold up to his stereotype – hence, race was a factor. REASON: I don’t put myself above someone else just because I got a higher grade EVEN if I dislike the person and am trying to make a point about how race does not indicate how a person behaves/ performs in school. I would be proud of my own accomplishments. Period. Condescending always makes me feel awful no matter… Read more »
Anya W

But the whole point of that statement was to emphasize the irony of the man negatively stereotyping people like her, when she – as a member of the group he’s stereotyping – is academically superior to him and actually tutors him. Nowhere did she say or imply that that fact made her better than him. It’s simply the irony of the situation.

lis

Smart girl

ClarenceCM

And if you went to his country, you probably wouldn’t have safe drinking water or dependable electricity. A whole country full of “his people” and the best thing they can do, is get the hell out of it, and come to “our” country, because of our sacrifice. . Your friend need to go back were he came from.

Early on in my life I knew Black immigrant acted like this, and never trusted them, and always felt black america were foolish for accepting them.

Miss.

Wow, a white racist would stand up and clap after reading your first paragraph. Great job!!! /s

Journey T.

As he should because you come here and want to be an oppressor… we got something for you though…

wpDiscuz