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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.

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

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Sach
There is a complex and symbiotic relationship between being a black and a foreigner in this country. In some ways we are different in that we didn’t grew up or least made to feel inferior and criminalized on a daily basis implicitly and explicitly. We still have to deal with the oppressing remnants of slavery and colonialism like colourism and being other. African Americans have fought the fight that has allowed us to get educated in these illustrious US Universities, not to have to sit at the back of the bus and many other human rights. Those opportunities granted to… Read more »
MyTake305

Great article. I’m “African American,” born and raised in Miami and I’ve definitely observed this dynamic.

Black people will do anything they can to set themselves apart from whatever they consider to be a stereotypical black person. It’s not only Caribbean versus AA versus African… it’s also a class thing. African Americans who’s reached a certain status will try to disassociate with Black Americans as a whole.

It’s so f*cked up and utterly sad we can’t take full pride in being a black person. That being something other than black is preferred. So f*cking sad.

smartytrousers

You generalized with no examples. What are you referring to when you say this?

JahNikki

Ganadora, you can’t be serious, right? Historically, the achievements by Black Americans have been gained by just that, Black Americans. The hard work, sacrifice, discrimination, and such experienced by Black Americans have paved the way for immigrants from the West Indies and Africa to be able to come here and flourish. If there was no Civil Rights Movement, I doubt there would be any Black people with the achievements they have today – Black American, West Indian, or African.

Oh, and I’m 1/2 Nigerian and 1/2 Black American, so I’ve seen both sides of the coin.

Anya W
“Why is it that Italians/Irish/British are able to distinguish themselves culturally without being criticized? Nobody tells them that they shouldn’t see themselves as “Italians” because “at the end of the day white is white”. This rhetoric is unheard of.” That is a bad comparison because you’re comparing white Americans – the majority group that has never had identity/race issues – to black Americans – a minority group that has had many identity/race issues. It is unheard of because white Americans are not negatively judged by society simply because they are white, without regard to their ethnic origins. So, you wouldn’t… Read more »
R.Cola
They don’t have race/identity issues because their own people don’t have a problem with their own cultural identity. If a white person says they’re Italian, the odds of another white person saying “Yeah well White is white and being italian doesn’t mean you’re not white” And IMO we have this issue because of people who believe this statement is ok…. “You can choose to identify as Jamaican, Nigerian, or whatever, but black Americans know from hundreds of years worth of experience in America that nothing will ever negate your blackness.” What is that supposed to mean? Being Jamaican/Nigerian/Dominican etc. doesn’t… Read more »
Anya W
America has exploited black Americans far more than it has exploited any individual country – black, white, or brown – so why you believe it necessary for black Americans to understand “how much America has exploited predominantly black/brown countries around the world” is beyond me. The only group who has been exploited as much by America are the Native Americans. Secondly, it’s rather ignorant to assume that black Americans do not already understand that America has treated other nations poorly. You seem to know very little about the history of the people you seem to think you know so much… Read more »
Anya W
Welcome to race in America. Your experience is a legacy of the one-drop rule. You’d be surprised to know that most African Americans are actually genetically both African and European (sometimes Native American, as well, but less so) as a result of the frequent raping of black women during slavery, yet we’ve only ever been considered “black”, “negro”, or whatever the term was that was being used at the time. This served the purpose of ensuring that white supremacy continued in America, while also protecting the “purity” of the white race. The mindset persists today without many people realizing where… Read more »
Anya W
I guess someone had better let people like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and black Union soldiers (such as my 3rd great grandfather) know that they aren’t responsible for African Americans’ freedom – Haitians are. Your post is a huge overstatement. Firstly, the enslavement of African Americans lasted for over a half-century after the Haitian Revolution and Jim Crow didn’t end until the 1960s. Thus, the Haitian Revolution is not “the reason black Americans enjoy freedoms in America”. The rights that African Americans enjoy today are largely the product of our own fights and our own advocacy (though that is not… Read more »
Anya W
And you do realize that none of the achievements of 1st/2nd/3rd generation Americans would even be possible without African Americans having paved the way in every respect, right? It was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law that was primarily the product of the work of African Americans, which made it illegal to discriminate against someone not just based on their race, but also their national origin. America as it is now – a place where a non-white immigrant can come and make a huge success of him/herself – is a new America that African Americans have worked hard… Read more »
Sach
You are right African Americans have fought the fight that has allowed us to get educated in these illustrious US Universities, not to have to sit at the back of the bus and many other human rights. Those opportunities granted to us by their efforts can at times make us feel we are superior and AA resentful that we are taking opportunities that are deemed theirs. The laughable part is that white women have been the most beneficiaries of the civil rights movement. So there we go again fighting over a very small piece of the pie when someone else’s… Read more »
Tanaquil

I would never see myself as being above American Blacks because I am West Indian because at the end of the days, we are all Black. We may have grown up in different cultures, but we should teach each other instead of being divisive. I do not think that there is one singular way to be Black just like there is no one way to be White, Asian. Latino, African, etc.

Jarrett Guilbe Gaymon
Jarrett Guilbe Gaymon
I’d like to expand the conversation then as I’m glad you bring up this concern about xenophobia, erasure and privilege that you say African-Americans have and exude. African-Americans do not enjoy privilege over non-American black people in the US in anywise, in fact, we are seen as inferior and lazy because that is the narrative that is ascribed us by popular culture here. The xenophobia of which you speak is not widespread, and that of it which does exist is a direct response to the treatment we receive by non-American black people that by and large have the same disdain… Read more »
Ganadora Loteria
Although I do agree with you that much of the attitudes we have towards each other as black people in the diaspora stem from a colonizers lens, it does not take away privileges that certain black people have over other groups of black people, which also stems from said colonization. When I speak of black/African Americans, I am speaking of social conditioning as opposed to individuals. I assumed this was understood. And of course black/African Americans experience discrimination by non-US black people, I never stated otherwise. I said, “…let us please add some context to this dialogue” because this was… Read more »
Sach
Thank you for pointing that some of the the prejudices can be reciprical. I had Affrican Americans say things like you are Haitian but you don’t look Haitian. You are not ugly and dark. Or do you practice voodoo since you are Haitian? There is a complex and symbiotic relationship between being a black and a foreigner in this country. In some ways we are different in that we didn’t grew up or least made to feel inferior and criminalized on a daily basis implicitly and explicitly. We still have to deal with the oppressing remnants of slavery and colonialism… Read more »
Osato

We should, but we all know why we aren’t…let’s not play the blame game here though

Ganadora Loteria

I wasn’t playing the blame game. I replied to a post that implied that black/African Americans are superior to other non-US black people.

Osato

It’s one-sided because it stems from her personal experience

Ganadora Loteria

“Although I recognize, acknowledge and appreciate this post by Lisa Jean Francois, it is very one sided, which is expected of a personal piece.” – the first sentence in my response.

Notice how I mentioned it being expected to be one-sided because it is a personal piece.

Ganadora Loteria
Although I recognize, acknowledge and appreciate this post by Lisa Jean Francois, it is very one sided, which is expected of a personal piece. I hope this conversation is expanded to speak about xenophobia, erasure, centering and privilege black/African Americans have and exibit towards non-US black people. This is also a serious issue that is often, if not always, over looked. In the same sense that cis-gender black men centre their bodies, their struggles, their voices, their narrative over those of black women, black/African Americans do that to non-US black people. Just like cis-gender black men have certain privilege(s) over… Read more »
Just saying!!
This is awesome! As an African-American, I have often experienced disdain from Caribbeans, and i believe black immigrants have probably had their share of experiences being criticized by African-Americans as well, but I was always of the belief that it is the “divide and conquer” mentality. It only benefits one group of people for us to constantly be trying to figure out who the better slave is (sort of speak). I’m so glad you chose to no longer be a victim of that mentality. Whether we like it or not, all of us around the world have been impacted my… Read more »
Ron

But don’t African Americans have more history and achievements far more than any other group of blacks I think you would have to compare all the other blacks around the world to equate to wait African Americans have done

Outlaw Star

by whose standards?

Ganadora Loteria

First of all, no you don’t have more history and achievements far more than any other ‘group of blacks’. And, you do realize that many of the history and achievements that black/African Americans have are by immigrants and 1st/2nd/3rd generation Americans, right?

Also, America, the country, has more resources and black/African Americans benefit from those resources (which are mostly exploits of predominantly black and brown countries and labour), so you should be ‘doing better’ than anyone else.

Connor Meyer

HAITIANS ARE NOT WEST INDIAN. You should do your research before spreading misinformation. Again, HAITIANS ARE NOT WEST INDIAN.

Bigg King

Bleh, they’re caribbean so it doesn’t matter

Connor Meyer

So is the case for Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans. It does matter. There is a big difference between Caribbean and West Indian. It only doesn’t matter to the next generation filled with anti-intellectuals, anti-rationalists and other proud-to-be-morons. Haitians are not WEST INDIAN, they’re Caribbean.

Fixer

um, West Indian is the group of people from or inhabiting the region of the West Indies. if you didn’t know, the West Indies are the Caribbean, before you talk about “anti-intellectuals” do your research before you make a bold claim. Carribean people have different labels thanks to different names given to the region and whatever they go by does not matter as long as you know their the same thing.

OnPace

My ex-husband is African and his disdain for my people and our culture was always a point of contention. My own daughter once referred to me as “you people.” Don’t worry I quickly set her straight reminding her, “Anybody could be yo daddy. It’s for sure I’m yo mama.” Our sons have also expressed to me that he speaks so badly of Black Americans that they’ve had to remind him, “Dad, we’re your kids too.” The really sad thing is he’s oblivious to the fact that he’s just a pawn. He really thinks he’s better.

Coolbean
God, I’m really sorry you went through that. And it doesn’t surprise me your daughter said that to you. I’ve heard stories from friends (I’m Somali BTW) when the civil war happened in Somalia a daughter telling her own mother “It’s our turn now and we’ll get our day in the sun”. Mind you her father’s tribe was slaughtering her mother’s tribe. And She was never raised by her father’s tribe but her mother’s. I Think Africans are stupid. Not all but some. And their stupidity sometimes is hereditary. I love African Americans. I feel that we need to come… Read more »
JoAnn Gardner
After I read the book, King Leopold’s Ghost – I knew without a doubt how the game worked. Once upon a time I worked for a law-firm, and met a young-lady from the Congo. She barely spoke to me, and chose to spend all her time with “Americans”. It took time, but I finally became acquainted with her, enough to recommend the book for her reading pleasure. I chose THIS book, because it was written by an “American” (which carries more weight with some), and because she was from that region. I advised her, that IF, she read it, she… Read more »
Coolbean

Thumbs up a thousand times. I’m gonna read this book.

Nissi
Wow, what a relief, thanks for this! Now I know that I am not crazy and finally have explanation for what I have been experiencing. It’s not just me and my imagination. Within my worship context of what has become a majority Caribbean / West Indian population, I as an African American have been living the phenomena in your article and found this to be a pronounced and yes, painful, issue for me. Expecting everyone to come together spiritually in the name of Christ the Lord with an open heart and “kumbaya” together (since we’re all of African descent), and… Read more »
Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi
Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi
This is terribly annoying to presume the civil rights struggle was simply relegated to African American Natives. The civil rights struggle was carried out by all black people in the USA and the Caribbean! Being Black in America, doesn’t mean your ancestors were only located in mainland America. Slave owners moved slaves between their plantations in the USA and Caribbean. I can trace my ancestors to generations of American Native born, to their brothers and sisters in the Caribbean and back. It’s so ridiculous that people make these ignorant statements. Black people of all ‘stripes’ fought the civil rights movement… Read more »
Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi
Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi

Black. Regardless of whether you’re Afto-Italian, Afro-Indian, etc. Afro means black. Be proud of it.

Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi
Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi
I think you miss the point that even Africans dropped off in the West Indies were also stripped of their culture. As Africans in the new world however, we created our memories of our homeland passed down along the way. Go to the south and you will see, feel and hear taste the remnants of our African ancestry enmeshed into the cultures of the new world..This became our African American culture. It’s as much our African American culture as the Caribbean peoples who created their own based on their geographical influences.. The Black Diaspora is very creative, regardless of our… Read more »
Pepie

Great point. I am West Indian and I know for a fact there is a AA culture. I will start with great food, Music, Arts, people, etc. I once dated a AA from down south, maan I was called the most darling of pet names. Love you guys.

Anya W
It is true that Caribbean peoples have been able to hold on to more of their African culture when compared to African Americans. Caribbean nations were black-majority nations, despite being ruled by Europeans. This is not the case in America, which was made up of settler colonies and has always been overwhelmingly European. Blacks were inevitably influenced by Europeans in large measure due to those frequent daily interactions with them. It is no coincidence that African Americans who reside in the Low Country (a region made up of isolated South Carolina and Georgia islands that are inhabited almost exclusively by… Read more »
Newslord
The name of the game is divide and conquer. In reality black is Black. Yes, Some whtes in power (and blacks too) will make a distinction between Black people of the Carribbean and South America vs. Blacks from Africa vs. Blacks from the USA. Ultimately the same discrimination applies in job hunting, getting a mortgage, salary inequities, etc. Ultimately black peoples of the world have more in common with each other than they do with the Whites. Each person regardless of his/her cultural background has talent they have as individuals and steer clear of creating enemies. Don’t hide your origin.… Read more »
christinanolanXD

The hypocrisy of whites is so prevalent.

Take Rihanna and Beyonce.

I’ve seen racist comments by whities on Beyonce’s instagram, calling her a monkey, saying that her daughter looks like an ape.

Rihanna gets nothing.

joan pike

I see AA saying the same about Blue and J. Sad

christinanolanXD

I’m British African and I used to think like this (a tiny bit). I’m 15 now but I’m glad I’ve stopped.

mocha87

I get it on both sides. My mother is trinidadian, and my father is jamaican. I was born and raised in america and i feel i dont fit in with my carribean roots. They treat me like an african american even though my roots are carribean. I have been on the side of the fence where i hear my family talking aboit black americans. And ive been on the side where im treated like a regular black american. Its sad but thats the way it is.

Kyoko Sakata

I feel similarly to you. My father is African American and my mother is Antiguan, I didn’t struggle with terms of black, African American or British West Indian though I tried to identify through each one and I never found the sweet spot. In my house hold we never derided West Indians or Americans who are black. There are mindsets that are remarkably different but never to the point of us vs them. In my house were are us AND them.

Sugabelly

Yes but why do we care what the racist person sees or thinks though?

Sugabelly
I get this in theory, but the point I was making is that we simply don’t think this way. Americans might not know this but you CAN tell Africans apart just by looking visually. And we grow up doing this all the time, so when I see someone, I might come inside my house and say something like “There’s an Edo woman and two Yoruba men standing outside.” We simply don’t grow up reaching for “black” as the first descriptor for a person so it’s very hard to shift into that mindset even if you move to a new country.… Read more »
Cosita
Interesting. Makes sense. I see differences in appearances in different African ethnic groups but many times I can’t pin the features to a specific group. Well I can usually tell someone is East African but Nigerian I usually get from accent. The same way if someone from an African country far from Nigeria came to your door you might not immediately know their ethnicity. Most of my close friends are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. I don’t get what the “issues” are between people. I know my friend from Argentina told me he hates Domincans and Puerto Ricans.… Read more »
STOP

“Im not sure how I feel about the tone of this article. It suggests that
carribean and african cultures are more synonymous than african American
cultures vs african/Caribbean cultures.”

Exactly! I picked that up too. This post is thinly masked buffoonery and self-righteousness being passed off as some outstretched olive branch. Chile, PLEASE!

STOP

TRUTH.

STOP

PLEASE stop with this masked self-contempt and melodrama.

Precious

Wow. That’s what you took from her comment? Smh

Kim

Anybody else think it’s cool that her name is Lisa Frank?

Dana Nero
Ive always heard that Africans did not like African Americans.As i got older, traveled abroad and met different people, i came to believe that all black people loved each other and that that was just a thing we had been told to keep us seperate. Honestly, they try to play the same trick on us in america. They show us starving children in Africa, mass murders or makeshift rafts filled with Haitian peope washing up on us soil;only to be pushed away and refused entry . we hear nothing of the modern cities and beautiful cultures. This is the 2nd… Read more »
Kyoko Sakata
You hit the nail on the head. People with dark skin color are just used to make money and entertainment. Fat jokes, football/basketball, singers and performers, service industry workers…it is okay for blacks to be that but if you try anything else you are not accepted even to the point that some blacks will ask, “Why are you selling out to the man?” This greatly saddens me that everyone can CLEARLY see we are human but idiots let skin color drive stereotypes, hate and everything else dictate how a man or woman is going to be treated. This is world… Read more »
joan pike

They did not own every corner of Africa, ask the Ethiopians about that ;-).

YolandaYRT

I’ve always love being Black, African American. I’m mystified by self hatred because of skin color. I was taught to research true history of Africa’s Great Black Civilizations from birth. I know European and America propaganda BS lies so can dispute and challenge BS of stereotypes. The history of my African American ancestors here in America who shed their blood for the human and civil rights hugely benefitted all people of color and women. They are reasons West Indians others enjoy freedoms in America and the opportunities to succeed.

Ganadora Loteria

And the Haitian Revolution was the first free country in the western hemisphere, which lead to ‘freedom’ for all oppressed people. So this is the reason black Americans enjoy freedoms in America.

John Thompson

Excellent point.

Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi
Sharon Equality-Now Johnson Mi
Your last two sentences illuminate your limited research. Had your depth and breadth of research been as comprehensive as you suggest, then you would’ve eliminated those comments. Having studied World history, I know the history and struggles of African Americans and Caribbean Americans. We must also include the struggles of Africans in South and Central America. Simply because they’re not in the textbooks you’ve chosen for your research, doesn’t mean they should be negated. Marcus Garvey was Caribbean. Toussaint L’Ourture from Haiti and many more. Haiti fought for and received their freedom before America did. They were asked for their… Read more »
John Thompson

Another excellent point.

So Raya
CORRECTION: It was not just African Americans who fought on behalf of black people in this nation. Beginning in the 1500s when the Spaniards first landed on North American soil bringing their west indian human property here as “slaves”, Afro-Caribbean people have made many sacrifices on behalf of black people in this country. The Civil Rights Era is one of the best examples of how black people from all walks of life came together to fight a common cause during the 20th century. Many Civil Rights activists were of Caribbean heritage (partial) or were born in the islands before migrating… Read more »
Felina Femenina

There were numerous people instrumental to the American Civil Rights Movement who had West Indian nationality or heritage. Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte, and Stokely Carmichael, Nina Simone, Shirley Chisholm, for starters.

tracienatural
Emjay Mangual, was it racism or prejudice? West Indian immigrants don’t have power or control of systems in this country, so they can’t really use their prejudice to impact your life (although they may have done so, to a limited extent, in your example). There were two West Indian women involved in this incident, right? There are millions–let me repeat–MILLIONS of West Indian women in this world, quite a few of which live in the NY tri-state area. You can’t stereotype millions of people off of one incident with two women. Unless, you just want to, because you can. I… Read more »
Tracienatural
Yes, DreaMLC, I know about Queens (father’s side of family lives in Queens/Long Island),because I used to visit almost every weekend as a teenager. I try to explain these things to people outside the tri-state area but I guess you had to live it to understand. My family members were in England, too. When I was in school they called me British, teased me about my proper speech, different attire — English ribbons and patent leather lol. I think at that timthis is di were strange/different to African -Americans; they probably just didn’t understand us. In my opinion, some of… Read more »
Pepie

Why red, black and green. The PAN right? I like the Red, Gold and Green (ights, gold and green as we call it back in the Caribbean LOL)

DreaMLC

Finally, someone who understands!

tracienatural

*at that time we were strange/different

Charlotte

This hit home with me. Being of Indian descent and half black. My mother is Indian from Trinidad and an African American father. I learned quickly though as long as you have black in you in America…..baby you black….not African black, not haitian black not, Jamaican black, heck even when your black and white your still black

Phoenix Starr

Geographically, neither is Guyana…

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