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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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L
Thank you for sharing this. It is truly a serious issue. As an African-American, I have encountered Carrbbeans and Africans with that ignorant mentality, and it makes me nauseous. I immediately lose respect for individuals like that. We are all black in the eyes of white people and they do not know the difference unless you tell them your nationality. We need to stick together and end this stupidity. I’ve had many experiences with this and unfortunately lost a great and close friend who is Afro-French and have had to put people in their place, and “surprised” people because I’m… Read more »
Nola Q. Darling
Don’t worry- we blk Americans are taught the same things about Africans and West Indians- that they are ignorant, they think they are better than blacks, and that they come to the US with an entitlement complex. Conversely, we’re taught not to date or commingle with people who aren’t born with American citizenship. We are taught that islanders are savages. Goes both ways. I’m 33, I’ve traveled the world, I have professional certifications and I’m in IT Management. After four years of living in Florida (I was raised in the north), I still have yet to make friends with Caribbean… Read more »
Tracienatural

Sorry to hear this, sis. I live in South Florida now (from NYC). Too bad we don’t know each other. I’m sure we’d be friends, or at least happy acquaintances lol. I hope you get to meet more of the kind, accepting, and conscious Caribbean and African people. Ase.

I'land Gyal

I feel so sad for you. There’s more to the world than your small, sad existence. Take a trip, read a book, and FORGIVE yourself. It’s going to be okay! 🙂

ibutcherii
rainbow

Not all black Londoners know their background. Immigrants from the Caribbean don’t know what part of Africa they are from.

lis

Hmm…I see some of your points but as a Jamaican you should know that slavery in Jamaica was noted for its brutality…..In fact for a long time there was more foreign born Blacks than native born because soo many died young and it was cheaper to import Africans than to take care of the ones already there….and Jamaican slavery was only a few decades shorter than American slavery….A Mixed people?….Ok…….The few…..but I see some of your points.

lis

Yes but those are the foreign born Blacks they let into the country. …The educated middle class ones who would thrive in any country……less in numbers….(especially when the way was made easier by the native born Blacks)….and they and their children can be contrasted with the Blacks in say France who are African and West Indian background but are not doing as well….and that is not to take away from their success?

lis

‘We have nothing’……oooohhhh?????????

lis

Milly….it is human nature and it is disgusting. …isn’t it?

lis

Ignorant….a lot of West Indians look straight up African’….is that supposed to be an insult?….sigh….I’ve had a few run ins with some Africans and tend to keep my distance until I know them better…but I have to say when an African woman is beautiful….there’s no comparison. …perfect skin, features, bodies, even teeth….When African women are beautiful…….THEY ARE DROP DEAD GORGEOUS….so come again.

mmmmm
The issue with this is at you’re all living for the white man’s approval. I’m also Haitian, but I’m tired of people telling me to conform to a standard of “blackness” that is not me. It is not my history. When will all our history’s be told/known? I did date several African men. 2 of them were divisive so I’ve experienced that but I took it as a huge cultural problem which it is. I haven’t been to any African countries yet, when I go I’ll have a better understanding of it. Just like when I came here to the… Read more »
maralondon
The histories are all inter connected anyways. I think it’s silly to see us all as separate entities. When Europeans struck in Africa they were in cahoots with each other over who would get what and where. They didn’t care to keep us together according to our kins people, we were strewn everywhere. Many of us had families who remained on the continent and family members were further removed and taken to different parts of the Americas. Although I live in England with Caribbean parents I consider those in the diaspora lost cousins. We don’t know who we are related… Read more »
Todd Pearson

That’s because American blacks have their OWN Institutions…and have had them for the past century…most American Blacks attend HBCUs. But what’s interesting is why can’t foreign born blacks achieve this in their native countries where they are the majority and run the government and resources. Would love to see an article on that.

Ganadora Loteria

We do and we have achieved these things. Also, ‘American imperialism’ has alot to do with the destruction of many black/brown nations and our governments. Your argument lacks context.

Todd Pearson

Yes all immigrants benefit off the free labor of black Americans…Maybe one day American blacks can get their reparations for giving immigrants the American Dream.

Pepie
I am Guyanese and i share some your the sentiments regarding differences. Having lived in the US for almost 10 years I can relate to everything said on this thread thus far. I believe too, until recent, that a significant difference between West Indians and African Americans was slavery ending early in the West Indies. When slavery ended in August of 1838, Guyana freed slaves bought the first plantation in November of that same year and named it Victoria. In February of 1938 the second plantation was bought and named Buxton; my father’s family are from this village. For more… Read more »
lis
So why so many of you in the us?…bought plantations? From? If you own the country..’no one? love or respect Black Americans’..who is no one?..whites?…because they love and respect you all..right?…please….even when they are in your countries..they do not….believe it or not Black Americans love and respect themselves, inspite of what shitty rap hip hop culture says because i know thats what you all look at…… listen ….slavery ended in the US in 1863./5…on paper….Black Americans had to navigate Jim crow, state terrorism, murder, rape, outnumbered, kept out of every industry/union, kept out of every scheme to provide people with… Read more »
Pepie

Lis, I think you misunderstood what I wrote. I honestly ask you to read my comment over again. I have tremendous amount of respect for African Americans. My comment was to show how different groups evolved out of slavery and colonialism. In my closing sentence I praised your struggles and indicated the world, including West Indians, benefit directly and indirectly from your fight. I am sadden by your response.

Camara

Bitch, we hate you too tf. You’re not shit. You think NY and other places in the US aren’t damn dirty ass slums? Our islands have natural beauty that this ugly country lacks, coon. West Indians are far more diverse than you think idiot, probably even more diverse that American black. No one wants to be you guys. Y’all seriously bring shame to other blacks around the world and y’all do not have any good manners at all you self hating, ignorant bitch.

Cosita

LMAO! You sound just as silly as her. You basicly said to black Americans “You bitches and coons don’t have good manners like we do.” Seriously?? LOL! I think you are both an embarassment to black people. If you haven’t seen natural beauty in the US then you must not get out much.

tracienatural

Just a small reminder: every African living outside of Africa is living on captured land, i.e. land stolen from its natives. So, America, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America–all captured land. Let’s not brag and say “my captured land is more beautiful than your captured land.” How do we sound? Ridiculous, especially since most Africans in the diaspora don’t own the so-called beautiful land in the first place! Come on now, black people, let’s love each other! Ase

Pepie

Very Informed post because it replicate the same issue here in America to a country predominately black.

Guest

Very true indeed. African American lack of family structure plays a big part in this matter.

Anya W

Wrong. American racism and white supremacy is as much the reason for problems in the black community as European imperialism is the reason that Caribbean and African countries lag behind the rest of the world in every measure.

Guest

“African American lack of family structure *plays a big part* in this matter.”

**–meaning it plays a part, but it’s not the only part, and it’s not the whole part, just plays a big part within the whole.

Hope the additional descriptions helped.

Todd Pearson

And what comes in to play with foreign-born blacks not being able to achieve this in their native countries when blacks are the majority, run the government and control the resources. If they could achieve this in their native countries they wouldn’t have to migrate to America, England, Canada or France.

maralondon
Although you have majority blacks in the Caribbean it is the Americans and other Europeans pulling the puppet strings. You will find that the political and even the education systems are based on models introduced to the people by former Colonisers Many of the Islands have tourism as it’s economical force. This industry is heavily invested by Asians(mainly Indians) and Europeans alike. I have yet to learn of any African Caribbean with a chain of big hotels or owning those inclusive holiday complexes which foreign people like to go to. There isn’t that much that we control in the Caribbean… Read more »
Pepie

My friend, you can’t just make such a statement without citing your source like the person you’re responding to did. Statement is bias without proof.

Leese
I grew up in a West Indian household and oddly I never heard the us vs them until I was much older and people complained to me ( mostly AA). I didnt get it arent we all African americans or just simply black ?( which I prefer to be called its more inclusive to me) .The majority of my family resides in the islands and growing up i spent ever summer with them. They use to call me “Yankee” I dint know it was an insult until my 20s. Especially when the same cousins often wanted what I had, my… Read more »
LW

The Huffingtonpost writer hit it on the nail…its the divide and conquer method best believe racists don’t divide West Indians to AA and AA from Africans as long as your skin has any melanin I don’t care if its a light cream to the darkest blue black if you from Aruba to Argentina to Egypt you are a ninja to them.

If only we could realize and accept that and all join together we would be so powerful.

bbygirl

I’m very confused, can someone tell me why it’s ‘shameful’ to be Haitian? My cousin is Haitian and she doesn’t like to tell people, either. I think its something one should be proud of.

LD

I can speak for myself as a Haitian but around where I grew up, it wasn’t cool. And the “uncool-ness” came from African Americans shaming us. Also, during that time there was a lot of the Haitian refugee talk going on and we were “boat people.” Not all African Americans are this way of course but I’ve noticed, a lot of African Americans talked crap about any black person from any other country because it was “weird” to them.

Kaygee.Allah
Hairltians catch ridicule because American whites started the campaign of negativity against them after the slave revolts that resulted in the French being exiled from the island. Although America profited greatly, by obtaining the Louisiana Purchase, the Haitians are still black, and the French are still white. This seeped into Black American culture because it was feted that if we knew we were the same people, we would revolt, as well. So, the equation of African spiritualisms (voodoo) with devil worship began. The same campaign that led us to believe that we’re different was spread throughout, and all who came… Read more »
Ta Juana TJ Burley-Robinson
Ta Juana TJ Burley-Robinson

It’s the dreaded lies of systematic massagany. Haitians are considered in alliance with the devil because they fought off slavery and oppression of the French. Good Christians say the sold their souls to the devil with their voodoo. When Napoleon left he took their lumber (sacred trees) and blackballed them from outside commerce. The Dominican Republic right on the other side of the island is revered for their mixing with their Spanish captors. We should be praising Haitians for their strength and bravery instead of perpetuating the stereotypes and I’ll will.

rainbow

They were the first black people to free themselves from slavery. White supremacy taught other black people to hate black people who are against white supremacy. Non Haitian people discriminate against Haitians.

lis

Right…..Haitians have a proud history.

Sigma_Since 93

If West Indians understood from molasses to rum to slaves, they would know we all came over on the same boat. The only difference was the exit

I'land Gyal

I’ve been preaching this for YEARS…

leuqarila17

You made some very valid points. I’ve always felt like we black people in America we’re one of the first cultures to be “Americanized”. We still have bits and pieces of African culture, albeit unbeknownst to us. We are like magicians in the sense that we have a way of turning what was/is considered undesirable to the new “it” thing. We are brilliant!

kb

It’s really weird, how other blacks come here to the US, only bc African-Americans have made it palatable, and still look down us. Strange indeed

Ganadora Loteria

‘Americanism’ (which black/African Americans also actively participate in) is shoved down our non-US black throats. I wish black/African Americans understood how much America has exploited predominantly black/brown countries around the world.

WebGarv

This is a massive point. I lament that perhaps because of the continued “adversity” between Black Americans and whites, Black Americans are distracted and can’t capitalize on their huge power. (I am from the Caribbean.)

Anya W
Your statement is very backwards, as it assumes that black Americans are the creators of race problems in America, and that if we would just be quiet, black Americans would be successful. No. That is not our heritage and it is not who we are. We have always been a politically active group – the most politically active minority group in America – and being politically active is precisely what has brought us as far as we’ve come; it’s also what allows black immigrants to this country to come here and be accepted into America. We continue to highlight race… Read more »
Jimx16
We all came from one man and one woman, that’s Adam and Eve. We are in the 21st century and we should know better and do better. I am West Indian from Trinidad with a mixed heritage of African, East Indian and French decent. I will never deny none. Lets celebrate our cultural differences. I we are all one people that God but here on this earth. So long as Satan rules this earth there will be division, but when Christ comes back to rule this earth all of this division will be done away with. I am beautiful. that’s… Read more »
vwlover

At the end of the day black is black. No racist person is going to look at me and say, “Since you are Ghanaian you are okay. It’s the other black people I don’t like.” So yes it is silly to be divisive and ALL groups have been guilty of this (Africans, Black Americans, Careibeans, etc).

Sugabelly

I don’t think we should have to be forced to identify ourselves based on the way racists and oppressors think about us.

What a racist thinks about me is really none of my business and I shouldn’t have to conform my sense of self to their own thoughts or ideas about me.

R.Cola
I agree with your second statement, but I have to disagree with your first point. Non American blacks do NOT share the same cultural identity as black Americans. Similarities? Absolutely. But we are different, and IMO “different” is good. Growing up as a Jamerican, I often didn’t fit into either side of the spectrum. I wasn’t black enough for the black kids, and I’m not white…I ate “foreign food”, I spoke differently than most AAs, I had different perspectives of diversity, among countless other things. I appreciate differences in all people, and I love Sharing culture, but I don’t want… Read more »
vwlover

Yes, I agree there are differences. My experience as a Ghanaian-American ( I refer myself as Ghanaian) is different than that of an African-American, Jamaican, Haitian, etc. My point is to a racist person there is no difference. You will never hear a racist person say, “I don’t like black people but I sure do love Bahamians.” That’s what I meant by at the end of the day we are all black. I hope I made sense.

OXxo
Your comment shows you know nothing about European colonies and slavery in other parts of the world. West Indians, Hispanics and even Africans have last names which are the name of some white master. So a black person having a French, Dutch, Portuguese, Irish or British sounding name whose family isn’t AA and they have had that last name for known history has either slavery or some form of exploitation in their family history.* The difference with a Black person with family from elsewhere is they can claim another country and culture when they settle in America, yet some of… Read more »
V.
Not entirely sure what you are trying to get at here, but you kind of proved my point. Being black means something different in america than it does in places with predominantly black populations. Like Iman said in an interview “Where I’m from everyone is black. It is redundant to state that. I identify as Somali”. So yeah, of course a black american is going to cling on to being black because they don’t have a country to claim. I never said pick a random country in Africa and start identifying with their culture. Black americans have their own rich,… Read more »
DLB

Black Americans do have a country to claim, which is America; just like Blacks who come from other countries in the Caribbean, countries in Africa, Latin America, etc. can claim that country. Blacks from Somali, Ethiopia, Panama, Colombia, Trinidad, etc. can claim their country, but when you go to a nonblack country, you are going to be called Black. I’ve lived abroad to see this.

CocoaGoddess

Ignorant little girl. It’s good to be straight up African, means you know your heritage ?. You seem like an angry “white” black girl.

A. S. Baruti

I was hoping, at the end of every word, someone would call this thing out.

DLB

There are many “so called straight up Africans” that don’t know their own heritage. There is good/bad/ignorance on all sides, including your reply/comment. Just as there is much wisdom & knowledge from both sides because America’s greatest Black scholars teaching about Blacks & our history throughout the diaspora are Black Americans & some Blacks from the Caribbean. Black Americans built this country through slavery, inventions (that were stolen), many of our successful communities were destroyed by jealous whites, etc. Read the website BlackThen.

reina lockhart

This comment is so pathetic it’s not even worth the read. Why spread the same ignorance that was given to you? That’s so backwards. If anything, you sound jealous.

blu jamaican

Can we stop generalizing? Stereotyping can be fun coming from comedians, but when we start to get angry and put down a whole group of people based on (let’s face it), limited experience with them, just proves how uninformed you are. Case and point, Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims.
The Us vs Them mentality needs to end.

Treat people like individuals and not a group, stop the hate.

Cosita

So true. Every country, race, culture has its a$$holes. Don’t act like there are no idiots in your village. Unless you want them to represent how the world sees you shouldn’t do that to other people.

Sharon Doe

I agree. I am in Southeast Florida and there is still a divisiveness among the colored cultures here.

Nola Q. Darling

I live in south eastern Florida and I don’t even speak to Caribbean women. They are rude and the men only want to run scams.

joan pike

They are probably not looking to be friends with you either. A sad situation.

tracienatural

Sis, ease up with these stereotypes. You don’t know enough people to make these generalizations. Real talk: most Caribbean people are very insular, i.e. tend to stay to themselves. So, it would be shocking that you knew enough Caribbean people to have “scams” run on you all the time. Maybe you need to go to different places, meet new people. You might find your niche. Blessings.

Angela Booker

I am a African American woman married to an African man therefore a lot of Africans think they are safe telling me how “different” I am from other African Americans. I find it to be very insulting. Hear me and hear me clear at the end of the day we are all black in their eyes. My husband to had the false sense superiority and he learned the hard way and opened his eyes.

BB87

I’ve been in many situations where an older West Indian woman has taken a liking to me and asked me where I was from, meaning what Carribean country am I from. I hate when they say I’m “well-behaved” when they find out I’m not West Indian. You can keep your backhanded compliment. I am not flattered.
I also had a Haitian girl who had to attend court-ordered anger management that they were better behaved.

L

You are very ignorant. Looking African is a negative thing? You must also hate being black. I’m sure the white people still look down on you. It’s ok to call a culture coconuts but you would be offended to be called the N word. Go get an education. Not just book smarts…life smarts.

yoda

I see my comment has been m0derated

yoda

Seems you didn’t change your way of thinking until you got that negro wake up call.

A. S. Baruti

That is one helluva call.

Esha Fowlin

this article is everything and exactly what i have been saying to all blacks I encounter forever!!! lol like don’t you see this is a divisive strategy or are you so happy to be fake accepted that you would scorn your own? Kudos to this article….

Shye
As an American black woman I never like West Indians and I still dont. I was born and raised in New York. And unfortunately I had to be surrounded by a bunch of coconuts. They come from slums in the Caribbean and they have enough to look down on black Americans! I think they’re just jealous because of our complexion and or mixture a lot of West Indians look straight up African in most parts of the Caribbean. I don’t understand how they think they’re better than us win the slums if they come from are riddled with violence take… Read more »
Sugabelly

LMAO, dear God. She really said “they are jealous of our complexion and mixture”.

America, please increase the Department of Education’s budget already.

Sugabelly

LMAO. You are incredibly ignorant if you think people can “look African”. There is no “African look”. Every single type of black person from light skinned, dark skinned, thin featured to thick featured is represented on the continent. Only an idiot would think that the “African look” is dark skinned, big , bulbous nose, thick, overblown lips, and super 4c hair.
Please nobody is jealous of you. Why would anybody be jealous of someone who clearly does not know basic information about other parts of the world?

Cassie

Its not just coming from black West Indians but black Americans also. They do the same exact thing. There have been numerous times when I have overheard black Americans saying negative stereotypical things about West Indians. They assumed I was American.And many told me I didnt look like I could be from the country. Really? What are West Indians supposed to look like?

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