After my original post, “You think I’m Black”, I received a lot of feedback from some of my friends and colleagues- from some adulation, and from others scorn. Due to their varying opinions I decided that I couldn’t end the discussion on the note that Blacks everywhere should recognize their African roots. Let’s delve deeper into this contentious issue. Why do some Caribbeans, Latinos, and Africans not want to associate themselves with American Blacks?
Growing up in South Florida, depending on your neighborhood, it can be easy to forget that you are in the United States. The farther south you drive on the Florida turnpike the less English is used. Living in one of Florida’s most segregated city’s I learned how to flourish in two worlds- a wealthy, privileged white world and a middle class to poor Black and Hispanic world. I attended a predominately White gifted school from 3rd grade until graduation in South Sarasota County. However, I lived on the North side of Sarasota, which is heavily populated by Black Americans and Latinos. Interestingly, I never saw a difference between my Latino friends and me, other than our native languages. A lot of my Latino friends were darker than me, and spoke with the same colloquialisms peculiar to North Sarasota. For the most part, we all viewed our plight as a shared one. As far as I can remember my Latino friends and I rarely made distinctions about our race around each other. Contrastingly, at my school I was quite the anomaly. In elementary school kids were always asking to touch my hair, by middle school my peers wanted to know if Black people had extra muscles in their legs that made them run faster, by the time I got to high school some people had the audacity to say that the only reason I was admitted to the University of Chicago was because of my race. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed attending that school. I made some life long friendships and received a superior education. Nonetheless, I never sensed racial tension between my Black and Latino friends growing up. However, there were plenty of times when I sensed a bit of unease from my White peers when they were around minorities.
With my background, I came to the University of Chicago thinking that all Black folks, regardless of their nationality, would feel some sort of shared heritage. I was one naïve young fellow. As soon as I arrived on campus, I began to realize that African students seemed to mostly hang around other Africans, Caribbeans seemed to mostly hang around other Caribbeans, and the same for Black Americans. Understandably, many of us came from different countries with different cultures and traditions. Also, I’m sure that for international students coming to a foreign country can be very intimidating, which would obviously make them seek out familiarity.
What was really shocking to me was when I would talk to foreign Black students and they would tell me that they didn’t like being associated with Black Americans. Trying to look at their comments through rosy colored spectacles, I assumed they meant that they just had great national pride. But many would tell me that there was a stigma attached to Black Americans that they wanted to avoid. The stigma of being lazy, unintelligent, and rude was enough for some foreign Blacks to even avoid fraternizing with American Blacks. My parochial mindset was shattered when I learned all of this. Did they think they were better than me, or did they think the stereotypes made about them were more favorable to the stereotypes about Black Americans? I had no idea and I still don’t, but I’m on a quest to find some answers. Don’t worry the conversation will continue.