An Open Letter to Afro-Caribbeans in the U.S.

Image by Cdmafra via Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

By many definitions, we are not African-American (Even though technically America encompasses the entirety of the land between the northernmost tip of Canada to the Southernmost tip of Chile). However, just like African-Americans, we are children of the African Diaspora. We are Black. While the history of our people may not fall entirely within the U.S. (though let’s not forget Malcom X was of Grenadian descent), the fight for freedom and justice against racism and colonialism remains.

A Short History of the African Diaspora in the Caribbean

Photo by howard_morland via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Before I go further, I want to take a brief trip to the Caribbean. In 1493 Christopher Columbus set foot on the island of Quisqueya, later renamed “Hispaniola” (what is current day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). I wish I could say we know what happens next, but I honestly don’t know if we do. Growing up I learned that Columbus was a hero that “discovered” the “New World” instead of a brutal colonizer that brought diseases, rape, slaughter, and the massacre of indigenous nations in the Americas and the Caribbean. I had to relearn history to understand that alongside the theft of indigenous lands and the genocide of indigenous people came the kidnapping and transatlantic enslavement of millions of African People who were treated like property and were forced to work without pay and rights in the Caribbean. I learned that this enslavement went on for hundreds of years as enslaved people were worked to death, raped, and abused before slavery was declared illegal in their respective countries.

Post-Emancipation in The Caribbean

However, even after enslaved people were emancipated under the law, the story of abuse did not end there. Just as the end of slavery did not mean the end of racism and discrimination against Black people in the U.S., the end of slavery in the Caribbean didn’t either. History has shown us that “Antihaitianismo” (Anti-Haitianism & Anti-Blackness) thrived in The Dominican Republic even after slavery was declared illegal. It has shown us how “Routes to Whiteness” became a norm in Puerto Rico, and how a history of Racism in Cuba and other countries in the Caribbean has threatened the lives of Black people on the islands and created a legacy of violence and the erasure of blackness in the Caribbean that still stands to this day.

I do want to make it clear that I am an American, and that the lens through which I understand racism is different than how it is understood on the islands. I did not grow up in the Caribbean, even if my culture is descended from it. So I encourage you to continue to educate yourself on the institutional racism and racial climate of the Caribbean from natives and those on the ground. Here are some stories to get you started:

Cuba — ‘You Kill Racism By Speaking About It’: Afro-Cuban Artist Sheds Light On Black Experience In Cuba

Puerto Rico — ‘They believe we’re criminals’: black Puerto Ricans say they’re a police target

Dominican Republic — Behind Closed Doors: ‘Colorism’ in the Caribbean

Jamaica — Lennie Little-White | Is Being Black Still A Stigma In Jamaica?

The Bahamas — Black Bahamians’ racial inferiority complex; Alicia Wallace: Black And White Lives — The Conversation Is Long Overdue

Trinidad and Tobago — Transnational Anti-Black Racism and State Violence in Trinidad;Growing Up a Black Girl in Trinidad

Guadeloupe — The Island Where France’s Colonial Legacy Lives On

Black Caribbeans and the Police in the U.S.

While Black Caribbeans continue to face racism and colorism on the islands, Afro-Caribbean immigrants in the U.S. are confronted not only with anti-immigrant sentiment within the U.S., but also with the deeply racist history and persecution of Black people in the United States. Akai Gurley, Botham Jean, Jose “Kiko” Garcia, Ramarley Graham. All Caribbean Black people in America, persecuted by the police because of the color of their skin. While Black Caribbean people may distinguish themselves from African Americans, the police do not. It is clear that if you are Black in America then you live in a system where you are perceived and treated as a threat, and where it feels like your life does not matter.

Photo by Black Lives Matter organization via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Black Lives Matter

In the past few weeks, race has been on my mind more than usual. With the illegal killings of more Black people by the police and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is hard not to take notice. It is hard not to yell at the TV screen every time you see a police officer attack a peaceful protester, or when a man that is supposed to represent and lead your country threatens to “not treat protestors as they were treated” in other big cities. As though it could and would get worse than the violence against protestors that has already occurred. It has made me question how this is okay. How this is what seems to be a normal reaction from the police and the president, and how there are virtually no repercussions for these actions. I wonder how police officers are able to go home after the day and think, “another day at the office, time to go back out the next day and do it all again.” How the nations highest leader can explicitly threaten American people and not face any sort of check from the government.

It is times like this that really make me consider my position in society. Who I am, what I stand for, and what I can do. I used to think that my blackness was a fraction of my identity, and that the fact that I am mixed race prevented me from claiming blackness the way someone who is “fully Black” would. In a way, my identity does change the way I claim my blackness. Every time I claim my blackness I need to acknowledge the privileges that have come from my indigeneity and my whiteness. Whether that be the lighter color of my skin and the greater access to opportunity that may result from that, or the mixture of my physical features that makes me racially ambiguous and therefore not as easy to put into a group. Still, this acknowledgement does not make me or mixed people any less Black. It does not make the fight for Black Lives any less ours.

So to my Afro-Caribbean people and Afro-descendent people out there identifying only by nationality in the U.S., I hope this essay inspires you to take a hard look at yourself, your experiences, and your history. It’s up to us to recognize and claim our Blackness. This is our fight too, it always has been.

References

Black vs. African-American: The complex conversation Black Americans are having about identity #ForTheCulture

On Louise Little, the Mother of Malcolm X: An Interview with Erik S. McDuffie

Hispaniola

Christopher Columbus

The Stigma of Blackness: Anti-Haitianism in the Dominican Republic

Routes to Whiteness, or How to Scrub Out the Stain: Hegemonic Masculinity and Racialization in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico

La batalla contra el racismo en la Cuba de hoy/The Battle Against Racism in Cuba Today

The Brief Life and Tragic Death of Akai Gurley

Amber Guyger sentenced to 10 years for murdering neighbor Botham Jean

Remembering The NYPD Shooting Of Dominican Immigrant Kiko García And What It Means During Today’s #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Can Ramarley Graham’s Family Get Justice for His Death?

In Solidarity: When Caribbean Immigrants Become Black

Know Their Names: Black People Killed by the Police in the US

Trump threatens protesters ahead of Tulsa rally

Abolitions of slavery

USA: End unlawful police violence against Black Lives Matter protests

A “flag” with all flags of Caribbean region

A21a Slave Trade Overview

Common social media logo/profile/avatar for the formal Black Lives Matter organization

Latino & Caribbean studies graduate, Social Justice Educator — I write to understand, and I share to learn.

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