Black Identities: West Indian Immigration Dreams and America Realities

Black Identities

Black Identities: West Indian Dreams and American Realities (1999), is an ethnography by Mary Waters, that details the experience of West Indian Blacks.*

When studying immigration in the United States a consistent pattern has emerged -assimilation benefits immigrants.  This pattern is not true for West Indian Blacks.  Water’s documents the surprising trend of second generation West Indian Blacks purposely trying to unassimilate.

Why would an immigrant group do this?  The reason Water’s found is, that West Indian Blacks are treated better when they had their native accent.  Apparently, people gave them higher status, because they were not Black American.

For example, Water’s interviewed a number of employers who interpreted the same behavior of their employees different based off whether they thought the employee was Black American or West Indian Black.  In one case, an employer was talking about a West Indian Black employee who was late.  The boss excused this tardiness, because the West Indian Black employee was still on “island time.”  However, when a Black American employee was late they were labeled as lazy.  As a result, in the case of West Indian Blacks, being labeled as “foreign” resulted in group privilege.

Make sure to read the book for more details about this unique exception to assimilation patterns.

*Fun Fact: The arrival of this relatively new immigrant group caused a shift in politically correct terms.  Specifically, African American is no longer considered politically correct.  Black is the new politically correct term, because West Indian Blacks were adamant that the term African American did not fit them since they were not from Africa.

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