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The (Re-)Making of a Black American

Tracing the Racial and Ethnic Socialization of Caribbean American Youth

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Chonika Coleman-King

Historically, Blacks in the United States have been treated as a homogenous group with little regard for distinctions in ethnicity and immigrant status. However, the growing number of Black immigrants to the United States, and their location at the intersection of immigrant opportunity and racial barriers, has prompted increased interest in the group’s integration experiences. Grounded in the notion that racism is an inescapable marker of the Black experience in the United States, The (Re-)Making of a Black American explores the ways children of Black immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean come to understand their racial and ethnic identities, given the socialization messages they receive from their parents and their experiences with institutionalized racism and racial hierarchies in a U.S. middle school. This book highlights the contradictions between parental and school socialization messages and the struggle that ensues as Caribbean American youth are forcibly (re-)made into a specific brand of Black Americans.
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Chapter One: Historical Contexts, Transnationalism, and Race in the United States

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Historical Contexts, Transnationalism, and Race in the United States

When debates regarding the experiences of Black immigrants enter the public sphere and academic circles, they cause quite a bit of contention. On the one hand, many would argue that the success of Black immigrants, at least in comparison to their Black American counterparts, proves that the United States has transcended racial inequity. On the other hand, some contend that Black immigrants have limited potential for upward mobility because of a “triple disadvantage” – racial discrimination, xenophobia, and lower-class status (Rong & Brown, 2002). In many respects, research studies on the success and struggles of this population have been inconclusive, even contradictory. However, many researchers agree that racial and ethnic identity are central to the adaptation and mobility of Black immigrants.

This study illuminates the complex realities faced by Black immigrants as they adjust to life in the United States across generations, at the same time leaving aside the question of group-wide success or failure in favor of a more nuanced depiction of the Black immigrant experience. Attempts to dichotomize the experiences of Black immigrants as either the epitome of immigrant success or the essence of immigrant struggles have been detrimental to gaining a richer understanding of the continuum of experiences that characterize the Caribbean immigrant journey. Variations in country of origin, class background, sending and receiving community contexts, and personal experiences with race and racism inform Black immigrants’ identities and influence...

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