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The (Re-)Making of a Black American

Tracing the Racial and Ethnic Socialization of Caribbean American Youth


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 Three: E(race)ing Socialization: Transnational Scripts, Ethnic Socialization, and Getting Ahead in America


← 78 | 79 → CHAPTER THREE

E(race)ing Socialization: Transnational Scripts, Ethnic Socialization, and Getting Ahead in America

I didn’t know I was Black until I came [to America]. First of all, I thought I was a Jamaican and I was a human until I came here. I figured out that wait a minute, I’m Black. Somebody told me! Because, when I was growing up, my race wasn’t defined. I never knew there was a difference in how I’m supposed to act or what I’m supposed to achieve based on my race. It only occurred to me when I came here.

– Kerry Ann Fisher, mother of Bryce

In the United States, it seems odd to claim to be unaware of racial distinctions and ridiculous to pretend not to know your own race. After all, isn’t it obvious? Can’t everyone determine their own race by a simple glance in the mirror? At the very least, official forms make Americans aware of their racial categorization by pressuring people to check the appropriate box. Notions of race have long been entrenched in the culture and history of the United States and often seem inextricable from the daily lives and lived realities of Americans; however, people outside the United States have histories marked by different narratives, values, and means of self-identification. Many of the Caribbean parents in this study did not see race as an aspect of self-identification prior to migrating to the United States. This chapter...

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