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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 Four: Caribbean Immigrants, Racism, and Racial Socialization


← 106 | 107 → CHAPTER FOUR

Caribbean Immigrants, Racism, and Racial Socialization

As discussed in Chapter 3, ethnic socialization – as defined by the transmission of values, practices, and culture of people from the same region – is integral to the childrearing practices of Caribbean immigrants. Caribbean immigrants’ parenting often focused on transmitting values specific to what is meant to be Antiguan, Guyanese, Jamaican, or Trinidadian. However, racial socialization – the means by which parents prepare their children to thrive in spite of the established racial hierarchy – was new to Caribbean American parents. For Caribbean immigrant parents, racial socialization was a different kind of socialization process, one that had to be learned and integrated into parenting practices over time. Consequently, racial socialization occurred to a lesser extent than ethnic socialization practices and with less certainty of the outcome. Unlike ethnic socialization, which was fairly consistent across parents, racial socialization varied tremendously and was informed by transnational notions of self and identity, which were devoid of strong racial underpinnings.

For Caribbean immigrants, racial socialization and the necessity of transmitting particular messages to one’s children regarding not only ancestry but also race (as a notion tied to the social implications of one’s ancestry and phenotype) was altogether new. Though Blacks in the Caribbean recognize themselves as Black people and descendants of Africa, these notions of race are not inextricably tied to social and economic expectations.

In particular, the concept of racial socialization and the impetus for parental racial socialization...

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