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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 Six: Converging Identities and Realities: Finding One’s Place in the Home, School, and World


← 172 | 173 → CHAPTER SIX

Converging Identities and Realities: Finding One’s Place in the Home, School, and World

During the very beginning of the study, I went from classroom to classroom describing my research project to determine which students were first-, 1.5-, or second-generation Americans at Morristown. While in Mr. Asafa’s class, I rattled off the usual pitch explaining to the class that my parents were from the Caribbean and that I was interested in learning more about the thoughts and experiences of Caribbean American youth. Thereafter, I sat at a table on the periphery of the classroom and asked students to sign their names and provide contact information if they were interested in learning more about the project. As I waited for students to sign their names, Charles sauntered over to me, maintaining a distinctly cool posture and explaining confidently that his family was also from Jamaica. He proceeded to ask whether I was familiar with traditional Jamaican foods like ackee and salt fish and fried dumplings. Charles shared that his grandmother cooked a Jamaican breakfast for his family most weekends – a meal he enjoyed. As I welcomed his serious yet childlike banter, I began to wonder how often Charles had opportunities to share his ethnic background at school. I also surmised that Charles was deeply tied to his ethnic heritage. After interviewing his parents, however, they shared another side to the story. According to Charles’s parents, he was not deeply tied to his Caribbean roots...

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