I admit that I am not a perfect person. Notably, this journey to consciousness challenges me to confront my prejudices and move towards a pan-africanist mindset. As a New York City resident for the first eighteen years of my life, I grew up amidst a form of blackness that excluded my ethnic origins. By this, I reference the West Indian or Caribbean presence that monopolizes black identity in New York City. A millennial, my upbringing was vastly different than my parents and grandparents where the majority of blacks had southern origins. Yes, most southern blacks knew of the diaspora’s presence in the West Indies and Africa, but most bore no intimate contact with our lost brethren. As a New York City millennial “black” came to mean “west Indian” and coming from a family that preferred Sam Cooke to Soca, I often felt ethnically alienated from my peers. This alienation, was also lined with an unstated condescension that hovered over most of my encounters with black and brown brethren from the West Indies. Despite benefitting from the blood, sweat and tears endured by black Americans for equity and equality, the black migrant often feels a false superiority in juxtaposition to their “American” counterparts.
To clarify, this air of superiority is not exclusive to blacks from the Caribbean. Rather this ideology extends to Latin and South America in addition to blacks from the continent. In a recent encounter with a non-black migrant, I became exasperated with the manner in which I was spoken to. Truthfully, I grew insulted that someone who benefitted from the contributions of black american ancestors and elders could be so unapologetically arrogant and stated “This is why I am against immigration.” My words, while discourteous, were surfacely in retaliation to this individual’s repeated attempt to intercept my statements and talk over me. However, in contemplation, I realize that migrant bodies pilgrimage across the Atlantic was not the cause of my distress. Rather, it is the immigration of the mind from humility to insolence that stirs my spirit.
Often the product of humble origins from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and South America, tales of “The American Dream” seduces immigrant bodies onto American soil. However, it is not migrant feet upon American soil that breeds insolence, but rather when the migrant body acquires symbols of the “American Dream” like a house, car, business or flashy clothing. Yet, despite these small tokens of acquisition, the American dream comes at an expense. While migrants certainly experience systematic racism in their homelands, the experience is of a different sort in the Americas. Black and brown migrants typically derive from places where those who look like them are in abundance. Yet, those of a paler complexion dominate high status and leadership positions. In America, black is the minority. Thus, racism and prejudice is a lot more abrasive and conspicuous surfacely and systematically. The migrant’s choice to live in America as opposed to the duress that planted their black American counterparts on the same soil, should place them behind but instead fosters access. Assata Shakur discusses this dynamic in her autobiography. Shakur recounts wanting to board a ride in the segregated south. Her mother frantically speaks in another language and as a result Shakur and her mother gain access to the ride. Reflecting on this incident Shakur says the following: “ Anybody, no matter who they were, could come right off the boat and get more rights and respect than amerikan-born Blacks” (Shakur 28). Here, Shakur speaks to “access,” an attribute that shapes the black american perspective and that cultivates the migrant mindset of false superiority. By access I speak to lifestyle attributes made available to the migrant body, but withheld from the American black. In Shakur’s example, the migrant body was granted access to a “white only” ride, where Shakur was overtly denied the same privilege. This same dynamic is mirrored throughout the United States as an effort to salt the wound of systematic oppression steadfastly endured by the black American.
In working in higher education, the majority of my non-white students are from another country. From doctors to dry-cleaning, the majority of business owners in predominately black areas are the brown, black and yellow migrants that obtain a living and lifestyle from the American black dollar, yet maintain sense of superiority to the same hand that feeds them. As a black American living in New York city, I often have to leave my neighborhood to support those who look like me in what has become gentrified towns. In failing to do so, I encounter store owners who employ foreign blacks to follow their own people down the aisles of overpriced items, and cashiers who place money on the counter and not in the black hands that foster their success. Thus, Shakur’s words grant my mind and body a feeling of ease. Each time my mind revisits these words, I feel understood— not as an individual but as a member of collectively disenfranchised group.
In their abundant businesses and prominent presence amongst the nation’s universities, the migrant body constructs themselves as the over-achieving sibling to their “lazy” American brother. This construction overlooks the perils that prevent the average African in America from obtaining basic liberties. Universities and businesses become secondary when one must concern themselves with survival. Born into systemic disenfranchisement that affects the food they eat, the education they receive and the housing they endure, Black Americans do not receive the exposure to life beyond mediocrity as our brethren from the diaspora tend to believe. In receiving opportunities deprived of their American counterpart, the migrant body becomes a tool of white hegemony, issuing a dissonance over the black diaspora that suggests we are multiple groups instead of just one. This dichotomy also thwarts migrant understanding of racism. In obtaining access, the migrant body often perceives their group as “closer to whiteness.” The journey to whiteness speciously places white as central and superior, where in acquired proximity to whiteness alleviates the migrant body from the base existence of the black Americas or “niggers.” Whereas, the migrant body is not superior in the eyes of the white man, but merely a tool to disrupt blackness simultaneously dividing and oppressing the African diaspora.
So while my anger fostered an ugly comment it proved edifying, motivating me to examine my criticisms and further my journey in assembling my consciousness. I write with the reservation that surrounds confronting your truth, but hope it inspires someone not to judge me but to examine their own idiosyncrasies in pursuit of an elevated consciousness.
I’ll conclude with what I see as a relevant quote by ancestor Booker T. Washington, “In all things social we can be as seperate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”