I am a proud Jamaican immigrant who was raised in that tiny island until I was eighteen years old. There, we have rampant classism, but racism – in a country that is over 90% black – is not something I had to deal with until I went to an elite small undergraduate college in the Berkshires. It was there that the racial heritage of this country, the history of low-expectations and the deeply-engrained stereotypes about what it meant to be a black woman in America were thrust on to me. In utter defiance of it all, whenever I was faced with prejudice I would utter my six little words, ” I am Afro-Caribbean, not African American”.
Almost fifteen years later, I am older and hopefully wiser now. I have been become a U.S. citizen and I see now that those six little words do something that I hate. They create an exception. In uttering those words over and over, I was almost inviting the people who harbored those feelings of hate to create a special category for me and for people of my culture they do not push them to use their interaction with me to change their mind and realize that their stereotypes aren’t true.
Now I’m uttering this, loud and proud – I am JAMERICAN. I was born in the tropics, but took advantage of the great opportunities afforded to me and was educated in of two of the finest institutions of learning in this country ultimately earning a PhD in Chemical Biology. I’ve lived here for my entire adulthood, and I have come to love this nation with all of its imperfections. There is so much that I have learned here that I couldn’t have in my native country and it has given me so much more than I have yet been able to repay.
So yes, I am of Caribbean ancestry and yes, I was raised without the scourge of racism but I am American, I am, in fact, an African American. I live here, I work here, I vote here. This country is mine, I can not hide behind my immigrant heritage.