Here I was young and Black, living in a new world dominated by whiteness. I had just come from St. Lucia in the West Indies in the summer of 1977. This country was predominately Black and ruled by Black leaders, having Black neighbors, friends and proprietors. My first school experience in the U.S was high school. It was during this transition in high school that I experienced some type of separation, segregation or discrimination among my own race. For the first time in my life I was totally befriended and surrounded by whites.
On campus Black girls would look at me trying to figure out why I didn’t act or talk like them. “Hey, this Black girl’s English is not like ours, it sounds too proper and different, she is definitely not one of us.” I felt shunned from that period on.
Later in the school year I enrolled at another high school. I experienced the same separation, segregation or discrimination with the Black girls. Could this be happening because of Black Americans’ past history with race interactions and their fear of someone unknown and different? What did they see in me that made them so aloof and distant? These were questions I needed answered, but whom could I ask, unless I made friends with a Black girl on campus.
Well, I met this one Black girl named Erica who said this about me. “There’s a Black girl who is not bonding with us Black females, her speech is somewhat polished, her words are pronounced differently, as if she’s white.” I had a feeling the Black girl wanted to know who I was. “This Black girl is different, I have heard rumors that she’s from the West Indies, where is that? We must know some more about her.”
One school year ended and another began. It was the month of August; the new school year was just beginning. Students either walked or took the bus to school. I walked with a new neighborhood friend, since we lived close to the school. In the afternoon walking back home we felt the summer heat, seems like it took us a longer time getting home. As we both parted to our separate homes we waved to each other. “Bye see you tomorrow.”
Where did this all take place? The separation from my race took place whenever I was outside the classroom setting. It seemed to occur in the central grounds of the campus. It occurred more during the longer breaks between classes, which was lunchtime. The smells and sights of cafeteria food were everywhere. “Smells like pizza.” “No I smell fries.” “Let’s eat in the snack bar today.” Students were busy going to and from their lockers, a time for groups of friends to gather around and share some laughter before heading back to classes. When lunchtime was over the central grounds of the campus would be so different like a ghost town. One would notice this if they had to leave class early for one reason or another.
“Here they are again, these Black students gathered around together, talking, laughing and looking at others as they go by.” My feeling was confused I wanted to be part of this group, but maybe not. I probably did not really want to be in a group that was so separated from others. It did not look or feel right during that time. I personally wanted to interact with everyone. Interacting with them I probably would not have had the opportunity to be with others. Part of who I am would probably have been lost.
I felt I was judged by the Black students because of their not knowing much about me and maybe because I was not a Black American like them. That really made me feel different an outcast. I went on not really caring to confront them, but accepting who I am. I know I did not do anything to cause this experience to happen. It was initiated by their fear of the unknown and what was different for them.
The respect, morals positive self-esteem and discipline I brought with me to America, certainly helped me in that situation. These values were natural to me because there were no other guidelines to go by. As a child I had to trust and respect my parents’ guidance. Living in America the Black girls were probably not limited to such strict guidance like I had. Yes, we were all black but our values were really different from being raised in different countries.
This incident got turned around during my senior year, when Erica became my best friend. I never talked about how I felt to her; instead I just looked back to how we could have been friends sooner. Years between us were lost because of my cultural looks and difference of not being from the same country. I made a great friendship despite my earlier experience as an outcast. Erica and I have different morals and values but still respect each other. The article titled "Transnationalism: A New Analytic Framework for Understanding Migration" by Nina Glick Schiller, et al stated, “Migrants coming from the Caribbean, for example, confront an African-American population that shares several centuries of historical experience” (in Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism Reconsidered, 1992, p. 18). This statement suggests how the vast diversity among Black people may sometimes lead to problems dealing with their own race. Did this past history lead the Black girls in my high school to look and act unfriendly to wards me a Black West Indian? I can now see that this may account for what I experienced with the Black girls during my early years in America.
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