Updated: Mar 22
What is my Black identity? For a good portion of my life, I have been struggling with my true Black identity, the plight of many Black
Black in the States
I was born in Haiti and immigrated to the States when I was two years old. Although, the States is essentially the earliest memory I have, I’ve always identified as Haitian. Many people would challenge that identity once they’ve learned how early I’ve been living Stateside. Many would say, “Oh, so you’re basically American” and “So, English is technically your first language,” which is not entirely true, I might have been schooled in English, but my first introduction to language and my first words were in Haitian Creole, and Haitian Creole was always spoken at home. Once, there was a time when our schools discovered that another language was spoken at home and immediately placed my siblings and I in ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages). Of course, they removed us not too long afterwards once realizing our proficiency in English.
I grew up in South Florida where it was extremely easy to connect to being Haitian and my father made sure we knew the culture, language, and food. In our social life, we were only around Haitians. We went to a Haitian church, our neighbors were mainly Haitian, and my father’s friends were Haitian. My siblings and I are first generations in the States, so the connection in being a Haitian was always strong. There was a time in my life, before we had American citizenship, that I only identified myself as Haitian. When I was 13, my father became an American citizen, so by default, my siblings and I became one too. I don’t think I immediately picked up the “Haitian-American” terminology until college when it really mattered for scholarships, grants, and government financial assistance. I grew up so immersed in Haitian culture that there were many “American” things that I really didn’t know. I remember moving to central Florida for college and having to ask my non-Haitian White-American roommate a lot of questions about American-ness as if I was an international student. In South Florida, I was Haitian. I grew up in an area that had a lot of Haitians, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, etc. We were our own little melting pot, our own little Caribbean in the States. I was used to seeing written documents and advertisements in English, then in Spanish, and then in Haitian Creole. I’ve always said we were our own little bubble in South Florida, so when I moved out, it was uncomfortable being the only Haitian in my college classes. People were in awed at the fact that I was Haitian. I went from being just another Haitian to the only one in my nearest circumference most of the time.
One time, I had a White-American roommate tell me: “Ester, you’re not Black, you’re Haitian.” I was confused for a very long time about her comment. What did she mean that I wasn’t Black? If I’m not Black, then what am I? I thought I was black my whole life. After some reflection, I connected her statement to a comment my father made when I was living at home, one time he said that I was acting like a “Black-American.” In my adult years, I would soon discover that there is a clear attempt from Black Caribbean people in the States trying to separate themselves from or avoid being confused for a Black-American (Americans with African descendants). It’s a shameful practice that’s done out of survival mode to avoid the same treatment or regard that many Black-Americans face (which is a different story for another time). Basically, my roommate meant I wasn’t Black-American/African-American, I was another Black. I was Haitian black. Those memories are the earliest I could remember of the beginning of my black-identity crisis.
There are slight cultural differences between Black Caribbeans and Black-Americans, and I discovered some of those in college when the small black-population at the school was mainly compromised of Black-Americans. This was also the time that I learned some black people just identified as “just black” whenever I asked what they were, and I know to some people that’s an offensive question, but growing up in South Florida that was a valid question because you’d always get back “Jamaican,” “Haitian,” “Dominican,” “Cuban,” “Puerto-Rican”, etc. I wasn’t completely ignorant to Black-American culture, I knew we had more in common than we did differences. I was never challenged with our slight differences until those comments were made by my father and roommate.
Black-Americans and Black Caribbeans are aware of their black identity at a certain point, as Black Diasporans, we share the commonality of not being able to fully trace our African ancestry like many Black Africans are able to do. Sure, I know that I am Haitian, and my Hai