An Incorrect Assumption

In the United States, it is typically considered politically correct to refer to black people as “African-American,” lest they become offended. But is this always “correct”? This instance of political correctness neglects the fact that not every black person is African-American. Coming from the Commonwealth of Dominica, I do not identify as African-American in the least. In a society where the options for ethnic groupings are often limited to black, white, Asian and other, I am black.

The Caribbean demographic is a diverse one. The population is a mix of the descendants of European colonizers, African slaves, indigenous Kalinago and Arawakan peoples, Asian immigrants and other ethnic groups. While some people’s ancestry is homogenous, it is safe to say that many Caribbean people are not descended strictly from a single group. Due to the simplicity of categorizing races into broad groups, many people of mixed ancestry simply consider themselves black. Despite this, there is little need to “pick” a race to identify with in the Caribbean, because the majority is aware that, within a melting-pot culture, drawing labels for separate people is both impractical and inconvenient. With this in mind, I seldom considered my race in Dominica, because I did not have to.

In the Caribbean, black features are dominant enough that one cannot easily determine someone’s full ancestry at a glance. Unless someone takes care to find out their exact origins and identify outwardly with it, they will be assumed to fall somewhere under the Caribbean mix. With this in mind, racism among people of similar mixed ancestry cannot easily thrive. Discrimination against a race which we may well be part of ourselves is not common. In the U.S., however, though the demographic is mixed, it is not extensively intermixed enough to blur the lines of race and ethnicity. Rather than a simply American identity, people are still separated into subgroupings with which they are expected to subscribe. This is where Caribbean people are made to choose a subgroup by the process of elimination.

Since coming to Andover, I now understand the importance of better specifying my race. At an American school, with largely American values, black people are “African-American.” I cannot identify with this group because their history and culture does not resemble mine. This does not mean that I am not black. To be precise, I am a mix of African, European and Kalinago (Carib Indian). Being more black than anything else, however, gives me the appearance of a black female, with which I can identify. Herein lies my problem. My upbringing and history does not make me African-American culturally, but the discussion of racial diversity does.

I do not share most expected characteristic African-American experiences. In the same vein, most African-Americans do not identify with the Caribbean experience. Music of Caribbean artists like Destra, Machel Montano and Gyptian simply do not strike the same chord with African-Americans. Genres like Soca, Calyspo and Kadans are not nearly as popular in the U.S. are they are in Dominica.

The More Than Just a Number campaign at Andover seeks to encourage discussion about race on campus. It is calling on people to think about the things they say, do and assume regarding race. The problem is that race is a rather abstract social construct. There is nothing wrong with being African-American; however, there is a problem with making an African-American out of someone who is not.

With this in mind, students and faculty at Andover are depriving themselves of the implications of diversity when they fail to acknowledge differences beyond race. As it stands, I do not feel a strong Caribbean presence at Andover. I know about five other students with Caribbean roots — they are definitely present — but, nonetheless, school surveys and statistics do not often account for us. Most times, the open options that can apply are “African-American” and “Other.” I have yet to encounter any club or affinity group for Caribbean students. Rather, Af-Lat-Am and AMP reach out to students of color regardless of where they are from and aim to help them feel as though they fit in somewhere. These organizations have been very present in my first year of Andover, and I am grateful for the experiences I have gained through them. The acceptance they offer, however, cannot make me an African-American.

The African-American community here is welcoming and accepting. They understand that, though I am their color, we are not one and the same. I believe that the wider Andover community can also easily come to this understanding. I do not see this blurring of cultural lines as a micro-aggression, but as a human mistake that has yet to be addressed. What I ask now is that, instead of correcting yourself to say “African-American” instead of “black,” ask if your political correctness is actually politically correct. In this way, we can all take full advantage of the diversity at Andover and learn about cultures that we may have otherwise glanced over.

I will not stop identifying myself as a Caribbean, mainly because Dominican doesn’t mean much here, nor will I stop identifying myself as black, because even if it is not my totality, it is a large part of me with which I am comfortable being called. I will not stop clarifying that I am not an African-American.