Crosscurrents: West Indian Immigrants and Race

Crosscurrents: West Indian Immigrants and Race

Crosscurrents: West Indian Immigrants and Race

Crosscurrents: West Indian Immigrants and Race

Synopsis

Vickerman's study offers an insightful examination of the complex relationship between race and ethnicity in contemporary American society. Based on interviews with over one hundred Jamaicans in New York, this book provides an in-depth view of what it means to be West Indian in the United States.

Excerpt

As more West Indians have entered the United States in recent years, the long-standing question of what they illustrate about race has only become more pressing. This focus on the issue of race reflects the fact that gaps, ranging from the economic to the perceptual, have persisted between blacks and whites, even as the society has diversified. The country's history has led to the presumption that these gaps result from antiblack attitudes and discrimination. While discrimination demonstrably existed in the first half of the present century, increasingly the argument is made that factors other than race determine the place of blacks in American society. West Indians seem to confirm this thesis, because though largely of the same ancestry as African Americans, viewed from the perspective of statistical indicators such as poverty rates and rates of welfare dependency, they outperform the latter group. Since such indicators appear to negate the effects of race, the question arises as to what other factors could help West Indians outperform African Americans. The answer has been advanced that the most important of these other factors is culture; that such attributes as possessing entrepreneurial skills, practicing alternative forms of capital accumulation (i.e., through rotating credit associations), and valuing higher education have enabled West Indians to achieve where African Americans have not.

The truth is that not just scholars, but West Indians themselves, often agree with the assessment that culture significantly affects the level of West Indian achievement. A few would even assert that race is not important at all. However, examining West Indians' perspective on American society shows that the sharp dividing line that has been drawn between race and other factors affecting achievement is fictional. This perspective stresses that multiple factors--especially culture, class, and race--intertwine to determine levels of achievement. The latter factor, ironically, is particularly important. This irony stems from a certain tendency to view West Indians as being oblivious to race; as examplars who are helping to point the way to a color-blind America. In truth, because of their history and culture, many West Indians would wish it so. They tend to be profoundly uncomfortable dealing with race, because, despite a history of colonialism, their societies socialize them to ignore it. Overt racism often surprises them. A few years ago, for instance . . .

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