Academic journal article Adult Learning

Cultural (De)coding and Racial Identity among Women of the African Diaspora in U.S. Adult Higher Education

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Cultural (De)coding and Racial Identity among Women of the African Diaspora in U.S. Adult Higher Education

Article excerpt

Abstract: Over time, research has suggested there are sometimes tensions arising from differences in the way African Americans and Black Caribbean immigrants in the United States perceive each other as part of the African diaspora. In this autoethnographic study, I explore personal experiences with cross-cultural misperceptions between Black female students in three U.S. higher education settings. I use critical race feminism and dialogue education to tell my story, analyzing my encounters and cultural frame of reference and its relationship to Black identity in the United States, and calling for increased dialogue between and among diverse Black females in adult education settings.

Keywords: cultural coding, African diaspora, Afro-Caribbean females, dialogue, feminism

Dear Diary,

Here I am fulfilling my dream of studying in the United States ... grades on target, faculty helpful and friendly, food I'm adapting to. But somehow, there's kind of a strange feeling I get when I hang out with some American females around school that look like me. I'm Black and so are they, but sometimes--just sometimes ... not with every one of them--I come away from the conversation feeling that I'm "different" ... maybe a different kind of Black female? One friend told me over lunch that I "certainly don't act Black ... I'm so softspoken." Maybe to be Black in America is to redefine "me" racially. (Personal journal entry, 2008, p. 7)

The idea of an underlying misperception as it relates to ways of knowing or cultural coding between some members of varying African descent in America may seem far-fetched at first mention. Some would argue, are we not all Black? How, then, could an African American and a Black Caribbean immigrant, (1) despite similarities with past slavery experiences, not be able to synchronize with each other easily in light of how they view themselves, the world--and how they identify racially? However, over the past several years, data have emerged to undergird the notion there are significant differences in the way African and Caribbean immigrants in the United States perceive themselves, each other, and their racial identities within a traditionally racialized U.S. context (Alfred, 2010; Edmonson, 2006; Vickerman, 1999; Waters, 1999). Ross-Gordon (1990) in her work on serving culturally diverse adult learners explains that African and Caribbean immigrants come with distinct cultural backgrounds and educational needs that are different from those belonging to African Americans, and as such "Blacks cannot be seen as monolithic" (p. 6). In addition, there has been a plethora of foci on multiple identities within education, ranging from curriculum relevance and effectiveness for diverse Black student groups in America (Delpit, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1995) to claims of Black immigrant privilege in U.S. higher education (Edmonson, 2006; Ludden, 2009; Rimer & Arenson, 2004).

This article seeks to add to the discourse by exploring autobiographical experiences with cross-cultural misperceptions between African American females and Black Caribbean female immigrants as observed in three higher education academic settings. In my experience, females within both of these groups have actively expressed the need for a feminist approach to challenge the patriarchal and racist systems that oppress them (e.g., racism and sexism in corporate, social, and academic settings). Yet, both groups have struggled to identify with each other to form meaningful alliances to this end. Thus, the article further points to the ways in which cross-cultural misperceptions void of dialogue may perpetuate a (a) potential stifling of a very necessary unified feminist movement particularly in the academy and (b) lack of true solidarity among sisters even of similar ethnic grouping (hooks, 2000). As a critically reflective piece, this article explores a shifting of my lenses in light of my racial identity, how that has occurred overtime, and implications for adult higher education. …

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