Reflection and Analysis of Nancy Foner's “West Indian Identity in the Diaspora: Comparative and Historical Perspectives”
The black immigrant population in New York City has grown exponentially since 1990, and West Indians now compose the majority of the black population in several neighbourhoods. I examine how this ethnic density manifests in schools, and how it influences ethnic-identity formation among second-generation West Indians.
Emigration has a long history in the West Indies. Its roots go deep – traceable to the legacy of slavery, the distorting effects of colonial rule, the centuries‐long domination of the islands’ economies by plantation agriculture, and, in recent years, continued dependence on world powers, lending institutions, and corporations. Over the years – from the end of slavery to the present – West Indian women as well as men have been part of various migrant streams as the search for a better life has taken them all over the globe, to Central America, Britain, Canada, and the United States. It is only in recent decades, however, that women have come to dominate major West Indian migrant flows, so that questions pertaining to gender and migration have taken on special relevance in contemporary studies of West Indian migration. The three migration movements, taken together, have involved hundreds of thousands of people.
the racial and ethnic makeup of the American people is in flux. New immigrants from Asia and Latin America have added a large measure of cultural and phenotypic diversity to the American population in recent decades, just as waves of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe did a century ago (Bean and Stevens 2003; Higham 1988; Lieberson and Waters 1988: Ch. 2; Thompson and Whelpton 1933: Ch. 2). Moreover, the boundaries between racial and ethnic groups are becoming blurred by high rates of intermarriage and the growing number of persons with mixed ancestry (Lee and Bean 2004). Descriptions and projections of the racial and ethnic composition of the American people appear kaleidoscopic, with varied accounts and interpretations. Some commentators anticipate a new melting pot, often labeled as the “browning of America,” characterized by continued blurring of once-distinct racial and ethnic divisions (Rodriguez 2003).
On balance, there is a common belief that race is no longer deterministic of life in the U.S. and is diminishing in significance (i.e., post-racial America). In this worldview, race is what ethnicity has been, signifying a fluid and voluntary association based on choice, selected from a number of membership options, and representing an “affiliation by revocable consent”. This is in contrast to a view of race as an involuntary identity and ascribed status. The present work contributes to a body of literature suggesting that Black Caribbeans’ notions of race and ethnicity and their intersections are fluid, dynamic and context-specific.
Bean Frank, Stevens Gillian. America's Newcomers and the Dynamics of Diversity. Russell Sage Foundation; New York: 2003.
Lieberson Stanley, Waters Mary. The ethnic responses of whites: What causes their instability, simplification, and inconsistency? Social Forces. 1993;72:421–450.
Massey Douglas S., Denton Nancy A. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA: 1993.