Island Soul City Dreams

I love New York, but my heart has a Caribbean beat. It pulsates to the traditions of my people. Attuned to the rhythms of this City, I stay West Indian to the bone. I reflect. I analyze. I speak my mind. ~ I Keep it Irie ~

Proud of Our Caribbean Athletes: Deal Wid It

Jamaica’s World Record 4x100m relay team.

I am unapologetically patriotic to the Caribbean – the region where my grandparents, parents, most of my relatives, closest friends, and I were born. But I love this country in which I live and the opportunities it has afforded me, both to develop in every sphere of my life and to contribute to this nation. I am beyond grateful for the blessings that have flowed along my arduous journey since moving to New York almost a decade ago. It’s a place where I have no relatives, a destination I emigrated to from Barbados with nothing more than a dream to further my education and advance my career as a journalist. I began life anew in this big city with my last penny in my pocket and my haven, the only life I knew – thousands of miles away on a tiny island in the heart of the Caribbean Sea.

Having to stand on my own in a foreign country has made me stronger and more appreciative of the hurdles I have had to overcome to reap my current successes. This experience has also done something else. It has instilled in me a deep passion for this City and by extension country. Interestingly enough, more than ever it has also made me cherish my heritage – the background that honed the spirit, the character and warrior to stay grounded here. The more I embrace US culture, the harder I fight to cling to my Caribbean roots. So as the Games of the XXX Olympiad got underway, like most West Indians on and beyond Caribbean shores, my loyalty was to our athletes.

Kirani James of Grenada, 400m gold medalist at London 2012.

This past week, as our regional athletes created history in track and field at London 2012, a few of my American friends questioned why I favored the Caribbean over the US. They wanted to know why I was showing support for Caribbean athletes when I live in the United States. It was an issue that surfaced on Facebook after several of my fellow West Indians and I repeatedly congratulated the feats of powerhouse Jamaica, led by the greatest sprinter in history – Usain Bolt. Our cheers also extended to Grenada’s Kirani James on winning that country’s first-ever Olympic medal, taking gold in the 400m. And by the time the curtain closed Saturday night on the last track event with Jamaica smashing the world record in the men’s 400x100m relay, we were also celebrating the Dominican Republic’s win by Felix Sanchez in the 400m hurdles, The Bahamas’ men’s 400x400m relay team victory, Trinidad and Tobago’s men’s 400x400m and 400×100 relay teams’ bronze medals, as well as Keshorn Walcott’s gold – their first in the javelin. Former World Champion Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados was also commended for his fifth place in the 110m hurdles, as was American Christian Taylor’s triple jump victory; his parents and grand-parents are Barbadians.

In response to criticism about “rooting for the Caribbean over the US,” I wrote a status update lauding the exploits of our athletes, (albeit giving credit to a couple of my favorite US athletes) and further encouraged Caribbean unity, citing Jamaica’s motto, “Out of Many, One People.” I specified that while my fellow West Indians and I are thankful for the lives we have here, we couldn’t deny our ancestry – the place where our navel-strings are buried.

Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago – gold in the javelin.

One of my Facebook friends responded. In part, she said, “It is because of black Americans’ sacrifice and struggle that black Caribbeans started being more accepted in this country. Instead of thanking their black brothers and sisters here in the U.S., what I hear from many Caribbean people’s mouths is ridicule of us—and for what? I have always seen black Americans and black Caribbeans as essentially the SAME people—Africans who come here from the continent too. But all the immigrant blacks’ disrespect toward African Americans, and by that I mean black people who were born here and whose ancestry is here, needs to stop!” End quote.

I didn’t call her out on “Caribbeans” which is the equivalent to calling citizens of the US, “Americas.” But anyone who knows me, knows I could not leave her “sweeping generalization” to describe it mildly, untouched. The problem is, I didn’t know where to start with unpacking her statement and as we say in Barbados, “if tuh tell she bout she granmuurrrh.”

Without a second thought, this was my response to her:

“I’m sorry that has been your experience. Unfortunately, I can’t relate to it, be it either that my ‘life’ in the US only began about decade ago or perhaps it’s the circles within which I interact. My network of blacks here comprises those from the US, all regions of Africa and obviously the Caribbean.

The West Indians who make up that group, like me tend to focus more on the achievements and contributions of our people here. While, yes we thrive on a foundation built by black Americans and for that we are grateful, all that we have and continue do is not all credit to the black American. The main migration or rather emigration of Caribbean people here began about 60 years ago, at a key time in the progress of blacks in the US – the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. American blacks alone did not fight this. Many West Indians played an integral role in helping to pave this path, as did many non-blacks.

Sure, I’m fully cognizant and eternally thankful for the struggles of the American blacks that helped to ensure certain opportunities here for me. As I’m sure so are many of my fellow West Indians. But still, nothing was handed to us. Many of us, like the ‘traditional immigrant’ come here and work our azzes off.

A vast majority of us come here for educational opportunities – like other international students across the globe. And while, perhaps these academic journeys might have been made easier through the historical stance of the James Merediths of this country, again this education is not handed to us. When one looks at the statistics, among the highest percentages of blacks in Ivy League schools are from the Caribbean, notably Jamaica. We are helping to raise the profiles of these academic institutions and by extension contributing to this nation – with international students being the fifth/sixth highest income generator in the United States.

 All that said, what I have noticed is that no one ridicules the black American more than the black American. I have too often seen a lack of pride in their history and people among black Americans. Here, I’ll use current examples and include the Olympics. While the world was watching and admiring Gabby Douglas’ feats in gymnastics, black Americans were talking about her hair. On my Facebook and Twitter are people from at least 50 different countries. The non-blacks and non-Americans, like Gabby, were clueless about any issue with her hair. All of the conversations I saw about her hair was from black Americans, albeit that many of them also praised her talents. Serena’s crip-walking after winning her singles’ gold – again the criticism was led by black Americans.

On the contrary, Asafa Powell once again disappointed on a big day, and all I saw across my feeds by not just Jamaicans, but by the wider Caribbean (outside of the hilarious cartoons) was nothing but love for him. At least as a region, we undoubtedly show pride in our heritage.

In addition to the Ivy League education I had here, I also did undergrad in the US and I was fascinated by how other international students and I were acing all of our American History classes and on issues such as slavery/ paternalism, the civil rights (and even in black theater classes) where we were knowledgeable, many of my black American classmates were clueless and often asked us how we knew these things. Too many of them took little pride in knowing their own stories.

So that brings me full-circle to your point. There can be no justification for the experience about which you spoke. I too see the Caribbean Diaspora as part and parcel of the black American experience. I see us as ‘one people’ and consider my black American friends as part of my ‘US family.’ But pride, uplifting and embracing the black American (and their achievements) must first start with and be demonstrated by the black American. If as a people black Americans don’t project that, how do they expect others to respect and ‘big them up?’” End quote.

Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados.

Perhaps, that was an emotional rant, but I was stating facts, although I must make it clear that many of my black American friends are keenly aware of and proud of their history. And so too are my Caribbean friends and I. Apart from Haiti (and the DR), our oldest nations are Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago both celebrating 50 years of independence this month. And apart from Barbados which was classified “Developed” in 2010 according to the United Nations Human Development Index, the rest of our islands are considered “Developing Nations.” Many of our athletes come from the most humble beginnings, train on home soil (sometimes lacking key resources) and overcome financial struggles to compete against the most powerful countries. Their efforts inspire, unite and elevate a region, and fill our hearts with pride. So no matter whom it offends, I will not be silenced in singing their praises – that does not negate my for love for the US. Our athletes have shown the world, “wi likkle but wi tallawah!”

~ I Keep it Irie ~

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32 thoughts on “Proud of Our Caribbean Athletes: Deal Wid It

  1. Mrs. Cecilia Askew on said:

    No mention of Bahamas or some of the other Caribbean nations that also did well. Otherwise a good article

    • Thank you. However, while I unfortunately, I couldn’t and didn’t itemize every island’s performances, I certainly mentioned The Bahamas’ (men’s relay team).:-) Again, thank you for reading and one love.:-)

  2. kramyar on said:

    Good stuff as always…unity in the Caribbean is unquestionable in times of success and disaster. I saw a video of Broad Street during Usain’s 200m poetic performance and you would think it was Kingston during and after his victory!

    • Thanks Mark – as always.:-)

      You must email me that vid; I’d love to see it! I could only imagine de people in Bim doin’ dixie lol!
      I remember years ago when Bolt came there to run. I think he was still CARIFTA age or shortly after and Bajans packed de stadium and went crazy fuh he dread! lol

  3. William on said:

    I can appreciate you being proud of your countrymen. I’m proud of them two as a brother. But just to touch on your comment about seeing or not seeing Black Americans at Ivy League schools. I don’t know if you are aware of this or not but Black Americans have their own schools that many of us consider to be top notch and uniquely tailored for our own experience. And for many, the reason to go to Spelman, Hampton, Morehouse, A & T, Howard comes from a legacy…I can guarantee you if those schools didn’t exist you’d see many more Black Americans at these Ivy schools that you seem to value. By the way, I went to Hampton and then later…Columbia. I’m down with unity across the board, be you from Alabama or Antigua, but I don’t think your Ivy explanation flies for the point you suggest.

    • Dear William,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’d love for you to show me where I indicated that there were no African Americans at Ivy League schools I merely stated what the overall stats indicate. And as far as I know and being a sucker for research I can gather you facts to show that the said HBCU’s to which you referred also have high numbers of Caribbean (international) students. But both that and your point related to it are beside the thesis here. I’m happy to hear that you went to both Hampton and Columbia but somehow failed with homophones. Thanks by the way for “informing” me that Black Americans have their own schools! Seriously? smh

    • And might I add, since you clearly missed the point, that in mentioning the high percentage of Caribbean students at Ivy Leagues, that point was related to my saying that we are helping to raise the profile of these academic institutions and not as you obviously interpreted it as a battle to see which nations boast the most blacks at these colleges.

  4. Educated Brotha on said:

    I think it’s very strange how Black people from the Caribbean have so much pride where they come from but they are constantly coming to the US in droves. And why do you call yourselves “west indians?” Indians are people who derive from India.

    • Wow! There is so much I’m gathering from your comment. Alas, none of it is in sync with your moniker. That said, God bless you, “Educated Brotha.”

      • Educated Brotha on said:

        You’re digging a deep hole for yourself. You are the one who’s not educated–throwing out incorrect figures. Maybe you should go back to the caribbean and you may be considered halfway intelligent down there, lol.

      • You do understand that I moderate this site, right? I have the authority to approve or remove any comment you make. But I want readers to see the type of ignorance, arrogance and hate you’re spewing. And it’s unfortunate that you’re using the facilities of the esteemed Morehouse College to do so; under an inaccurate moniker, no less.

        Since you’re so “educated”, why don’t you do the following: show me where I quoted “incorrect figures” and conduct your own research notwithstanding finding out what is a “West Indian”, before you jump into a discussion armed with such seething disrespect for me, my platform and Caribbean people. And might I add, as a sad representation of the group of people with which you identify, whatever that may be.

  5. Kelster on said:

    I am trying to pull up the actual study but so far, I have found that according to a 2007 study, immigrant blacks (not only from the West Indies) make up 41% of the black population at Ivy League schools. Based on that study, your statement would then be incorrect.

    • Kelly, I’m sure it’s the same (or similar) Massey Study. I’d done some work on the subject at CUJ and used that study – provided by one of our PhD students. That’s how I came by the stats/info and was quite surprised as I didn’t realize there were so many Caribbean students in these schools lol. I’ll have to try later in the week to see if I can dig up some old mail and find the PDF to email you. While I didn’t commit to memory a breakdown, re: international students, I recall there were stats on African (mainly West African) and Caribbean students and I remember discussing the study with some CUJ colleagues and a few of us remarking on that matter of the percentage of Caribbean students.

  6. William on said:

    I just talked to a friend that went to Mizzou J. School (which is rated higher than Columbia). She said that about a dozen Blacks went to Mizzou J School during her time and they were all Black American. She said that Northwestern (also rated higher than Columbia) was similar in that regard. So if two higher ranking schools had more Black Americans than Blacks from anywhere else, what does that say to what you are clearly trying to suggest about Black Americans??? Hunnh?

    Also, I went to film school about 20 paces from the Columbia J School. There were about 2 or 3 black students there…period…and two of them were like from England with Nigerian ancestry….too damn small a sample to making your assertions.

    • LMBO!!!!! I am going to leave up this particular comment for others to see your “wisdom”. You have more than confirmed my assessment of you. This is classic. This is also the last time I’m going to respond to you, or review any more of your comments, far more approve them. Peace out.

  7. April on said:

    Well said. First-generation American, born to a 15-year old, lived in Jamaica growing up; Ivy-League educated–and rooting through and through for the Caribbean. My foundation is Jamaican, my creed and strength come from the struggle of my Jamaican ancestors, grandmother, grandfather and mother. I refuse to apologize for the joy I feel when representing the land of my pride. Heck, General Colin Powell’s parents are from St. Elizabeth, Jamaica; and he was sitting in Jamaica’s national stadium celebrating 50 years of independence. Why the heck can’t the rest of us? Where Usain Bolt is from; feed was so bad during the Olympics that his community had to listen to results from the 100m race via radio. That speaks volumes; and this is why we are proud of our athletes. Many rivers to cross; many, many adversities to face and obstacles to overcome. I am proud to be an American; and I acknowledge that I am only because of my mother, Jamaican; and I exist as an extension of that region; the Caribbean. Likkle but wi TALLAWAH!

    • Dear April,

      Thanks very much for reading and for sharing part of your story. You bring to mind one of my dear friends from grad school, who was born here to Jamaican parents. She, however, grew up in the US although she has visited JA countless times. I admire how as a proud (black) American she embraces her Caribbean heritage. I was especially moved when shortly after this post was published, (totally unsolicited) she sent me a private message to say she loved it! 🙂

      I’m glad you made that point about Colin Polin; so many prominent Americans are the offspring of immigrants or themselves immigrants (from all parts of the globe) and they celebrate their ancestry. We are all who we are because of “our heritage.” So it amazes that people should get upset by our support for our athletes.

      But as you said in the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff, “Many rivers to cross.”

      Thanks again, April. One love and WI “tuh di worl!”

  8. Kelster on said:

    So let’s continue. I attended an HBCU and had many African American friends who have unequivocally stated that they would never send their children to any school other than an HBCU. It would not matter if their children received full scholarships to Ivy League schools. Based on that very small sample, I can definitely see why Black immigrants make up 41% of the Black population at Ivy League schools.

    While at that HBCU, it was constantly an Us (Caribbean Students) vs. Them (African Americans). The disrespect was rampant. I heard several Caribbean students say the most hurtful things about the American students. They were called stupid, worthless, ungrateful etc. The only reason the school was doing well was because “we” were there to bolster it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much the Caribbean students contributed to the university, it was still hurtful to hear and it should not have been said in the ways it was said.
    That was a constant struggle for me and I can understand if your friend had to hear the things that I heard my fellow Caribbean students saying about the Americans, I’d be pissed too. I have Caribbean friends teaching primarily African American students at the university and high school level and it is nothing but criticism. “They are worthless.” “We are so much better than them etc.” That’s definitely not the way to approach it. While they may say these things to their friends in confidence, such an attitude is probably also reflected in their teaching styles.

    There is no unity. We are fooling ourselves into believing that. There isn’t even unity among the Caribbean islands. You know what I heard from people during these Olympics? The Jamaicans were not cheering loudly enough for the Trinidadians.

    You’re definitely right when you say that African Americans need to lift up their own and show pride in their own so that we can all join them. I am still shocked that when I typed “Gabby Douglas” into my search engine, the first articles were about her hair. Frankly, I was watching looking at her hair too. I was admiring the fact that she exercising every day, several hours per day, and still manages to have her hair looking good. What was my excuse?

    • Dear Kelly,

      You’ve made some very valid and well-articulated points. All you described about your experience re: Caribbean blacks vs American blacks is indeed unfortunate and unnecessary.:-/ I am truly happy that has not been my story – not even remotely. I’m sure there are numerous stories like yours and as well as many contrary – as in mine. Hopefully, in time the latter situation will prevail.

      Re: Caribbean unity, that has been a perennial argument. I have scores of friends who have no faith in neither CARICOM nor the CSME. Heck, one of my best friends has worked extensively on and with the latter and she can sometimes be more cynical about its reality than anyone I know.

      Still there are some of us who do believe in regional unity and we strive and hope for it to exist beyond cricket, calypso/carnival and as seen in many ways recently the Olympics. Although with cricket there are always issues lol, but it’s great to see those moments when the region “rally around the WI”.

      Also re: Olympics, my FB feed was flooded with support for all of the islands from their brothers and sisters across the region. Even if for a fleeting period, or if some may find this “unity” superficial, it was heartwarming to see all the support for Caribbean athletes and to engage in the uplifting conversations that ensued.

      Our experiences vary/differ. I’m certain that at times they are probably in sync. I use this blog as a platform to share slices of my life in the US. I don’t expect every reader to relate or agree, but one thing I make a concerted effort to do, is to present an honest voice and stay true to myself.

      It’s important to hear as many sides to the story as possible. Thanks for sharing yours. I really appreciate your thoughtful feedback and you shedding some light on these issues. Again, thanks for reading. Btw, I’d emailed you that doc and some other info,

      Bless up.

  9. Madi on said:

    Great blog! Keep it up Maquita! Going forward, I will try to visit this blog very frequently.

  10. Miss Jane on said:

    Love this post. You were on point!

    I get sick of people trying to separate and be segregational when it comes to people of African descent. I am of BOTH Black American and Caribbean descent so I know both sides. Also the premise that black Americans built the the foundation of success for Caribbeans to come abroad is a bit skewed.

    People need to really get their fact straight. ALL AFRICANS were mixed together during slavery, some of us just were brought to different countries. So ALL of us, of African descent, helped build the U.S. ALL of us have lineage to AFRICA. People need to stop ignoring that FACT. AFRICANS were in ALL PARTS OF THE WORLD, even BEFORE slavery, and were enslaved abroad, spread out among the colonial authorities. People need fi really do dem history!

    Many African Americans don’t know their lineage, thus some speak from IGNORANCE. People need to get to know their lineage (which is what I had to do on my OWN… I grew up with my mother’s side of the family which is African American and Native American born in the U.S for generations). Many Black Americans wouldn’t make such skewed and bitter comments if they had more knowledge of their lineage and gained pride in their heritage, instead of having a chip on the shoulder and dissing Caribbean people when they show pride in their cultures while in another country.

    On the other side of that, some born-Caribbeans can go a bit far with the generalizations as well. I’ve heard them all, from “Black Americans are lazy” to “They have no couthe or culture.” Even had a Trini woman (who didn’t know my mother is black American) tell me she wouldn’t rent to me if I was “just black.” “Dem dutty,” she added. I was insulted and would not do business with her. Some of us love to hate one another and try to belittle the next.

    You keep your pride, gyal, as will I! I will cheer on the U.S. (who won the MOST gold medals this year and is still the leader historically for overall gold) AND I will cheer on the Caribbean athletes because BOTH are part of me and EXCELLENCE IS EXCELLENCE. We all should be proud of our heritage and embrace ALL of who we are and stop hating on eachother. Learn ourselves, our family and our roots and live in peace and celebration.

  11. Chelle on said:

    I know this is an old article, but I found it enlightening and you wrote it so elequently. I can definitely relate to what you are saying and had an insightful comment, then I read the “Educated Brotha’s ” comments. Lost my train of thought for a minute because I buss out one loud laff and start laughing uncontrollably, still laughing as I type this. Wow. Anyway, I can’t begin to describe my emotions when I saw those flags go up and heard the national anthems. Kirani James and Kershorn Walcott’s win were pivotol for me. I cried like a baby when I saw Kirani crossed the finish line. Jumped and screamed at the TV for the Jamaicans, Bahamians, etc. My mom called me from Trinidad, screaming into the phone “we geh ah gold!” Waterworks again, followed by screaming, jumping and bussing ah wine. So yes, I without any apology supported and felt immense pride for our West Indian brothers and sisters.

    Chelle

    • Thank you Chelle! I appreciate that.:-)
      You got me here cracking up again re: “Educated Brotha”. Lol n smh.
      And I can just hear your mom’s Trini accent (love that) screaming into the phone!:-D I too cried at all those moments and then I watched the broadcast when the TNT Olympic team returned home. The welcome was phenomenal! Seeing that “kaleidoscope” of red, white and black and the way Keshorn was hono(u)red. Oh, what a proud moment for his parents!
      I totally feel you! Yes, I rejoiced in each victory for each island – for our region.
      Thanks again, Chelle. One love and bless up.:-)

  12. Henry on said:

    Great blog, I stumbled upon this by accident and now i will try to visit regularly. Keep up the GREAT work my Bajan sista.

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