I’m not Black.
I remember being very young and my mother telling me this. She wasn’t defensive or upset that I had asked her the question. She was simply stating a fact. I’m not Black. I’m Jamaican. She had never even considered herself Black until moving to this country as a teenager and encountering the term on immigration papers and then soon after, encountering the reality of race relations in this country. She didn’t start identifying as Black until she had lived here for many more years. It was basically the same trajectory with my dad, so for most of my childhood I had several of these same conversations.
As a kid, I always wondered what this meant about my own identity. I was born in this country, so I’m not Jamaican, but if neither of my parents identify as Black, what does that make me? I was told not to check the African American box, because our people were from Jamaica, not Africa. This is one of the many many tensions and questions I’ve carried when thinking about my layered relationship with this country.
Although the start was murky, where I’m at with those parts of my identity are very clear – I am Black.
And as a Black person in this country, I bear witness to and experience so many of the conditions that conjure up the widespread disillusionment that folks have with the ‘American dream.’ At the same time, as the child of immigrants, I’m aware that this country and its promises still hold value and significance for a lot of people (lots of people in my own family) in and outside of its borders. I hold both these things.
After Trump was elected, lots of people talked about leaving this country (some were joking some weren’t). In this country, with this socio-political climate – for certain folks/communities, wanting to leave here is a perfectly reasonable reaction to all the things happening. I’ve heard so many conversations where people have said I just want to gather my loved ones and leave this place – go somewhere safe – get out before things get worse.
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Simultaneously, I have relatives who are still living in Jamaica and are deeply desirous of immigrating here. They actively wish and make moves to live in the US. It can create all kinds of familial strife between the folks living in the US and folks wanting to move here but can’t for whichever reasons. These folks who want to come here from Jamaica and everywhere else – They aren’t naïve. It’s not as if they’re all holding on to some false notion of America an uncomplicated meritocracy with streets paved in gold and equity. They’re aware of its demons. My cousins in Kingston have access to the same news/social media outlets that I do. They still want to visit/move here.
I also have relatives who have moved to the Unites States and have no plans of leaving. They have no desire to return to Jamaica. In fact, one of my grandmother’s wants to be buried on the island when she dies, but has no desire to be there any time before that day. I think often about what it means to be so complicatedly tethered to a land and a place that you want to return and rest there in death, but not in life.
My Jamaican family members’ desire to move/stay in The United States is deeply entwined with conditions in Jamaica. As my grandmother has always said “being poor here is nothing like being poor where she grew up.” For her, the United States pulled through on many of its promises of opportunity and freedom. The life she was able to craft here, the life she was able to provide and offer her children, she couldn’t envision having had she stayed in Jamaica. I respect and honor that. I am also aware of all the racism she and others have had to endure here. And way too aware that the conditions in Jamaica – they are the result of colonialism and exploitative global economic practices, many of which are perpetuated by the US.
I’ve internalized and navigate all these moving pieces. My sense of home and belonging and blood are tapestried across multiple bodies and lands. The way I’ve chosen to honor these tensions are by holding America accountable for the ways it treats marginalized folks here and abroad.