What Caribbean Americans Want Everyone to Understand

Having lived in the United States for the past four years and hailing from The Bahamas, I really got to see first-handedly what little some people actually know about the Caribbean. Whenever I traveled back and forth to the States or encountered tourists while at home, I got the really generic questions and statements that people give just to get on your nerves like, "It must be so cool to be on the beach all day!" or "What's the name of your pet dolphin?" and my personal favorite, "So what kind of furniture do you guys have in the shacks you live in?" Of course, these are beyond annoying, but I always figured that every country/region has stereotypes that are associated with that region and that was all it was. However, having encountered people from all around the globe, it really began to bother me how much everyone loves to travel to the Caribbean without getting to know about its history, its people and its culture. And no, going to Jamaica just to smoke weed and dance to reggae with the locals does not mean that you engaged with the culture. With all this said, people have misconceptions about different countries in the Caribbean that we often try to debunk, but I think collectively these are a few of the things that most Caribbeans can agree that we are tired of having to endure.

1. We are NOT all from Jamaica.

This is as basic as it gets. It does not even need a whole lot of explanation either, but since some of y'all can not seem to get this through your heads, I'll say it again. I happen to be half Jamaican and half Bahamian. This does not mean that you should look at me all surprised when you ask me if I know Erica Bailey from Kingston and I tell you no. Yes, I love Bob Marley just as much as the next person and I love hot patties. However, I have a love/hate relationship with Dancehall and I think sorrel is the nastiest thing ever in life. As soon as people hear a Caribbean dialect, they get all excited and shout, "Ayyyy, mon!" And while we're on the topic of 'mon', I have never in my life heard any actual Jamaican say that word. The more you know.

2. Stop commenting on our accents.

I know my accent is bomb, but for conch sake, puh-lease stop asking me to "say more words" and treating me like a baby learning to talk for the first time. There's nothing wrong with liking how my accent sounds, but don't try to mimic me or talk like me. This is the way I speak. If I speak too fast or accidentally throw a 'well mudda sick' in our conversation, please believe that I will further clarify what I'm trying to say. Don't make the mistake of trying to equate my accent with my intelligence either. Just say, "I like your accent" and keep it moving.

3. I'm black, and I'm in America, but I'm not an African-American.

Again, this is basic social studies. Black and African-American are not synonymous and can not be used interchangeably. Too often do people describe me as an African-American female when I'm not. It's almost as if white people are afraid to say the word 'black', as if it's a curse. I'm a black Bahamian. This means that, along with people that we know today as African-Americans, Afro-Jamaicans and many other 'Afro-s', my African ancestors were forced on boats and brought to the Americas as slaves. The boats traveled back and forth between West Africa and the Americas and dropped some slaves in The Bahamas and most other Caribbean countries, and of course, the United States. Shocking, right? Once we were all 'dropped off', we formed our own cultures, a lot of which have West African roots. Whenever there is a class discussion about anything related to African-Americans, people usually look to me. It would be nice if you would ask an actual African-American about their struggle in America. Mind you, if you ask me about my perspective as a black, Caribbean woman in America, I can show you this article and then some. In fact, there a lot of conscious black Americans who think living in a predominantly black, Caribbean country should be paradise - not realizing that we all share the same post-colonial, post-slavery struggles. However, this discussion will be on a different day and a different article.

4. Stop trying to compliment me by bashing African-Americans.

Nothing bothers me more than the racist trope in which I'm told that I'm smarter, nicer or more well-behaved and respectful than my black American counterparts. I grew up around the common Afro-Caribbean notion that African-Americans are lazy and violent, and that the reason why they do not get respect from white people is because they 'hold themselves down'. Any historian, or better yet, anyone with basic historical knowledge will tell you that racism is the actual reason that black Americans do not get respect from white people. Anyone that compares me to a black American in this way is essentially saying that I am the more palatable slave, and because I know how to obey my white masters, I'll get further in life. On the same token, my fellow Caribbean brothers and sisters must do a whole lot better in shutting down this kind of racism. Not only must we stop accepting racist, back-handed compliments; we have to stop trying so hard to distinguish ourselves from African-Americans. This is so important because one thing is for sure - if the KKK ever decided to storm through a black neighborhood, they are not going to stop and ask which of us are African-Americans and which of us are not. We have to remember that long before we were Americans, Jamaicans, and Trinidadians, we were black.

This list goes on and on, folks. Caribbean culture and history is too rich and too ignored, especially by those that love to travel there so much. Even though we are in a time of trying to combat intolerance to people that are different, we have to actually make an effort to learn more about differences before we can try to accept them.