Contrasting Attitudes Towards Achievement Within the Black American and Black Caribbean Communities

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Differing Attitudes Towards Achievement Within the Black American and Black Caribbean Communities

This subject has been under historical and sociological discussion within the Black community for sometime. Many historians, social scientists, and sociologists often wondered that although there has been racism in the United States, why is it that Black Caribbeans(Black West Indians) have outachieved Black Americans in terms of careers, education, and socioeconomic living environment. This is a good rhetorical question which needs to be addressed and to have an in-depth anaylization.

Blacks have been in the Americas since the early seventeenth century. Blacks have endured inhumane conditions of enforced servitude in the Caribbean and the United States. The conditions of slavery were often more inhumane in the West Indies, especially in Jamaica and Barbados, where there was a very high replacement for slaves. The respective policies in those countries dictated that enslaved Blacks were simply to worked to death as it was more economically feasible. Slavery ended in the Americas in the nineteenth century.

Slavery has affected the Black diaspora in the Americas differently. Black Americans, because they were in the minority, believed that they were inferior to Caucasians. In contrast, Black Caribbeans, who were in the majority, seldom believed that they were inferior to Caucasians and possessed a strong sense of Black pride.

Black Caribbeans taught their children that they were just as good as Caucasians. They instructed their children that educational and economic achievement were paramount in life. They imparted to their children that knowledge was power and that it was essential to success. Black Caribbeans emphasized work and achievement in addition to contending that socialization was idleness and frivilousness.

Many Black Caribbeans are raised in strict and exacting homes where educational and economic achievement were stressed as foremost in their lives. I have Black Caribbean relatives, friends, and associates who were raised in this manner. Education and economic achievement was the sole thing that mattered. They were forbidden to socialize outside of school as their parents believed that socialization was superfluous and would not bring food to the table and/or put money in the bank.

My father, a Black Caribbean, subscribed to the same principles. He adamantly contended that social life was nonessential and that people who loved social life usually do not achieve anything of great significance. My father achieved great success although he did not possess a college education. He stressed the importance of education, having a great career in addition to saving and investing monies. I was indoctrinated in those Black Caribbean values. I wholeheartedly contend that socialization and the social life are utterly superfluous. I assert that educational and economic achievement are important to live a high quality of life without constant stuggle for survival.

Black Caribbean children are also high achievers in school. Black Caribbean children usually earn higher grades than their Black American counterparts in school. Black Caribbean parents inundate their children that school and education is serious business and it is not to be taken lightly. Black Caribbean parents exhort their children to achieve As and Bs and will accept nothing less than that. To Black Caribbean parents, education and grades come before television and socializing.

I can recall my father telling me that I will study an American History lesson and get it correct even it it took all night. I further remembered that I was "supposed" to go to the movies with a friend; however, he called the friend's home, cancelling my going to the movies with her. A former co-worker of Black Caribbean origin, who is a high-placed professional, related to me that her parents forbade her to play with other children and go out on Halloween festivities because they believed it to be a total waste of time.

Black American parents, by contrast, believe in education but they also believe in socialization. Furthermore, they raise their children in a more lax fashion than Black Caribbean parents raise their children. I have heard many Black American parents, including celebrities and professionals, stating that socializing was the most important thing for their children.

Although many Black Americans believed that education was important, it was not important as socialization. One Black American celebrity bragged that her children could socialize but the celebrity did not stress how educated her children were. This celebrity stressed social activities over educational and intellectual activities.

In the Black American community, children are torn between being popular with their peers and academically successful. In the Black American culture as opposed to the Black Caribbean culture, the bookish child is derided and told to be like "normal" children. I remember when I spent summers in Wellford, South Carolina with my maternal grandparents, I was often told to go play outside. I was not interested in playing outside but was quite content reading a good book.

My maternal side of my family, who are Black American(Black Southerners) believed subsconsiously that they were not as good as Caucasians. They expected that they were not to achieve great success educationally and economically. They are content to live on a meager economic level. However, they believe in socializing and being popular, placing that over any significant educational and economic achievement.

When I was a high-level professional, one of my maternal relatives asked me if I was a secretary working in an office. A secretary working in an office-I obtained a Bachelor's Degree and had a high professional position within a social service agency. That relative could not see anything beyond her meager economic level. None of her eight children ever achieved middle class status. Three of her daughters have a total of nine children out of wedlock.

All of my paternal cousins (Black Caribbeans) are inordinately successful with positions as doctors, lawyers, entrepeneurs, and high-level businesspeople. In contrast, most of my maternal family, even in the second and third generations, are content to work in the factories and have low level clerical positions. Only a minute percentage of my maternal family hold professional positions. There were educational opportunities however all of my paternal cousins and a minute percentage of my maternal cousins took advantage of the educational opportunities available to them.

Many Black Americans blame Caucasians and the system for their dilemma. One of my distant maternal cousins who holds an advanced degree in psychology, believes this. I disagree with this philosophy vehemently. Many Black Americans do not hold self-sacrifice, education, and economic attainment in high regard as opposed to many Black Caribbeans who will do anything to achieve their goals.

My paternal family made many sacrifices to become highly educated and economically successful. To reiterate, most of my paternal family, especially in the second and third generations, are successful professionals and entrepeneurs. My maternal family, especially in the second and third generations, believed in having fun and a good time and viewed obtaining an education as an onerous process. They wanted easy jobs and are mostly factory workers and low level clerical workers. They complain about their economic circumstances but refuse to acknowledge that they made their own dire economic circumstances by making incorrect choices.

Even today, many of the leading members and the movers and shakers of Black community are/were of Caribbean origin e.g. Louis Farrakhan, Governor Patterson, Constance Motley, and Shirley Chisholm among others . They did not let race deter them from achieving great educational and economic success. They did not blame "the man" or "the system" if they did not achieve but looked within themselves to see what can be done to achieve. I remember my father telling me that "you make your own destiny and that you can achieve anything" , "cannot is a cowardly word", and "that is no such thing as impossible". Contrast that to my mother who said " you have to WAIT for the opportunity to present itself to succeed." I believe that Black Caribbeans outsucceed and outachieve Black Americans because they are PROACTIVE whereas Black Americans are more PASSIVE and FATALISTIC and expect the world to come to them.

© 2010 Grace Marguerite Williams

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Comments 16 comments

Jeromeo profile image

Jeromeo 6 years ago from Little Rock

In fact most people of color coming to America from other countries are more productive, better learners and high achievers.

Most American born Afro Americans tend to prize there attitude over their personal achievement.

And in order to meet their needs they cannibalize each other, one of the reasons for the crabs in barrel stigma.


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

Jerome, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Look at the Sengalese coming to Harlem. They immediately start their own businesses and make a profit. They have the spirit of entrepeneurship and believe in making their own way. Black Caribbeans are the same way-they are very industrious in the workplace and value education. For example, there was a Guyanese woman I worked with who started as a clerk and now she is a senior level investigator.

However, Black Americans are a very sorry bunch. Many of them have been in the same sorry place for generations. Even educated ones blame "the man" for their lack of success instead of looking inwards to themselves. Thank you for your imput, Jerome.


Kris 6 years ago

First of all, this article is extremely stereotypical because you have alot African Americans who are going to school and getting their education but they may have other means of doing it such as going to trade/vocational schools or 2 year community colleges in means to get their education. Also, you want to bring up the Doctors and teachers there are MANY African American surgeons and teachers look up Dr Cornell West and their are Black surgeon originizations. Also, the reason why some AAs don't embrace school is because maybe their parents or their parents parents did not go to school so they install that into their children. Another reason why all foreigners work harder in general is because back in their own nations they have nothing so they come here and take advantage of whatever they can here because what's the use of paying all that cash to come here and do nothing? Also please understand the kind of government and system that we have here in America along with history, economics, insitutionalized racism, redlining, racial profiling, income inequality, capitalism, all that stuff is real.


SOBF profile image

SOBF 5 years ago from New York, NY

gmwilliams - A thought for you to consider when comparing the achievements of immigrants to those of African Americans. The immigrants that enter the US enter with the thought of achievement. They are the top of the lot. Your piece suggest that the poverty rampant in the Caribbean is somehow not contributed to its citizens.

You have taken an unbalanced view of the Caribbean population and placed it against the entire African American population in this country. In fairness you would need to also evaluate those who are still on the island with African Americans as well.


marco01 5 years ago

Ms. Williams,

You appear to stand in harsh judgment of your fellow blacks in America, but have you stopped to consider that you too would have inculcated those same values had you been raised in an African American community?

American blacks and Caribbean blacks had very different experiences, namely the present of an oppressive white majority after freedom was achieved. This clearly has had a tremendous impact.

Don't misunderstand me, I am not speaking against personal responsibility, I am just saying a little wisdom and understanding is really necessary to truly understand the plight of African Americans.


Bonnie R. 5 years ago

I've read quite a few blogs and watched many videos where Africans or Caribbeans will compare themselves to Black Americans on our own turf.

However I never see them do the same in comparing Black Americans who immigrate to Countries in Africa. The Caribbean islands don't have much too offer in terms of commerce and education to Black Americans as they seem not to offer anything to their citizens. But in African countries such as South Africa black americans are out learning and earning the native population. Just as I'm sure they would in Haiti and Jamaica and Trini/Ta. Why? Because when you leave your homeland you have an objective, money saved, debts paid if any, and less incentive to stray from the goal.

I look at the 86% illegitimate rates in Jamaica and realize that poverty is the great equalizer. Get of that horse before you get a nose bleed (jk:))

But if my Grandmother can start a business with an 8th grade education and send 7 children to college in her homeland where she is a minority in a racist country then Caribbeans and Africans should be able to do it the same on their own turf.


jenelle thomas 4 years ago

This article was interesting in its comparisons. I can't choose any side. What I do believe is that carribbean immigrants may have higher standards when it comes to education and work ethic because of upbringing. Also because they want to escape financial hardship they once faced in their country. Another point mentioned in the article was the lack of socialization that carribbean children have. I have to disagree. I believe there has to be a balance between socializing and education. One can't solely be focused on books. That's how you end up with people who are geniuses but yet they are socially awkward. As a Caribbean immigrant myself, I believe a level of success depends on your own personal values,struggles,and aspirations.


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

Yes, Black Caribbean children do socialize; however, their parents stress the importance of education over socializing. Black Caribbeans just do not believe in socializing for the sake of socializing-it has to have some purpose. Black Americans, on the other hand, from my experience often stress socialization over the importance of education. I have heard many Black Americans deride those children who are smart and do not socialize much. They have referred to such children as "oddballs" and "eggheads". I have found that Black Caribbeans value children who are smart and intellectual, actually praising and encouraging them instead of deriding them as Black Americans tend to do.

Also Black Caribbeans do not fall into the victimology psychology that many Black Americans do. I have found that Black Caribbeans as well as Africans tend to decry charity in addition to sacrificing to obtain an education and career. I have observed students of Black Caribbean and African descent taking their education extremely seriously while many Black Americans just preferring to coast along. I believe that there is a marked difference regarding the attainment of educational and socioeconomic achievement within the Black American and Black Caribbean communities. I have seen it firsthand, especially within my paternal(Black Caribbean) and maternal(Black American/Southern) families. The Black Caribbean side is more ambitious and educated, especially within the second and third generation while within the same generations of my maternal side, most of my cousins have factory and clerical jobs- they put socializing and partying before any attainment of education.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 4 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Point well taken, GM. Yes American blacks have been subjected to a campaign by those in power using both conscious and subconscious means of reinforcing their sense of inferiority. I still see quite a bit of distinctions made regarding people of color when I visited the St Marten a few years ago. This 'issue" is universal, it is just that most of the people have not allowed these views to effect their self esteem. But again they were not subject to the same barrage of negative reinforcement that you have here in the states. I am more than familiar with the things that you speak of. There is a sense of defeatism that hangs over the black community waiting for permission to achieve and excel. I wrote a similar article that supports your position for the most part. Great article, Cred2


s davis 4 years ago

Just came across this article and it really saddened me!

The Lynch letters are alive and well, this article manifests its intentions to keep people of the African Diaspora divided 400 years later.

Since your article is not data driven I can only assume that your conclusions are from people you have come in contact; so my first question is what was your mother's stand when it came to education? As you state she is a product of the American south, mated to a person of Carribbean heritage. Secondly since we are only speaking about personal experiences I have co workers and friends, who epitomize white people, and to some extent exert the opinion that slavery was not as bad for black Africans in the Carribbean as it was in America therefore they are very loyal to the United Kingdom and cconsider themselves English subjects. (We wont mention the inter island conflicts between the natives )

I also volunteer in public schools with pta or reading buddies and find that parents from the Carribbean have the same uncertanty in how to raise their children, and we are finding ourselves always trying to come up with ways to engage parents in their children's education to partner with schools.

I am confused when you say you get your information on the contrast between African American parents and Black Carribbean parents from "professionals" that in itself negates your argument.

I think, your time and effort would be better served, taking your education and expertise to underserved "Black neighborhoods " where all members of the African Diaspora reside and empower and stress the importance of education and hopefully spark a love of learning.This brings me to my final observation, socialization builds community ,empathy, compassion and social responsibilty which may explain your lack thereof. Your purpose should be to unite and engage rather than divide.

Lets not be to hasty to defame the integrity of African Americans, remember had it not been for the CIvil Rights movement, immigration laws would have not been re visited in order for people of color to come to the United States and live out their dreams of a better life through education.(national origin quota act, check it out)


Marquis profile image

Marquis 3 years ago from Ann Arbor, MI

If you wish to know the truth, I am disgusted with what has become of the Black community. If you look at the statistics, Blacks got married at much higher rates and worked harder in spite of segregation and racism.

Now you just have ignorant Blacks using the race card, getting on welfare, not taking education seriously and having babies out of wedlock. Not to mention the Black on Black crime is terrible.

I think Black Americans, especially the ones who vote Democrat, the party who enslaved them, are an extreme embarrassment.


GF 3 years ago

West Indians also have a higher median income than whites and this goes back to the early 20th century.


Rubbish 2 years ago

Black Americans are easily the most successful and racially proud people of African descent.


Funny 2 years ago

African-Americans are strong, brave, enduring people who struggled for CENTURIES and made something of themselves and their country. Caribbean blacks in contrast are failures, cut and run people who choose to migrate to other peoples countries.


Jake 2 years ago

Black Caribbeans are culturally arogant and laud themselves around. All one needs to do is visit the Caribbean's home nation and you will find crime and poverty levels which exceed black American communities in the U.S. Also, Caribbeans are fleeing their islands like panicked people rushing out of a burning house because the society that they built is failing. No single minority racial group in the United States has been more resilient and successful than Black Americans. Caribbeans are good at taking stereotypes which they hear about Black Americans and repeating them but they aren't very good at changing the pitiful conditions of the Islands which they are desperate to leave.


Rain 2 years ago

This article is so biased and ridiculous! I am a black American woman who moved to London England almost 20 years ago. I was a high academic achiever which meant that Universities from all over the world sent me applications. My mother was a single parent and we live in the projects. She worked hard and instilled in us the same things you say your parents instilled in you. I consider myself very successful in my life. I work in a design studio remotely, which means I can work from home and I am a professional singer. While I was in university I studied full time and held between 1-3 jobs at any given time.

In London, I see many black Caribbean low achievers- they are the largest black community in the country. But I don't people's circumstances - you don't know what someone is going through. At the end of the day, everyone is different. I had people who loved and believed in me despite everything else. I also believed in myself- everyone can't say the same.

They have it here like blacks have it in America, being a minority in a flawed system. And I also grew up with black Caribbeans in my neighbourhood in America and their parents were not keeping their children away from a social life as you say.

You should show more empathy and stop dividing black people. We are all coming from the same place and should be uplifting one another. You're just providing fodder for the racists- and are inaccurate to boot-shame on you!

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