On 24 September 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the contributions and experiences of people of African descent to the United States. Engraved on one of the walls of the museum reads, ‘I, too, sing America’. These four words are quoted from African American poet Langston Hughes’ poem of the same name. Written in 1926, Hughes’ poem reveals the experiences of African Americans during Jim Crow America. As Hughes poetically writes,
'I, too, sing America.
- Langston Hughes, ‘I, too, am America’, from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
‘I, too, am America’ reveals the complex relationship between African Americans and the United States. In the land of their birth, and after the abolition of slavery and the passing of the fourteenth amendment, African Americans are still treated as second class citizens. They have been othered. Dehumanized. Racially profiled. While this poem is almost 100 years old, it continues to speak to the marginalization, racism and second class status experienced by African Americans. The ‘othering’ and racialization of Black bodies in the United States have caused African Americans to negotiate their identity in multiple ways, some identifying as Black American, African American, or even rejecting the term American altogether. These experiences are not unique to African Americans but rather are shared by various stigmatized and ‘othered’ communities globally. In the Bahamas, in particular, Haitians represent the largest ethnic community and due to immigration, have been the focus of questions concerning immigration control and threats to national and cultural sovereignty.
In my Identities article, ‘Haitian, Bahamian, both or neither? Negotiations of ethnic identity among second-generation Haitians in the Bahamas’, I examine the various ways adults of Haitian descent in the Bahamas negotiate their ethnic identity. Using semi-structured, open-ended interviews with 28 individuals of Haitian descent, six categories emerged from participants: individual (3), African/Black (2), Bahamian (2), Bahamian of Haitian descent (5), Haitian (8) and Haitian-Bahamian (7). Examining each of these identities, in this article, I argue that participants construct their identity in an environment that is hostile to Haitians, where they are constantly told who they are, and often told they have to choose one or the other because they cannot be both Haitian and Bahamian. While there does not appear to be a significant relationship between specific participant characteristics and one’s chosen identity, I argue that participants are negotiating similar sociocultural factors, including connection to culture (Bahamian and Haitian), citizenship, stigma and feelings of belonging in the Bahamas. Further, I argue that participants who identify as Bahamian, Bahamian of Haitian descent and Haitian-Bahamian are challenging what it means to be Bahamian, and participants who identify as Haitian do so as a form of resistance to stigma and exclusion.
There are some limitations to this study. The small sample size prevents greater analysis into the role of gender, particularly in the Black/African identity (only men) and Bahamian identity (only women). However, I demonstrate how the struggle for citizenship and belonging has created numerous identities among second-generation Haitians in the Bahamas. While there may always be various identities, the consistent themes of citizenship, stigma and belonging reflect larger barriers in Bahamian society which prevent second-generations from truly belonging and identifying as Bahamian. Like the words expressed in ‘I, too, sing America’, second-generation Haitians are Bahamian and should be treated as first class citizens and be included in Bahamian society.
Image credit: Photo by Rinald Rolle on Unsplash
Blog post by Charmane Perry, University of Alabama Birmingham, USA
Read the Identities article:
Perry, Charmane. Haitian, Bahamian, both or neither? Negotiations of ethnic identity among second-generation Haitians in the Bahamas. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2037902
Explore other relevant Identities articles:
Transnational ties and ethnic identities in the parental homeland: second-generation Indian Americans in India
Formation of European identity: ethnic minority groups in Central and Eastern Europe in generational perspective
Finding identity without discrimination: the plight of Arab American adolescents
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