Haitian | Not Just Black

Haitian Flag Day Parade 2019_Irvington NJ

I’m Haitian | Not Just Black

In honor of Haitian Flag Day (May 18), I decided to make this post to talk about the struggle of being a child of Immigrants but born in America with dark skin.

Often people call me Black and keep it moving. More recently I have been building the confidence to say “I prefer Haitian.” Growing up in Palm Beach County with a healthy Haitian population and plenty of Black American’s, this touchy topic could quickly turn into a serious debate. My Black-American friends would argue that I am not White, and my skin color is similar to theirs, so I’m Black. Though it may be true that my skin is brown, it is also true that my struggles are different from my Black friends.

Generally, Black-Americans talk about their ancestors’ experiences in America as slaves and other mistreatment or forms of inequality. All of which, I have been made to understand from History courses in grade school. Many of my Black-American friends are 1 or 2 generations removed from slavery (so their great grandparents were probably slaves), which makes this topic very close to home for them. I cannot relate to slavery, I have only heard stories, read history books, or watched a few movies that depicted this type of family genealogy.

My Background

I grew up with Haitian immigrant parents. Though all of our skin look similar to my Black-American friends, we do not have the same experiences. Due to Haitian parent pride, it has always been really hard to get real stories from my parents about their per-America struggles… so we will only discuss what I know and have experienced as a Haitian-American. I was born and raised in Florida (USA). My parents got to Florida a year before my birth. By second grade, because I was able to read (very basic words) and write, I was forced (along with my sister- we took turns) to pay bills and do all formal translations for my parents. Now for my Black-American friends, they may think why did I have to do such a thing? They sometimes even ask if there were services available to help my parents… but the truth is besides Spanish, those services are not that popular. Today, the school boards have gotten up-to-date and have moved to hire Haitian staff to help translate forms and such, but not in my day! My struggles as a kid were normal but also included growing up way too quickly because the bills needed to be paid and mom and dad could not do that without my reading and writing skills.

Child of an Immigrant

I would say that I have had an immigrant’s kid struggle. So when my Black-American friends get offended that I do not like to be called Black, but Haitian… understand that as much as I respect the things that their ancestors have gone through, my ancestry is a little different. My parents did not speak English, were not able to read and write (any language), but they had to navigate through life in America by learning a whole new culture. Although I cannot say that my grandparents or theirs were slaves, I can say that living in America has not been a smooth ride for my parents or family. We struggle. A similar struggle but a different kind of struggle. So please, do not take offense when I identify as Haitian-American but not Black-American. My ancestry and my familial struggles, have made me proud to use this combo as my racial/ethnic description. So until further notice, I will always use the “Other” checkbox to describe me.


Until Next Post…

~ Kence

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