I have always been intrigued by the term “diaspora” since I heard it the first time. There was something about the meaning that struck me as I started to be more conscious of how I ethnically identify.
Diaspora refers to a population of a people not living in their original homeland. Diaspora has come to refer particularly to mass dispersions of people by events that they have no control over such as persecution, war and civil war and economic and political unrest.
What resonates with me about diasporas is that regardless of the different places that a particular group resettled, there is always a connection tying them back together. For example, the Haitian diaspora is concentrated in New York, Boston, Florida and some parts of Chicago, but also around Central and South America. We are all over the Americas, but our roots stem from Haiti and the traditions of our island.
Diasporas are tricky because they are mostly born out of violence and pain. The African diaspora was marked by the Atlantic slave trade. The slave trade scattered African slaves throughout North and South America, the Caribbean Islands and Central America. Because of how dispersed slaves were, the African diaspora has been shattered.
These historical links are the overarching framework that explains tension between international Blacks and domestic Blacks. Identity and experience become central to that tension.
An international student from Haiti may not understand African Americans resistances to the racist police state, and that is because they are coming from a country that is homogenous with different issues or different conceptions of police violence.
America is the land of the socially dead. Many authors such as Frank B. Wilderson and Hortense Spillers write about how the middle passage stripped Africans of their identity and subjected them to social death. They came on the ships as African and came out as “Black.”
The same violent voyage that stripped the Africans of their identity is being replicated in a different way. Many Caribbean and African immigrants must integrate themselves within African American communities where they may or may not be accepted. Some more quickly than others must come to the realization that once they are in America, it does not matter if they are Haitian or Nigerian. They are “Black”.
The result of this phenomena can be seen in our quotidian interaction, such as being mistaken for an African American, especially with the absence of a thick foreign accent, or in dire cases when racist cops want to enact anti-Black violence. In these cases, they do not ask whether one is an immigrant, but they assume because of your dark complexion that this person must be inhuman, stateless and therefore must be eradicated.
Due to these tensions that were caused by violent historical phenomena, contentions over who have access to the category of “Black” emerges. African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants sometimes negate the category “Black,” because the term carries a very negative connotation amongst many in the African diaspora.
The rejection of the term has also become a way to resist being categorized as African Americans by Black immigrants. For me, the term “Black” is diasporic. I identify as “Black,” but I am not African American. I differentiate between race and ethnicity; racially I am “Black,” but ethnically I am Haitian.
Many cultural organizations on campus are split because of tensions born out of events that cause diaspora. These tensions are most visible to students of color that are apart of cultural organizations. I have seen these tensions manifest across Black, Latino and Asian student organizations.
Sometimes there is tension between domestic and international students of color because there is a contest over who has access to what categories and cultural forms.
I will leave the people of color on campus with this—I did not write this article to tell you how to identify. The way you will identify will come to you as you understand your position in the world. As a person that takes in the world through historical and anthropological lens, I can see how these tensions may have developed and instead of policing each other, we should collectively reflect on history. With this and only this, we may understand how these categories that define us are not stable.