Am I black enough? I used to ask myself that question throughout my elementary and high school years. The question became even more pressing during Black History Month. Each year Black History Month came rolling around, I always learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver. After a while, I hit a “back of the bus” and peanut overload.
I began asking myself the following questions:
1. Were those the only black people who contributed something to history?
2. When we celebrate Black History Month, do we only pay homage to the accomplishments made by African Americans?
3. Have Haitians and other people from black nations ever contributed something to history? They’re black too…
4. Since I am Haitian American, am I not black enough?
While I was growing up, question #4 definitely weighed heavily on my mind. I am a Haitian American. My parents were born in Haiti and I was born in the United States. My skin color is black, but my ethnicity says something else. Am I black enough?
My parents had always taught me to be proud of who I was and the rich history behind me. And I was very proud, but I was not ready for the way my peers would treat me when they found out that I was…”different”. It hurt to hear someone who I thought looked like me, say, “You’re not black, you’re Haitian. Haitians are different from blacks.” It came to a point where I was embarrassed to say that I was Haitian. It was a secret that only my closest friends and family knew. I would even whisper it to my teacher when she took her survey to find out our backgrounds. After a while, she knew that I was embarrassed about it. I felt even worse in February. All of my classmates were learning about “their history” and the contributions that were made by “their people”. While I sat back wondering why Haitians never contributed anything to history. Maybe Black History Month was only for Americans????
As I look back in retrospect, my parents did their part by being my first teacher. They taught me about my heritage and to never be ashamed of myself. They made it their duty to let me know that I come from a proud race of people. My teachers thought they were doing their part by teaching a lesson on Black History. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize that my educational needs were not being met. They never seemed to figure out how painful it was to be “different” from the other children in my class and that if they had added a little diversity to their lesson, things would have probably been a little easier for me. I just needed someone to help boost my self esteem. Eventually as I progressed through school, celebrating Black History became easier, I began to feel accepted by some of my peers, and I no longer questioned “being black enough”.
Now that I am on the other side of the classroom, I try to rectify some of the mistakes I feel my teachers made with me. Since I began teaching in 1998, I have always had quite a few Haitian children in my class. Black History Month would come along and I would only focus on African Americans. For a long time, I didn’t realize that I was making the same mistakes as my teachers in the past. This February, I thought about the make up of my class and I decided to introduce them to Haitians who have contributed to history. They were exposed to Edwidge Danticat, Michaelle Jean, W.E.B. DuBois, Toussaint L’Ouverture and a whole host of other Haitians that have definitely impacted the world we live in today. It was great to see the level of interest from the American children and the proud smiles of the Haitian children in my class. It makes me feel good to know that I may have boosted a child’s self esteem and taught something new.
Have your American friends ever made you feel like you weren’t “black enough”? Share your thoughts and feelings!