Becoming Black

“Becoming Black” is an oral history project which centers Afro-Caribbean immigrants in New York City, and the ways that these immigrants, now understood as Black immigrants, re/construct identity as Black and/or African American, through the meaning-making and double process of

“coming simultaneously into ‘America’ and into ‘Black America’” (Kasinitz, 1992, 32).

More specifically, through the voice, memory and standpoint of Afro-Caribbean immigrants, it documents that moment of reckoning, realization and understanding by such of their Afro-descended bodies as Black, and holding new meaning in the diasporic space, and that racial systems and processes of racialization, racial quantification and stratification vary across borders.

This oral history project documents and preserves immigrant histories, stories and experiences, which are also part of the Black experience here in the United States, and particularly in New York City, home to the largest share of not only Black immigrants, but also Caribbean immigrants.

The archive thus adds to the literature and studies on Afro-Caribbean and Black immigrants in the United States, identity formation, race and racialization. It allows for an understanding of the micro/macro linkages of identity formation and Blackness through the voice of the respondents. Now, we hear their voices!

It also presents as a teaching tool, archived and accessible to students and teachers. It can then be replicated on a smaller scale for students to engage in their own oral history projects.  As Mayotte and Vong (2021) argue, “oral history creates space for the lived experiences of students and their communities to become a central part of the curriculum.”

An important aspect of this project was the involvement of a Brooklyn College student as  Research Assistant. Most importantly, this student assisted in the creation of interview questions and also with the conducting of interviews. The research process was therefore one of mentorship, research as an active learning process, and one where the student researcher has contributed to the world of knowledge (Erickson, 2001).

“Becoming Black” is funded by the Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative (BRESI), City University of New York (CUNY). In the summer of 2020, CUNY received an historic gift of $10 million from the Mellon Foundation to drive change across its 25 colleges and schools and to develop and expand a range of initiatives, including efforts to advance social and racial justice. A central element of these efforts is the $3 million Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative (BRESI), which seeks to reimagine and further develop University programs in Black, Race and Ethnic Studies CUNY-wide.

(See: https://www.cuny.edu/academics/current-initiatives/bresi/history/)

Works Cited

Erikson, Rodney A. 2001. “Why Involve Students in Research?” Innovations in Undergraduate. Research and Honors Education: Proceedings of the Second Schreyer National Conference 2001. 10. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nchcschreyer2/10

Kasinitz, Paul. 1992. Caribbean New York. Black Immigrants and the Politics of Race. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mayotte, Cliff and Vong, Erin. 2021. “Using Oral History Projects to Boost SEL.” George Lucas Educational Foundation. eduTopia. Accessible at: https://www.edutopia.org/article/using-oral-history-projects-boost-sel

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