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“Haitians are Everywhere but Nowhere:” Race, Place, and Identity Formation among Chicago Haitians
thesisposted on 01.05.2021, 00:00 by Herrica Telus
Drawing on 55 interviews with second-generation Haitians in Chicago, I explore how the process of racialization shapes their racial and ethnic identities. Within a context of geographical dispersal and the absence of a critical mass of West Indians, Chicago Haitians are read externally and almost exclusively as Black (African American). I demonstrate that under these conditions, the homogeneity of Blackness not only subsumes Black immigrants’ ethnicity under a Black collective group, but resulted in participants’ constant negotiation and challenge of racial and cultural assumptions of Blackness held by themselves and others. As adolescents, Chicago Haitians consistently contended with the limited definition of Blackness by attempting to include Haitians within a collective Black racial category. However, in adulthood, increased exposure to predominantly White spaces and experiences of exclusion and discrimination led to the adoption of a pan-ethnic Black label that acknowledged a shared racial minority status. I argue Chicago Haitians navigate social spaces with different racial and ethnic boundaries, and this means they consistently are negotiating between fluid and multiple identities. In doing so, I challenge the segmented assimilation approach that adopts a singular, primary identity pathway and insufficiently accounts for the influence of anti-Blackness in shaping identity choices. I show that the process of racialization that influences Chicago Haitians' understanding of their Blackness in America encompasses multiple meaning systems and resulted in social distancing practices co-existing along sentiments of Black racial solidarity. My findings contribute to the broader understanding of Black immigrant incorporation demonstrating that identity choices vary based on the racial meaning systems in specific locales and due to the awareness of social and material consequences of pervasive anti-Blackness in the United States.