Strategies for Success among African-Americans and Afro- Caribbeans: Overacheive, Be Cheerful or Confront

Date: 
09/28/2018 - 2:00pm
Location: 
Gatton Student Center
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s): 
Chrystal Y. Grey and Thomas Janoski

How can African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans from the former British colonies (Jamaica, Guyana, St. Kitts Nevis and Trinidad-Tobago) be so different in their approaches toward social mobility? Chrystal Grey and Thomas Janoski state that this is because native blacks grow up as “strangers” in their own country and immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean are raised as part of “the dominant group.” Unlike previous research that compares highly educated Afro-Caribbeans to the broad range of African-Americans, this study holds social-class constant by looking only at successful blacks in the upper-middle-class from both groups. They find that African-Americans pursue overachievement strategies of working much harder than others do, while Afro-Caribbeans follow an optimistic job strategy expecting promotions and success. However, African-Americans are more likely to use confrontational strategies if their mobility is blocked. The main cause of these differences is that Afro-Caribbeans grow up in a system where they have many examples of black politicians and business leaders, and African-Americans don’t. Further, the schooling system in Afro-Caribbean countries does not label blacks as underachievers because the schools are almost entirely black. Also African-Americans face resentment from a small but significant number of blacks who accuse them of “acting white,” which Afro-Caribbeans don’t and refer to this as “an African-American thing.” To demonstrate these differences, they do a historical-comparative analysis of the two black experiences after slavery, and qualitative interviews of 57 black people. We find consistent differences between the two groups. Using theories of symbolic interaction and ressentiment, this work challenges previous studies that either claim that Afro-Caribbeans are more motivated than African-Americans, or each group is more or less the same. They discuss the implications of the study.

Chrystal Y. Grey earned her doctorate in sociology from the University of Kentucky.
Thomas Janoski is professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky.

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