The Race to be African-American or Afro-Trinidadian

By  |  1 Comment
If you look at me, behind the sexiness and beautiful face, you can clearly tell that I am of African descent. And I completely understand why it is someone may be identified by his or her ethnicity. However, the incessant need to make our racial or ethnic background our definite identification, particularly in the US where I live, makes me wonder just how much individuality we truly have without stating what group of people we belong to.
I’m currently and involuntarily on vacation due to my recent lay-off from an eight-year role, as paralegal, at a prestigious, financial firm (prestigious in its own right). And because of this lay-off, I find myself eating, sleeping, and sh*tting job applications. It’s the first thing I do right after my morning prayers (notice I didn’t say right after brushing my teeth, because I can’t waste no time), and in between re-runs of television shows and “Family Feud”, and the last thing I do at night before I say my prayers.
Day in and out, I have to indicate almost all of my personal information on application after application, probably about five or more a day. And on every application the one thing that stands out every time is the need for me to identify my race.
On a job application, race is that bland, lonesome word, that’s supposed to help the employer identify or group you based on your ethnicity. What makes me wonder how important this bit of information is is that you’re offered the option to select “other”… as if being of some alien life form can be possible. The selection comes with a disclaimer that providing the information won’t jeopardize your chances of being selected (so they say), but rather to help with the demographics of those interested in the job.
In my current job search, I spend a great amount of time on each application, and if I were to time myself, I’m sure it will be an hour long. When I get to the part for me to indicate my race, I find myself wondering if I should select “other” and proceed to profess, “I was born in Trinidad and happen to live in the United States”. I mean, unless “other” is an option for non-humans… see my dilemma?
So the question still stands. Am I African-American if I was born in Trinidad, live in the US, but only have a green card? Or am I just a floating body, with no true identity? Does it even make a difference if I’m black or white, Chinee or Indian? You would think that an individual, who spends time in school garnering an education, wouldn’t have to subject to their race in order to get a job. Isn’t it about the intellect to perform the required tasks?
I know that I won’t be less capable of performing a job duty, if I select African-American, or write Afro-Trinidadian for my ‘other’ status. However, I’ve often wondered about the question since my true race and ethnicity are not even options in the listed selections. On some applications, and even my application for law school, I felt rebellious and indicated that I was African-Caribbean. It’s a term I made up, but it was the closest thing I identified with.
Then, some time ago, I came across the phrase Afro-Trinidadian, and the light bulb in my head went off… ah ha! That’s it! While I do live in the U.S. and do have some form of obligation to its laws, I always feel compelled to identify with being Afro-Trinidadian.  Call it pride, or patriotism, but if it comes down to me having to tell you where I come from, I’m honoured and proud to say I am Afro-Trinidadian.
But, what does my racial identification have to say about who I am as a person? Yes, collectively I belong to a group of people, but really and truly I am an individual. I love Calypso and Soca music, and I love Jazz and Rap music. I love pelau and roti, and I love Italian food as well. My racial background doesn’t entirely identify that part of me, so why is it that I’m boxed in, and subjected to indicate that I am African-American, or Afro-Trinidadian?
My reason for this rant is that somehow I feel that a person loses a bit of who he or she is internally by having to limit themselves by that one word. And it can be quite a burden to live up to. And with the growing group of interracial individuals who identify with more than one group, I believe that having that question on applications is obsolete.
You may say that I’m taking it just a bit too literal, but if the selection can be opted out from job applications in other countries, with just as many ethnic groups making up the population, then why is it still optional here in the US?
So to make things easy on myself, from now on, or until I become a US Citizen, I am and always will be Afro-Trinidadian.  And it would probably serve best for my potential employers to know this bit of information, because come Carnival time they will already know why I have to claim someone who’s already dead, died AGAIN.

afroamericanIf you look at me, behind the sexiness and beautiful face, you can clearly tell that I am of African descent. And I completely understand why it is someone may be identified by his or her ethnicity. However, the incessant need to make our racial or ethnic background our definite identification, particularly in the US where I live, makes me wonder just how much individuality we truly have without stating what group of people we belong to.


I’m currently and involuntarily on vacation due to my recent lay-off from an eight-year role, as paralegal, at a prestigious, financial firm (prestigious in its own right). And because of this lay-off, I find myself eating, sleeping, and sh*tting job applications. It’s the first thing I do right after my morning prayers (notice I didn’t say right after brushing my teeth, because I can’t waste no time), and in between re-runs of television shows and “Family Feud”, and the last thing I do at night before I say my prayers. 

Day in and out, I have to indicate almost all of my personal information on application after application, probably about five or more a day. And on every application the one thing that stands out every time is the need for me to identify my race. 

On a job application, race is that bland, lonesome word, that’s supposed to help the employer identify or group you based on your ethnicity. What makes me wonder how important this bit of information is is that you’re offered the option to select “other”… as if being of some alien life form can be possible. The selection comes with a disclaimer that providing the information won’t jeopardize your chances of being selected (so they say), but rather to help with the demographics of those interested in the job.  In my current job search, I spend a great amount of time on each application, and if I were to time myself, I’m sure it will be an hour long. When I get to the part for me to indicate my race, I find myself wondering if I should select “other” and proceed to profess, “I was born in Trinidad and happen to live in the United States”. I mean, unless “other” is an option for non-humans… see my dilemma?

So the question still stands. Am I African-American if I was born in Trinidad, live in the US, but only have a green card? Or am I just a floating body, with no true identity? Does it even make a difference if I’m black or white, Chinee or Indian? You would think that an individual, who spends time in school garnering an education, wouldn’t have to subject to their race in order to get a job. Isn’t it about the intellect to perform the required tasks?

I know that I won’t be less capable of performing a job duty, if I select African-American, or write Afro-Trinidadian for my ‘other’ status. However, I’ve often wondered about the question since my true race and ethnicity are not even options in the listed selections. On some applications, and even my application for law school, I felt rebellious and indicated that I was African-Caribbean. It’s a term I made up, but it was the closest thing I identified with.  

Then, some time ago, I came across the phrase Afro-Trinidadian, and the light bulb in my head went off… ah ha! That’s it! While I do live in the U.S. and do have some form of obligation to its laws, I always feel compelled to identify with being Afro-Trinidadian.  Call it pride, or patriotism, but if it comes down to me having to tell you where I come from, I’m honoured and proud to say I am Afro-Trinidadian.

But, what does my racial identification have to say about who I am as a person? Yes, collectively I belong to a group of people, but really and truly I am an individual. I love Calypso and Soca music, and I love Jazz and Rap music. I love pelau and roti, and I love Italian food as well. My racial background doesn’t entirely identify that part of me, so why is it that I’m boxed in, and subjected to indicate that I am African-American, or Afro-Trinidadian?

My reason for this rant is that somehow I feel that a person loses a bit of who he or she is internally by having to limit themselves by that one word. And it can be quite a burden to live up to. And with the growing group of interracial individuals who identify with more than one group, I believe that having that question on applications is obsolete.

You may say that I’m taking it just a bit too literal, but if the selection can be opted out from job applications in other countries, with just as many ethnic groups making up the population, then why is it still optional here in the US?  

So to make things easy on myself, from now on, or until I become a US Citizen, I am and always will be Afro-Trinidadian.  And it would probably serve best for my potential employers to know this bit of information, because come Carnival time they will already know why I have to claim someone who’s already dead, died AGAIN.

 

Image credit: thefreshxpress.com

 

Check out the rest of this week’s issue (17/10/11; Issue 77):

Look out for a new issue of Outlish.com every Monday!

 

Onika Pascal

Onika Pascal is a Trini living in New York, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is a single mom, author of two published collections of poetry, aspiring novelist ,and lover of all things purposeful.

1 Comment

  1. Chenise

    July 21, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Hi, what advice do you have for someone pursuing an Associate degree in Paralegal Studies ? I’m from Trinidad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *