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West Indian Girls Work Hard to Fit In

CaribWorldNews , News Report, Staff Posted: Jan 28, 2009

NEW YORK - When it comes to identity, a new study claims teenage girls born in the U.S. to Caribbean parents, work hard to fit in.

Fordham University's Dr. Oneka LaBennett, found that second generation Caribbean teenage girls she studied in one Brooklyn area, between the ages of 12 to 17, "code switched."

That simply means, "they found ways to assimilate in school, at home, at work and among friends by playing up the ethnic identity that served them best," LaBennett tells Gina Vergel of `Inside Fordham.`

Anthropologists and sociologists call it code switching since it means the teens behave one way in one social context and then another way in another setting.

"I definitely saw them [code switching]; they knew strategically when to assert a West Indian identity or an African-American one," she is quoted as saying. This included the way they acted in front of their parents and African Americans.

"The girls downplayed any interest in hip-hop culture often associated with African Americans," in front of their parents, she said, but away from them they sang along to some hip-hop songs.
And they also switched identities to align with their African-American peers.

"It was actually more of a bidirectional process the West Indian teens influenced the African-American teens and the African-American teens influenced the West Indian teens," she said. "There was a great deal of sharing."

LaBennett, assistant professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies and co-research director for the Bronx African American History Project, began researching first-and second-generation Caribbean teens for her dissertation more than 10 years ago.

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