Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Phillip Johnson

Second Advisor

Dr. Carla Adkinson-Johnson

Third Advisor

Dr. Mariam Konate


African-Caribbean, Caribbean immigrants, racial awakening, racialization, epiphany, somebodiness


The purpose of this study is to describe and understand what race means to first-generation African Caribbean immigrants. Specifically, the study seeks to understand these immigrants’ experience of being Black in America. African Caribbean immigrants migrate to America with a concept of race that is very different from that of the United States. However, upon arriving in America, they encounter the American construct of race that not only diverges significantly from that with which they are familiar, but find that they are being racialized in the American sense. In professional counseling, we have yet to understand the way these immigrants make sense of this experience with race in America and the effect it might have on them.

Ten self-identified, first-generation African Caribbean immigrants completed one-on-one, in-depth interviews in which they describe their experiences with race in America. Four major themes in the participants’ statements emerge in the data analysis. These include: “Back Home,” “I try to not let it be what it is,” “I became aware,” and “Racism is real, and you got to deal with it.” The analysis suggests that African Caribbean immigrants emigrate from predominantly Black majority states in the Caribbean with an understanding of, and experience with, race that is very different from that which they encounter in the United States. While they do make distinctions based on shades of skin color, other sociopolitical identities, such as education, family of origin, and wealth, also are important determinants of social status or class. When they arrive in America, they immediately have negative experiences with race that challenge their pre-migratory experiences and beliefs.

The analysis also shows that when they first arrive and have these encounters with race, they are unsure of how to make sense of their experiences and often resort to avoidance to cope with them until they experience a moment of epiphany about their experiences with race in America, which they describe as “becoming aware.” This epiphany is a recognition that they are being racialized, that as individuals with black skin in America, they are socialized as a racially oppressed minority group and experience racism and discrimination that is part of the Black experience in America. This awareness is also an acknowledgment that race in America cannot be overcome despite achieving other sociopolitical identities, as in the Caribbean. Once they develop this cognizance of being racialized, they tend to push back against it actively using several strategies. First, they come to accept the reality of race in America, and then begin to address incidents of racism when the occur. They also choose to cling intentionally to their pre-emigratory beliefs and symbols of their culture, such as maintaining their accents and interactions with other people from the Caribbean, which helps them maintain the sense of humanity and dignity they had before they came to America.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access