Why I Feel Like An American Stranger In Brooklyn for Labor Day.

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In March 1918, black scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois wrote The Black Man and the Unions:
“I am among the few colored men who have tried conscientiously to bring about understanding and co-operation between American Negroes and the Labor Unions.” A born and raised Bk girl is what I have always been and represent; yet when Labor Day comes around I feel lost in my own borough. How did the days’ original meaning get lost is a question that I often ponder.

Growing up in Bed-Stuy gave me a totally different perspective and experience on the Labor Day parade, also known as the West Indian American Day Carnival.  My friends and I always looked forward to taking the just about mile long walk to Eastern Parkway to observe the steel drum, vibrant costumes and great eats of the Caribbean culture. A day filled with running into old friends and meeting new ones as well.  I can remember being a teenager and having a fond appreciation for the cultural pride that was represented during the parade.

Moving to Flatbush (Prospect Lefferts Gardens) totally changed the game.  My very first Labor Day in the neighborhood was a culture shock, as I had never even heard of J’ouvert, the pre Labor Day celebration and the fact that it was actually taking place in my backyard.  I had to actually show the police my driver’s license to be allowed to drive pass a certain point in order to get to my street.  From then on I made it a point to not be in town during the holiday weekend.  Honestly, I think it was a combination of the all night noise and the senseless violence that was reported in the aftermath that got to me. Even as I type this post, there has been so many reported acts of violence including a NYS employee of  Governor Cuomo’s office this 2015 weekend in itself.

Because of the way I grew up, I was always accepting of other cultures and interestingly, it wasn’t until I moved to Flatbush that I began to feel like an American Stranger.  Frequently being asked, not only where I was from but my lineage at times, dating back to my grandparents.  All the while thinking, am I not in Brooklyn, New York, the American from which I was born?  Even as I attempted to get involved in community work, I was constantly ask the same question, when I repeatedly gave the response of being born and raised in Brooklyn and my parents both being from NYC and my grand parents and great grandparent being from the south….. ooh, the shade.

Now don’t get me wrong, many of my nearest and dearest friends are Caribbean. Yet it still doesn’t change the fact that when Labor day comes around, I am reminded of how far we’ve gotten away from the meaning of holiday and it doesn’t seem to be a big deal partially, because of the colorful distractions.

Mas Camps

Mas Camp

Mas Camp

Mas Camp Band

Mas Camp Band

– At some point during the beginning of the summer, they just appear and with increasing frequency as you get closer to Labor day.  The pre celebratory festivities ensue with storefront crowds, drinking and sidewalk barbecuing.


J'ouvert All nighters

J’ouvert All Nighters


Parade Participants

-Back to back traffic, all night music, and basically no sleep for almost a full 24 hours before the parade.


Policing the Parade

Policing the Weekend Festivities

-If the loud music is not enough, the helicopters hovering over the streets combined with the remnants of horse poop and patrol that is keeps the community “safe” if a nightmare in itself.

If there’s something that I miss, it’s not being a stranger in my beloved Brooklyn for Labor Day. Remembering the purpose of the holiday for black people, being able to listen to the music of my choice, and enjoying the last unofficial weekend of summer in the way that I choose seems to be too much to ask for and offensive to some.

As my family returned from vacation just yesterday, a friend of mine posted a video that was funny however; so true and resonated with many:

When you live near the labor day parade….

Posted by Christine Haire on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Labor Day is so much more then a parade and a day off; Spread Love, It’s the BrooKlyn Kisha Way! 

What Labor Day Means to Me....

What Labor Day Means to Me….



Not a "Mommy Blogger" but a Mom that Blogs!


  1. Rhonda

    Tuesday, September 08, 2015 at 5:34 am

    Ok. I’m not born and raised in BK, but I can definitely relate to this. I grew up in Queens and several of my neighbors were of Caribbean background. I, too have friends from various Caribbean countries. I don’t really have a problem with anyone from ANY where.While I’m all for folks celebrating their culture, I often regret not getting out of town on this day. (Really, it’s only since I moved into this area. When I lived a little further down the road, I was fine on Labor Day.) It was, I guess, startling, the first time the J’ouvert parade came by my building and startled me out of my half-sleep. I really have no interest in attending any of the festivities; the violence at or connected to what’s supposed to be a celebration is disturbing and sad.
    About feeling like an American Stranger – girl, yes. I wouldn’t call it that, but I do relate to the feeling. I do realize that “I” moved into a Caribbean neighborhood so it’s not like I expect people to cater to me. For the most part, my neighbors are friendly. I haven’t gotten questioned about my background here, but have at other places: college, WORK. When I say that my both parents are from Harlem, born and raised, and all four of my grandparents are from the South, I get the screw face, a disappointed, “Ohhhh…”, or I never get spoken to again. (!) Now, I understand that folks from outside the US may want those who look like them to be from where they’re from, but I’m always taken aback a bit by the responses. And I don’t go around asking folks about their racial or cultural background. I was told that that’s a privilege of being American. Ok. :-/ Let’s not even start on the comments I hear (not necessarily directed toward me) “Stupid Americans” “lazy Black Americans” “They’re raised differently” “noculture, no pride”, all kinda foolishness. I find we’re seen in a way that always makes me think “I don’t know anyone like that so what kind of folks are THEY associating with??” I also find that those who think that way don’t know many Black Americans to begin with. I could go on about that but I’ll stop right here.
    Sorry for blogging in your blog. And for it being kinda all over the place. I hope i didn’t get off topic but it is “Labor Day” weekend and I’m running on little sleep while folks #turndownforwhat.

    • Lakisha

      Wednesday, September 09, 2015 at 3:32 am

      It so mind-blowing to me that I never experienced my nationality being questioned until I moved to Flatbush and at work now that you mentioned it; it never mattered. Isn’t it amazing how Caribbean people act as if their surprised that your American, with a college education and successful career. The thinking is you cant be from here and actually took advantage of the opportunities so some where down the line you must have some Caribbean blood in you-ha! Like didn’t they migrate here for the opportunities?

      • Rhonda

        Wednesday, September 09, 2015 at 3:59 am

        Right. And don’t get to taking about how your parents or grandparents were actually hard working, not bumbling stereotypes. That just can’t be. But if you say something about how ridiculous their thinking is, you’re wrong for saying it because you’re American and as prejudice. I could really go on about this but I’ll stop. I’m just glad I’m not the only one who noticed the BS from, not all, but a lot of them.

  2. Yulunda

    Tuesday, September 08, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    Hello BK! This what a great read and I have learned something new. It is amazing to me the borders in NYC and the segregation in a sense.

    • Lakisha

      Wednesday, September 09, 2015 at 3:25 am

      Hi Yulunda!

      The segregation that exist in NYC is sad, but true indeed and it extends way beyond B & W. Our neighborhoods and schools are some of the most segregated in the country….. go figure being the melting pot and all.

  3. tribecalledcurl

    Tuesday, September 08, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Great post, Kisha. As a fellow Black (non-Caribbean, non-direct African) American, I can appreciate your perspective. I think the larger issue is the division between Black people, and the demise of Pan Africanism. It’s possible to love and embrace your individual ethnicity and culture *and* embrace a broader identity as a person of African descent, it just doesn’t happen very often. If parade participants embraced a spirit of inclusion beyond people from the Caribbean, it would more enjoyable for all of us. In terns of the policing, it seems unavoidable given the size of the parade and history of violence. How can we get attendees to police themselves, and not bring weapons to the celebration? Other groups have parades and events without the similar tragedies.

    • Rhonda

      Wednesday, September 09, 2015 at 1:48 am

      I agree regarding the policing. It’s the participants who have to do better. The police can’t do it all…and won’t. I just read an article in which officers are saying they’re indicted to look the other way during the parade when they see crimes happening – marijuana smoking, drinking, etc. They don’t arrest for fear of rioting, and the parade-goers know it. Smh

      • Lakisha

        Wednesday, September 09, 2015 at 3:46 am

        I’m so disappointed in us because at the end of the day, the police are not separating us according to cultural differences. I’m so embarrassed that in order to have an event the neighborhood has to turn into desert storm with police on horses and helicopters. My 18 year old hit the nail on the head yesterday when he said we need to start respecting ourselves the way we want to be respected.

    • Lakisha

      Wednesday, September 09, 2015 at 3:22 am

      Hi TCC!
      I so agree with you in terms of the demise of Pan Africanism and the divisiveness among Black People. It would totally be a great thing if as people of African decent, we recognized how we are one even in our vastness, and could do that much more in our communities by standing together (all the time and not just during crisis). Growing up, character was important in my neighborhood. I appreciate the work that the Tribe is doing as it is definitely bridging gaps among women of color. Thanks for checking in!

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