Social Organization. The West Indians' place in American society and their status vis-à-vis African-Americans is a complex topic. West Indians came from societies in which they were the racial majority, in which a British-imposed Social class system was a feature of everyday life, and in which they had greater educational, economic, and political opportunities than did African-Americans in the United States. In the United States they found and continue to find a much different situation. They are classified by Whites as Black and are subject to the same racial discrimination, though both Black West Indians and African-Americans believe that Whites treat the former somewhat differently than they do the latter. But though they are treated as if the same as African-Americans, Black West Indians distinguish themselves from African-Americans, and though they often live in the same areas, there are noticeable differences in speech, dress, cuisine, religious beliefs, and life-style.
West Indian ethnic identity is tied to the island from which one emigrated rather than to a general pan-West Indian identity and is reflected in marriage mainly to people from the same island and the various island ethnic associations formed in the 1920s and 1930s.
Political Organization. Black West Indians who came to the United States in the early 1900s brought with them a tradition of political activism and some experience as officials in the British colonial governments. In the United States Political activism for racial equality flourished in the Black West Indian community. Marcus Garvey, an immigrant from Jamaica who was eventually sent back there, and his Universal Negro Improvement Association is the best-known but not the only Black West Indian political movement in the United States. As noted above, many leaders of the civil rights movement were or are of West Indian ethnic ancestry. Today, Because they are lumped by Whites with African-Americans and because they also often live in the same communities, West Indian political interests are often merged with those of African-Americans.