Changing Face of Black America
Source: Black America Web
By Wayne Dawkins
For the first time, more Africans are entering the United States than the last waves brought here enslaved in the early 1800s, the New York Times reported on Monday.
There’s even a new name for these new arrivals, Salih Booker of Africa Action explained: African Neo-Diaspora. The “neo” is a time distinction that says Africans are coming here under different circumstances, either as immigrants chasing the American dream or as refugees escaping dangers in their native land.
Either way, Booker and other Africa watchers explained that the phenomenon will reshape the American landscape over decades.
The Times reported that since 1990, at least 700,000 African immigrants – about 50,000 a year – settled legally in America. Nearly two centuries ago in 1807 the importation of African slaves ended, and post-slavery, African immigration was severely restricted by the government for much of the 1900s.
Booker said that African immigrants compared to others from Europe, Asia and the Western Hemisphere are still restricted, yet the burst in African immigration is remarkable -- so remarkable that in 2004, for the first time, the majority of refugees entering America were African, 28,000 out of 52,000 documented refugees, said Tsehaye Teferra, director of the Ethiopian Community Development Council in Arlington, Va. Documented, I’ll note, because a source in the Times story said that actual African migration to America quadruples the official numbers.
Such volume, observed Bill Fletcher of the TransAfrica Forum, means that African immigrants “are changing the face of black America.”
“African-Americans,” he added, “need to think much more broadly of whom we are as a people and learn their culture and be tolerant.”
Why? “There’s going to be a danger or a perception of competition,” Fletcher counseled, “and a danger of intolerance,” as in American blacks telling African immigrants, ‘We were here first. Learn English.’”
The flip side of this equation, Fletcher added, is that African immigrants are going to have to learn more about who we are. Many of the new arrivals may not know about black America’s struggles with racism and poverty.
Booker explained why many newly arrived Africans may not initially feel black America’s pain. “Like other waves of immigrants,” he said, “people are focused on their own security – jobs, housing and social services like learning the language.
“Phase II means that once they are more secure, they go for family reunification,” Booker continued. “With Phase III, you see them participating in the political process in our country.”
Examples include former mayors Emmanuel Onunwor of East Cleveland, Ohio, who's from Nigeria, and Babatunde Deinbo of Berkeley, Mo., also from Nigeria.
So what about U.S. Sen. Barack Obama?
He is red, white, blue and obviously black, the U.S.-born child of an immigrant father from Kenya, and yes, Obama, said Booker, “is the poster child for the political arrival of the next wave of people of African descent.”
Educationally, Africans are the highest performing of all immigrants, said Booker, contrary to negative stereotypes about Africans.
And whether African immigrants acknowledge the reality or not, when they touch American soil, they are black; their skin color defines them in the eyes of whites and many blacks, not their tribe or country of origin.
Unfortunately, their redefinition has meant lethal consequences for some; reference Amadou Diallo, the unarmed immigrant from Guinea who in 1999 was shot 41 times by police for making the fatal mistake of reaching for his wallet. Or Ousmane Zongo of Burkina Faso, another unarmed immigrant, who was fatally shot by a plainclothes New York cop in 2003. The shooter is on currently on trial.
Booker said that after years or several decades of contacts in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and many small towns, tensions between African immigrants and native blacks are familiar. There are the anecdotes about African taxi drivers displacing Americans, or competing for the other readily available employment.
A re-energizing impact of these immigrants is going to the doctor, dentist or accountant in core cities and being served by a native Ghanaian or Nigerian. Immigrants, said Booker, often fill a void left by native middle-class blacks who have moved on to the suburbs.
Expect African immigrants to keep coming to the United States and redefine our American quilt. Black America in the 21st century, said Fletcher, means “we’re not just the descendants of slaves from the South.”
So now, more than ever, there's a mutual opportunity -- and responsibility -- for blacks in America, neo and native, to learn each others' culture.
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