On the relationship between “African Americans” and black immigrants
Ah, the elephant. This relationship has been described as strained, volatile, formative, cooperative—all true. It would be foolish to close one’s eyes to the differences between black immigration and “native” African-Americans in how the two “groups” relate to each other and how they each relate to America. As much as this issue is sometimes unnecessarily sensationalized, there are countless historical and contemporary examples of collaborative projects. The fundamental differences are, in fact, a matter of historical perspective.
Picture a wall.
Historically all black people in America have faced a wall to their achievement of the American dream. Over the centuries, through the sweat and blood many African-Americans, windows have gradually been broken in that wall; windows large enough for people to jump through. Nevertheless, there are still huge chunks of wall remaining. Many African Americans still feel a responsibility to break down what remains of the wall. Some scholars have described the African-American project as a project of TRANSFORMATION.
Enter The Neo African Americans. Most of them come from places so full of walls that when they enter America and they encounter this thing they don’t see a wall; they see windows. In fact, they come here looking for windows, so their main objective in America is to figure out how to jump through those windows. In that regard, they are more immigrant than black. You could call the black immigrant project a project of EXPLOITATION.
These broad differences in perspective sometimes create a tension between black immigrants and African-Americans. It is important to remember that black immigrants are not immune to the walls and in fact any black immigrant who jumps through a window is standing on the shoulders, or bodies, of African-Americans. Before the New York cops shot Ahmadou Diallo or brutalized Abner Louima, it’s unlikely they asked them: “Are you African American?”
Whether you see a window or wall is largely dependent on your socialization.
Looking ahead, whether you see a window or wall is also a question of strategy: Should black people spend energy breaking down the rest of the wall so everyone can just walk through, or jumping through the windows in such numbers that the rest of the walls crumble? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.