From HALELUYA HADERO, Associated Press
Inspired by global protests against systemic racism and police brutality, Nigerian-American blogger Nifesimi Akingbe put on a black shirt that said “I am black history” and started recording a video.
Akingbe then listed her frustrations about racism in America and delivered her message to black immigrant communities like her own: This is your struggle too.
“When these cops see us, or when some of these racist people see us, they see a black person,” Akingbe said during the 34-minute video that was posted on YouTube. They don’t care if you were born in Alabama, if you were born in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone. You see a color. “
Akingbe, from the suburb of Baltimore, is one of the many young black immigrants or children of immigrants who advocate racial justice while trying to convince older members of their communities that these issues should matter to them too.
“I feel like their mindset is different,” the 31-year-old told The Associated Press, referring to immigrants like her parents who she says are more likely to overlook racial issues.
Of course, most black immigrants have seen the brutal legacy of European colonization, and those from Latin American and Caribbean countries have histories of slavery in their own countries.
In the US, from the civil rights movement to the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, there has also been generational tensions in the Afro-American community when it comes to opposing racism. But these were largely about tactics, said David Canton, professor of African American history at the University of Florida.
“Everyone has a role in the movement. People have to learn to live with it and respect people’s choices, ”Canton said.
Like Akingbe, Nigerian compatriot Ade Okupe has held talks with elderly immigrants in the hope that they will see the police brutality as something that affects them too.
So far, the 27-year-old has not been successful.
“It’s not a problem for the older generation,” said Okupe, who lives in Parkville, a suburb of Baltimore. During some of their chats, older immigrants tell him that they came to America to work and give their children a better life, not to protest the race.
“They want to make sure they don’t do anything that shakes the boat,” said Daniel Gillion, author of The Loud Minority: Why Protests Are Important in American Democracy.
“They are trying to be good citizens in their eyes, and protests – they push back and criticize the nation – are not their perception of being a good citizen.”
For some immigrants, their attitudes are determined by concerns about their children.
Elsa Arega, an Ethiopian immigrant living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was appalled by the police murder of George Floyd in May and is taking care of the proceedings. But she also wants to bring her daughter, a student in Virginia, to safety and fears that her daughter could put herself in danger if she takes part in protests.
“I just want her to focus on her education,” said Arega, speaking her Amharic mother tongue. “People come to this country to work and to change their lives so they don’t get into conflict with the government.”
The number of black immigrants to the United States has increased in recent decades largely due to family reunification, the reception of refugees from war-torn countries like Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the diversity visa lottery program, according to the Migration Policy Institute .
This has resulted in ethnic enclaves dominating the US. West African communities dominate New York City, Ethiopians have made a name for themselves in the Washington, DC area, and Black immigrants from the Caribbean are prominent in Florida and New York City. Somalis have a sizable presence in Minneapolis, where Floyd died under the knee of a white policeman who was later charged along with three other policemen.
The global protest movement sparked by Floyd’s death came eight years after the death of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, son of a Jamaican immigrant, by police in the Bronx.
In 1999, Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed in one shot of 41 shots fired by four white New York police officers who believed his wallet was a weapon. His death sparked widespread demonstrations, but officials were acquitted of all charges in 2000. That same year, the fatal police shooting of Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old Haitian American, sparked another wave of protests against police brutality in New York.
Such police killings can be unsettling to immigrants, many of whom come to the United States in search of a better life and then find themselves embroiled in America’s centuries-old racial struggle.
“When you get here and find that they are not treated differently, they feel a certain camaraderie with black Americans,” said Bill Ong Hing, founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and law professor at the University of San Francisco.
In fact, Opal Tometi, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, was one of the co-founders of the original Black Lives Matter network. Civil rights activist Malcolm X was also the son of an immigrant from Grenada.
“At the end of the day we are all one,” said Kwad Annor, a 25-year-old Ghanaian American who lives in Houston. “We are all a community in the diaspora, whether you are a black American from the African continent or you come from somewhere else.”
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