New Study Differentiates ‘Black’ in America…And Find Many U.S. Blacks Are Foreign Born


*Are you black or African American? If this is a question you never really considered much, and flippantly answer one way or another on any given day (like me), you might want to change that. Not that its wrong, but a new study shows that a growing number of black people in America are foreign-born immigrants; and this may now make it necessary for African Americans to check a different box on that application, if you get my drift.

The new study sheds greater light on the people ‘black’ may more accurately represent.

The U.S. Census Bureau-based data shows that many black people  now residing in the U. S. come from other countries such as the Caribbean and countries in Africa such as Nigeria and Ethiopia. Currently, according to the study, 9 percent of blacks in the United States were born outside the country and the number of foreign-born blacks in the U.S. has tripled since 1980.

The Census Bureau projects that by 2060, more than 16 percent of U.S. blacks will be immigrants. And in this study they tend to be older, better educated, and wealthier than U.S. born blacks.

Its no surprise that the report reveals the sizable number of immigrants who have made their home in metropolitan cities such as New York and Miami ; the latter of which has immigrants making up roughly one-third of the black residents; while 28 percent reside in  New York City.

America’s diversity continues to be an intriguing topic for dialogue. But rarely does the conversation point to black immigrants. Discussions tend to generally focus on immigrants from South America, Asian countries or those crossing the Mexican border.

It’s estimated that there are at least 400,000 black people living in the United States who are undocumented.

This study not only reveals the large number of black immigrants that occupy and thrive (even more than U. S. born blacks) in the U. S., but also lends itself to an interesting discussion as to why that is; and what this means in a country with such a complex racial history.

While the professional analysts have their theories, this writer has lived with blacks from Africa and have had the opportunity to see how African families tend to be more cohesive when it comes to supporting each other. For example, an African family member living in another country like Dubai or Australia – where they can work and make large sums of money – will more readily send large sums of money to their relative living in America. Their entire attitude as far as helping each other differs from blacks born in America.

“Immigrants in general have to deal with adapting to a new country,” William Frey, a demographer and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told TakePart.

“Often there’s a language issue, and sometimes it’s being able to find jobs. The African-American community goes back many generations and has its own set of issues that many feel haven’t been dealt with yet, but those are distinctly different concerns than the ones facing black immigrants,” he adds.

lupita-nyongo with her Academy award
Lupita Nyongyo holds her Academy Award for her performance in “12 Years a Slave”

One of those issues may be the fight for Affirmative Action, which was initially designed to  help bring talented members of historically marginalized groups into many institutions of American society.

But when a 2004 Princeton study found that immigrants accounted for more than a quarter of black students at America’s Ivy League schools forcing some to question the relevance of affirmative action policies.

“It has to do with coming from a country, especially those educated in Caribbean and African countries, where blacks were in the majority and did not experience the stigma that black children did in the United States,” Harvard Law School professor Lani Guinier theorized in a 2007 article in The Washington Post.  Guinier and other black Harvard professors later argued that affirmative action policies were not helping America’s most disadvantaged blacks—those who were the direct descendants of American slaves—access the country’s most prestigious colleges.

An important part of this narrative is if—and how—black immigrants experience race and racism in America. And if that experience differs from that of U.S. born blacks.

Hollywood might be a good place to start. And while African American actors have always had to fight for representation in the film industry, its hard to ignore that some of the most popular recent films dealing with race in America has been driven by black actors not born in the U.S. Actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, who starred in 12 Years a Slave along with Lupita Nyong’o, and  David Oyelowo of Selma appear to have taken the industry by storm; to such a degree that one writer at Madame Noire, a popular black blog, wondered if Hollywood was replacing African American actors on screen with African ones.

And Trevor Noah, a biracial South African comedian who was recently announced as the new host of The Daily Show, certainly brings the black differential to the fore as he has sometimes made African Americans the butt of his jokes. It’s humor that may not be popular with many blacks in the U.S., but as someone who grew up in the realm of apartheid, his perspective on race might be seen as a new and important one.

Chiwetel Ejiofor drove "12 Years a Slave" to success with his portrayal of Simon Northrup
Chiwetel Ejiofor drove “12 Years a Slave” to success with his portrayal of Simon Northrup

Still, even with the bright lights of Hollywood calling, it would be naive to think that black immigrants are immune to the hazards of American racism.

Diversity is nothing new to Black America. With the data that shows what that diversity actually looks like we now can start a conversation on what this actually means and how to deal with it.



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