What Pew’s New Report Didn’t Tell You About Black Immigrants
Opal Tometi, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter
Pew Research is just discovering something: Black people are not all the same. This is a truth that the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has been living for the nearly decade of its existence. And it is a truth that Black people have known for generations.
Several news outlets, including the NYT and USA Today covered a new report by Pew Research that said that there are 3.8 million Black immigrants in America, and that by 2060, 16.5 percent of the U.S. Black population will be immigrants. BAJI is the country’s only Black-led immigrant rights organization, and central to our advocacy is the shared experiences of Black immigrants and African-Americans. However, the Pew report oversimplifies demographic information to juxtapose African-Americans against Black immigrants, but the reality is much more complex. To fully understand the Black immigrant experience in the U.S., we must understand it, not in contrast to the African-American experience, but central to it.
African-Americans and Black immigrants share a resilience and a determination for a better life. I know this first-hand, and I am a product of the “wave” of Black immigrants profiled in the Pew report. My parents migrated to Phoenix, AZ in the ’80s, and I watched them work tirelessly to provide for me and my siblings as they encouraged us to pursue our dreams. For me, this means dedicating my life to social justice and human rights. As BAJI’s Executive Director and a co-creator of Black Lives Matter, I recognize that my family’s journey to the U.S. was made possible by the legacy of African-Americans’ fight for freedom and equality. My experience is shaped by being a Black woman in America, and by being the child of immigrants.
Instead of attempts to positions recent arrivals as a “model minority” out achieving and unencumbered by the issues prevalent to African-Americans, it is the persistence of the human spirit within African-Americans that laid the groundwork for this most recent wave of migration and the future success of these communities is tied closely together in the progress of racial justice in the U.S. Not a focus in the study, but definitely notable is the fact that African immigrants also outperform native born white Americans academically along with all other immigrant groups. Curiously, Pew research and media outlets responding to the study didn’t find this information as newsworthy. Most likely because it does not fit the convenient “Good Blacks vs. Bad Blacks” narrative. The reality is that it is the African-American led 1960s Civil Rights Movement that led to expanded immigration policies including African and Caribbean countries, opening the doors of opportunity to all.
Comparing the status of recently arrived Black immigrants to African-Americans is dishonest without discussing centuries of slavery and a decades-long, currently ongoing battle for full human dignity and rights.This argument also frames the challenges that African-American and Black communities in the U.S. as personal issues of adjustment, instead of the result of structural racism, which the Pew report leaves out.
For example, the higher education and incomes of African immigrants as cited by Pew, did not protect them from the same predatory lending that targeted African-Americans. The foreclosure crisis decimated the wealth of African-American and Black communities alike, such as in areas like Fairwood in Prince George County Maryland, where West African families were involved in nearly one-third of foreclosures, although they make up only five percent of the population.
As the Pew report shows, Black immigrants are migrating to the U.S. in record numbers. It is in this spirit that BAJI helped form a national member-based network of nearly 40 organizations representing both African-American and Black immigrant communities. The Black Immigration Network (BIN) works to build economic, social and political agenda towards these common goals. Most recently they successfully won an expedited reunification program for Haitian-American families. BIN took on the Reunite Haitian American Families Campaign because African-American communities and Black immigrants alike value family unity, the opportunity to achieve success and the freedom to pursue their dreams. As we look ahead to our very diverse future, BAJI plans to continue to be at the forefront, uniting Black communities to attain racial, social and economic justice for all.