It is without a doubt that African immigrants stand on the shoulders of black Americans who bore the brunt of white violence and terror in this country.
Every act of resistance and defiance carried out by black Americans, for centuries, paved the way for an America that an African immigrant can thrive in.
African immigrants are often tokenized for their unsuspected success in America. For their high graduation rates, high salaries and ability to achieve the American Dream.
According to Pew Research, "the share of foreign-born blacks from Africa with a college degree is higher than that of the overall U.S. population", and "household incomes for foreign-born blacks are on average $10,000 higher than U.S.-born blacks, and black immigrants are less likely to live in poverty."
The Immigration Act of 1965 allowed for an influx of Asian, African, and Latin American immigrants to enter the United States. The Immigration Act changed the racial and ethnic makeup of America by eliminating the archaic race and nation based formula, which previously only allowed for European immigrants to enter the country; a policy deeply rooted in racism and white supremacy.
The Immigration Act of 1965, however, was not passed due to the altruism of American lawmakers, it was in fact, in direct response to the expectations and demands set by the Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Movement forced America to confront its racist policies, both domestically and abroad. The United States could no longer tout about racial equity, while racist immigration laws were clearly turning away non-white immigrants and refugees.
It was black leaders who pushed for Civil Rights in America, who strategized and began the process of dismantling white supremacy in this country. Black leaders, however, aren't revered the way they should be in immigrant communities. In my experience as a first generation African immigrant, Black History Month was not celebrated enough. There was an appreciation for leaders such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, who were undeniably influential, but there was also a concerted effort to distance oneself from the black American experience, to dismiss and undermine all that black Americans have endured and overcome.
This tendency to dissociate and dismiss is complex and rooted in the need to assimilate, and also in a lack of understanding about black history and the black American experience.
This is not to say that African immigrants have not faced and dealt with their fair share of political oppression, both abroad and here in America (especially during such xenophobic times).
However, it is to make clear that there needs to be an active and joint effort to recognize, respect and uplift black American history.
If you're an African immigrant, celebrate Black History Month by recognizing that your stability, success, and accomplishments would not be made possible without Civil Rights Activists. Make an effort this Black History Month to organize and engage in diasporic movement building. Celebrate Black History Month by educating yourself and your community about the intergenerational impacts of slavery, of the realities of structural and institutional racism and of the ways in which we can learn from and show up for black Americans.
Happy Black History Month!
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