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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Census 2010:
African and West Indian Americans Agree on Census Issue

The national campaign for Census participation among Blacks has fostered a unifying bond between African Americans and Black immigrants, who, historically, have had strained relations.  Under the common goal of motivating Blacks to be counted, advocacy groups for Caribbean and African immigrants have joined civil rights activists to form the Unity Diaspora reports:

In a nation where most blacks trace their origins to slavery, immigrants and refugees from the Caribbean and Africa are redefining what it means to be a black American. Jamaican and Haitians are the largest immigrant groups among those from the Caribbean, based largely in Florida and New York. Nigerians are the largest group among African immigrants.

Many black immigrants' homelands have a history of slavery, but they don't necessarily equate that with the U.S. legacy of slavery, Afrifa says. That's why immigrants cling to national origins rather than racial identities.

"Somebody from Jamaica may not identify themselves as African-American, black or Negro," says Melanie Campbell, executive director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation who helped found the Unity Diaspora Coalition. "This is about understanding that the black population is not monolithic but that we're all part of the American experience."(Read full article)
The collective cultural identity of Black American continues to become more complex as the our population becomes more diverse, yet whether one self identifies as an African American or a Black immigrant the socioeconomic implications of being Black in this country remains the product of national perception.  Racial bias is based on a universal racial perception.  More plainly, when a cab driver chooses not to pick up a Black man, that decision is not based on the fare's country of origin, but on that cab drivers overall perception of Black people. 

The importance of cultural pride cannot be dismissed, especially in this country that is rooted so deeply in immigrant populations.  Yet, I wonder if this self imposed distinction between Black immigrants and African Americans (read: slave descendants) does more damage than good for the Black American population as a whole.  I am hopeful that this new coalition will bring increased dialogue and understanding between the two groups, and with it the realization that we are stronger when stand together.
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