Inspired by the global protests against systemic racism and police brutality, Nigerian American blogger Nifesimi Akingbe put on a black shirt that read “I am black history” and began recording a video.
Akingbe then went on to list her frustrations over racism in America and sent her message to black immigrant communities as her own: This is your fight, too.
“When these officers see us, or when some of these racist people see us, they see a black person,” Akingbe said during the 34-minute video posted on YouTube. They “do not care if you were born in Alabama, if you were born in Nigeria, in Ghana, in Sierra Leone. They see a color. ”
Akingbe from the suburb of Baltimore is among the many young black immigrants or children of immigrants who say they speak for racial justice, while also trying to convince older members of their community that these issues should matter to them as well.
“I feel like their thinking is different,”
To be sure, most black immigrants have experienced the brutal legacy of European colonization, and those from Latin American and Caribbean nations have a history of slavery in their own countries.
In the United States, from the civil rights movement to the current Black Lives Matter demonstrations, there has also been generational tension in African American society when it comes to taking a stand on racism. But these have largely been over tactics, said David Canton, a professor of African American history at the University of Florida.
“Everyone has a role to play in the movement. People need to learn to live with it and respect people’s decisions, ”Canton said.
Like Akingbe, the Nigerian American Ade Okupe has had conversations with older immigrants in the hope that they will see the brutality of the police as something that also affects them.
So far, the 27-year-old has said he has not been successful.
“It’s a no-brainer 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 about 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 Matter in American Democracy.”
“Trying to be good citizens and protesting in their eyes – pushing back and criticizing the nation – is not their perception of being a good citizen.”
For some immigrants, their attitude is driven by concerns about their children.
Elsa Arega, an Ethiopian immigrant living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was horrified by police killing George Floyd in May and worries about what’s going on. But she also wants to keep her daughter, a college student in Virginia, safe and fears her daughter could put herself in danger if she participates in protests.
“I just want her to focus on her education,” Arega said, speaking her mother tongue Amharic. “People come to this country to work and change their lives, not to quarrel with the government.”
The number of black immigrants to the United States has increased in recent decades, mainly due to family reunification, the admission of refugees from war-torn countries such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the diversity visa lottery program, according to the Migration Police Institute.
This has led to ethnic enclaves across the United States West African communities are dominant in New York City, Ethiopians have made their mark in the Washington, DC, area, and black immigrants from the Caribbean are prominent in Florida and New York City. Somalis have a significant presence in Minneapolis, where Floyd died below the knee of a white police officer who was later charged along with three other officers.
The global protest movement triggered by Floyd’s death came eight years after police shot dead 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, the son of a Jamaican immigrant, in the Bronx.
In 1999, Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed in a 41-shot barrage fired by four white New York City police officers who mistaken his wallet for a gun. His death sparked widespread demonstrations, but officers were acquitted of all charges in 2000. That same year, the fatal police shooting of Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old Haitian American, ignited another wave of protests against police brutality in New York.
Such killings of the police can be unsettling for immigrants, many of whom come to the United States in search of a better life and then find themselves injected into America’s centuries-old racial strife.
“When they come here and they realize they are not being treated differently, they begin to feel a degree of camaraderie with black Americans,” said Bill Ong Hing, founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and a law professor at the University of San . Francisco.
In fact, one of the co-founders of the original network of Black Lives Matter was Opal Tometi, daughter of Nigerian immigrants. Civil rights leader 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 living in Houston. “We are all a society across the diaspora, whether you are Black American, raised on the African continent, or you come from elsewhere.”