Inspired by global protests against systematic racism and police brutality, Nigerian American blogger Nifesimi Akingbe donned a black shirt that read “I am Black history,” and began recording a video .
Akingbe then listed his failures about racism in America and directed his message to Black immigrant communities like him: This is also your fight.
“When these cops see us or when some of the racist people see us, they see a Black,” Akingbe said in a 34-minute video posted on YouTube. They don’t care if you were born in Alabama, if you were born in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone. They saw a color. “
Akingbe, a suburban Baltimore, is among many young Black immigrants or children of immigrants who say they speak for racial equity while also trying to convince older members of their communities that these issues are should also be important to them.
“I feel they have a different mindset,” the 31-year-old told The Associated Press, referring to immigrants like his parents, who said he tends to ignore racial issues.
To be sure, most Black immigrants experienced the brutal legacy of European colonization, and those from Latin American and Caribbean countries had a history of slavery in their own countries.
In the US, from the civil rights movement to the current Black Lives Matter demonstrations, there has also been generational tensions in the African American community when it comes to taking a stand against racism. But they are largely more than 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 there and respect the decisions of the people,” Canton said.
Like Akingbe, fellow Nigerian American Ade Okupe talks to older immigrants in the hope that they will see police brutality as something that also affects them.
So far, the 27-year-old said, he has not been successful.
“This is not an issue for the older generation,” said Okupe, who lives in Parkville, a suburb of Baltimore. During some chats, older immigrants told him they came to America to work and provide a better life for their children, not to protest about race.
“They want to make sure they don’t do anything that upsets the boat,” said Daniel Gillion, author of “The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy.”
“They are trying to be good citizens and the protests, in their view, – pushing and criticizing the country – are not their understanding of being good citizens.”
For some immigrants, their behaviors are driven by concerns about their children.
Elsa Arega, an Ethiopian foreigner living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was horrified by the police killing of George Floyd in May and is concerned about what is happening. But she also wants to keep her daughter safe, a college student in Virginia and afraid of being put in danger of her daughter if she participates in the protests.
“I just want him to focus on his education,” Arega said, speaking his native Amharic language. “People come to this country to work and change their lives, not to argue with the government.”
The number of Black immigrants in the United States has increased in recent decades mainly due to family reunification, the influx of refugees from war-torn countries such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and visa lottery diversification program, according to the Institute’s Migration Policy.
This led to ethnic enclaves throughout the US West African community that dominated New York City, Ethiopians made the mark in Washington, DC, area, and Black immigrants from the Caribbean were prominent in Florida at New York City. The Somalis had a large presence in Minneapolis, where Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer who was later charged along with three other officers.
The international protest movement sparked by Floyd’s death comes eight years after police shot dead 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, the son of a Jamaican foreigner, in the Bronx.
In 1999, Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed in a barrage of 41 shots fired by four white New York City police officers who mistaken his wallet for a gun. His death sparked widespread demonstrations but officials were acquitted of all charges in 2000. In the same year, the fatal police shooting of Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old Haitian American, was ignited another wave of protests against police brutality in New York.
Such police killings can be confusing to immigrants, many of whom come to the US in search of a better life and then witness the American racial conflict.
“When they get here and they realize that they have not been treated by others, they begin to feel a certain amount of fellowship with Black Americans,” said Bill Ong Hing, founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and a professor at law at the University of San Francisco.
In fact, one of the co-founders of the original Black Lives Matter network was Opal Tometi, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. Civil rights leader Malcolm X is also the son of an immigrant, from Grenada.
“At the end of the day, we’re all one,” said Kwad Annor, a 25-year-old American living in Houston. “We are all a community throughout the diaspora, whether you are a Black American, raised on the African continent or you are from somewhere else.”