May 10, 2008

Black Ethnicity: The Foreign-Born in America

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss 

Recently I completed an online form that asked for my race. Not that unusual. What was unusual is that there were 15 choices! Among other options, I could choose from: 

 

  • Black-African
  • Black-West Indian
  • Black- African American
  • Black-Tanzanian
  • Black-Jamaican
  • Black-Haitian
  • Black-Caribbean
  • Black-Nigerian

And so on…You get the idea. There is much that is note-worthy about this list, but I will focus on one aspect of it: The list was made long mostly by the writer’s wish to accommodate a variety of foreign-born blacks. 

What does the term foreign-born mean? The U. S. Census Bureau definition of the foreign born includesJ0236524 all people residing in the U.S. who are not American citizens at birth, immigrants, legal non-immigrants (such as refugees and students), and people who are living in the U.S. illegally. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the largest number of foreign-born persons living the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century was 14.2 million in 1930 (11.6 percent of the total population at that time), although the largest proportion of this group was 14.7 million in 1910. The last 30 years or so have been marked by increasing numbers and proportions of foreign-born persons in the U.S; in 2000, there were 28.4 million foreign-born people estimated to be living in the U.S. This figure is exactly twice as many as the previous high period in 1930, and this time the foreign-born were estimated to be 10.4 percent of the total population—the highest proportion since 1930. 

Of course, the U.S. is not the only country hosting immigrants. We live in a world of tremendous movement. According to the New York Times, in 2005 about 190 million people lived outside of their countries of birth. 

Among the millions of foreign-borns living in the U.S. are black people from all over the world. In fact, the proportion of foreign-born blacks among blacks in the U.S. has risen to 7.8 percent from 1.3 percent between 1970 and 2000. Black immigrants come from all over the world, but are primary from the Caribbean and Africa. Haiti, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic are the top three sending countries of blacks to the U.S. And where do the foreign-born tend to live? New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois host most of the foreign-born population in general, and this is true for the black foreign-born population as well. Florida has experienced the most growth in the number of foreign-bornJ0283561 blacks in the last 30 years, although with a quarter of its black population being foreign-born, New York is now home to the largest share of this group. 

To state what is not always obvious: All black people in America are not African Americans. Some have become American citizens, and others have not. Black immigrants do not necessarily see themselves as having much in common with African Americans, and vice versa. They may have grown up in widely differing circumstances—so called third world versus North American countries and all their attendant disparities—so why would we expect them to be the same? Given that Americans of different races often find themselves focused on their differences despite their many similarities, why would a group of newly (or even not so newly) arrived immigrants be assumed to share much with African Americans? 

This discussion is not meant to ignore the fact that on American soil, with regard to race, and regardless of place of birth, blacks may encounter identical experiences. I recognize there may be no difference in the ways that people with dark skin are perceived or treated. Similarly, the reference to recent historical differences between African American and foreign-born blacks is neither meant to diminish our shared African origins nor the overlap in current socio-political concerns. 

A recent study found that for blacks, having foreign-born parents is related to attending selectiveJ0282858 colleges and universities. Based on data from 28 such institutions, researchers found that 27 percent of black students had at least one foreign-born parent—a significantly higher percentage than the national average. As we might imagine given the data presented earlier on the origins of the black foreign-born, this study found that 43 percent of these students had Caribbean roots and 29 percents were of African parentage. Many of us –including sociologists—focus on the race of blacks to the exclusion of ethnicity among blacks. With the naming of all immigrants of African descent, “black/African American”, our ethnicity becomes subsumed beneath our race, propelling race to dominant status. 

Findings such as these highlight the role of ethnicity in all its complexity and serve as a reminder that race is not all that matters.

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Comments

interesting commentary on the western world's obsession of categorizing each other

This article was very interesting, and great facts to know the different types of reaces among the black culture also the increasing amount of foreign born americans exposing theirselves and their culture to our country, I believe this article show the importance of all different races, and what they can contribute to other cultures.

I believe this article really demonstrates how people categorize people of what race they THINK they belong to, when really no one knows where people come from or what ethnicity they have until they ask. Without information from the U.S. Census Bureau, none of this research could have been done.

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