Inspired by global protests against systemic racism and police brutality, Nigerian-American blogger Nifesimi Akingbe donned a black shirt with the caption “I am a black story” and began recording a video.
Akingbe then listed her frustrations with racism in America and addressed her message to black immigrant communities like her: This is your battle, too.
“When these cops see us, or when some of these racist people see us, they see a black man,” Akingbe said in a 34-minute video posted on YouTube. They “don̵
Akingbe of suburban Baltimore is among the many young black immigrants or children of immigrants who say they declare racial justice while trying to convince older members of their communities that these issues should also matter to them.
“I feel that their way of thinking is different,” the 31-year-old told The Associated Press, referring to immigrants like her parents, who she said tend to ignore racial issues.
Of course, most black immigrants have survived the brutal legacy of European colonization, and those from Latin America and the Caribbean have a history of slavery in their own countries.
In the United States, from the civil rights movement to the current Black Lives demonstrations, there has also been generational tension in the African-American community when it comes to taking a stand against racism. But that’s largely beyond 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 that and respect people’s decisions,” Canton said.
Like Akingbe, Nigerian American Ade Okupe talks to older immigrants in the hope that they will see police brutality as something that affects them as well.
So far, the 27-year-old said he had failed.
“This is not a problem for the older generation,” said Okupe, who lives in Parkville, a suburb of Baltimore. During some of his conversations, the older immigrants told him that they had come to America to work and provide a better life for their children, not to protest against race.
“They want to make sure they’re not doing anything to shake the boat,” said Daniel Gillion, author of The Strong Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy.
“They are trying to be good citizens and in their eyes they are protesting – rejecting and criticizing the nation – whether their perception is a good citizen.”
For some immigrants, their attitudes are determined by worries about their children.
Elsa Arega, an Ethiopian immigrant living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was horrified by George Floyd’s police murder in May and worried about what was happening. But she also wants to keep her daughter, a student in Virginia, safe and fears her daughter could be in danger if she takes part in protests.
“I just want her to focus on her education,” Arega said, speaking her 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, thanks in large part to family reunification, the reception 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 Political Institute.
As a result, ethnic enclaves in the United States have dominated West African communities in New York, Ethiopians have distinguished themselves in the Washington, D.C. area, and black Caribbean immigrants are known in Florida and New York. 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 sparked by Floyd’s death came eight years after police shot dead 18-year-old Ramarli Graham, the son of a Jamaican immigrant, in the Bronx.
In 1999, a Guinean immigrant, Amadou Diallo, was killed in a volley of 41 shots by four white New York police officers who took his wallet for a gun. His death sparked widespread demonstrations, but police were acquitted on all charges in 2000. That same year, the fatal police shooting of Patrick Dorizmond, a 26-year-old American from Haiti, sparked a new wave of protests against police brutality in New York.
Such police killings can embarrass 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 conflicts.
“When they get here and realize they’re not being treated differently, they start to feel a little friendly 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 Black Lives Matter network was Opal Tometti, 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 are all one,” said Quad Anor, a 25-year-old American from Ghana who lives in Houston. “We are all one community in the diaspora, whether you are a black American raised on the African continent or elsewhere.”