[DEBATE] : ati-immigrant sentiment not only in Jozi
tintinyana at gmail.com
Tue Feb 14 19:31:36 GMT 2006
African immigrants face bias from blacks
Tension climbs highest in poor communities
Monday, February 13, 2006
By Ervin Dyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In 1989, Zedueh Doerue, a proud and traditional-minded father of
eight, smuggled his family out of civil-war ravaged Liberia into
Guinea, a more stable West African nation to the south.
Before long, Guinea, a former French colony, began to slide into
political unrest as well, and Mr. Doerue was jailed and harassed as an
insurgent because he spoke English.
Four years ago, a Catholic refugee resettlement program brought him to
Pittsburgh, where two of his children were born. Now, working as a
nursing assistant and living in a two-story Bon Air home, Mr. Doerue
and his family would seem to have left danger and chaos behind.
But Mr. Doerue, 44, said that for the last year he's been continually
harassed, his children have been bullied by neighborhood thugs, his
car damaged and the windows on his home have been repeatedly broken.
Mr. Doerue has called police because he feels "hunted" by the
perpetrators, who he claims are mostly black youths.
Police are unclear on the motives for the attacks, and Mr. Doerue
said, "I don't understand it."
He's not alone. Many sociologists and researchers are trying to
understand the relationships between black Americans and a recent boom
of immigrants who have come to America from Africa and the Caribbean.
It is not always an easy transition and black Americans and the
immigrants find they are being forced to confront complex issues of
identity, ethnicity and community.
"As a general trend, the two groups are having tensions," said
Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, a scholar with the Hubert H. Humphrey
School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and author of
the book, "Creating Africa in America."
The tensions can be especially raw and violent in urban communities
struggling with poverty, she said, as black Americans who feel
economically trapped clash culturally with immigrant Africans who have
escaped turmoil worse than Hurricane Katrina and may have
stereotypical views of black Americans as being lazy or glorifiers of
There are other barriers that create problems, too, said Ms.
Copeland-Carson, who studies contemporary immigration issues.
These include widespread ignorance about the history of ethnic groups
and nationalities and not understanding how others define their
For example, she said, in Nigeria alone, there are more than 250
ethnic groups. Africans don't come here with the same racial notion of
"black" identity that African Americans have formed, said Ms.
Furthermore, she said, when immigrant Africans move into communities
of concentrated poverty, where people are already struggling with
low-wage jobs, they are often seen as economic and political threats.
When the misunderstandings loom that large, "even by speaking English
with an accent," said Ms. Copeland-Carson, "[immigrant Africans] can
become the enemy."
Mr. Doerue says his children were picked on and targeted simply
because they speak differently.
Accents can also target immigrants as people less familiar with the
system and thus more vulnerable to scams, robbery or attack.
Some of the 30 to 40 Somalian families in town have faced other
hostilities from black Americans.
Their dress, mannerisms and accents mean they stand out as foreigners
in many neighborhoods, said Joshua Kivuva, a University of Pittsburgh
teacher and Kenyan native who helps ease the families into life here.
In Northview Heights, there are allegations that a Somalian has been
threatened with a gun; in Homewood, a Somalian middle school student
has had a gun pointed at him, and a Somali mother in Homewood has been
told she needs to move to be safe, said Mr. Kivuva.
In Oakland, with its stew of international students and faculty, the
immigrant Africans can fit in, said Mr. Kivuva, but in low-income
areas open conflicts are more likely.
"I think the perception is that [immigrant Africans] are given
priority for services and that causes tensions," he said.
The tensions surface not just in Pittsburgh, but across the country.
Three months ago, a 13-year-old Ghanaian boy was brutally beaten,
police say, by black American youths in his neighborhood in southwest
On occasion, the conflicts turn deadly.
Congo immigrant Nzubamunu Mitete, 51, a Pentecostal preacher, was
robbed and murdered in Lincoln-Lemington while driving a jitney on a
cold December night. Police say his attacker was a young black man.
Thirty days later, David Agar, 24, a "Lost Boy," one of the survivors
of the conflict in the Sudan, was killed while leaving an Uptown club.
Police arrested Todd Akrie, 26, of Windgap, charging him with robbery
and homicide in the incident.
While issues of racial identity and poverty can heighten the hostility
of black Americans against immigrant Africans, said Ms.
Copeland-Carson, the rancor against newcomers is nothing new.
"In the early 20th century, there was enmity against Irish immigrants
and Italians," she said. "This dynamic is a piece of the ethnic
history of the United States."
To make it more confusing, said Mr. Kivuva, is the fact that most
immigrant Africans hear from black Americans that whites can't be
trusted; but, in Pittsburgh, he said, few black organizations help the
Somali families that he works with.
"The person who comes to the house with bread, who comes to read to a
student, who takes children to the zoo," said Mr. Kivuva, "is a white
The solution to help everyone get along is using common ground to
build bridges, said Yinka Aganga-Williams, an immigrant Nigerian who
works with local groups to ease immigrant transitions into Allegheny
What black Americans need to understand, said Ms. Copeland-Carson, is
that their culture, from spirituals to food to healing practices, is
an amalgam of African traditions. It can be revitalizing to re-link
these cultures with immigrant Africans.
Likewise, black Americans who have survived in this country can help
immigrants sustain identities in schools and help build political
The glass is not half-empty when it comes to relations between the two
groups, said Ms. Aganga-Williams, who warned that media stereotyping
paints a picture that all black Americans are harassing Africans.
"I don't think they are being targeted. [David Agar] went to a bar,
and there happened to be a bad guy there. I don't think Mitete's
killer set out to kill an African immigrant that night.
"There are people in Nigeria, Ghana, wherever you're from," she said,
"who get killed from this kind of robbery every day.
"I just think we never hear about the ones who have said this is my
African-American friend, and he truly wants to hear about Africa."
(Ervin Dyer can be reached at edyer at post-gazette.com or 412-263-1410.)
>From Sean Jacobs
tintinyana at gmail.com
"Only intellectuals love poverty. Poor people love luxury" (from a
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