Blacks and immigrants: from ‘either-or’ to ‘both-and’

By Michelle Chen Apr 25, 2009

While tea-baggers dominated the headlines over the past few weeks, another movement was quietly working to weave together communities that some want to see pitted against each other. The Black Immigration Network, a coalition led by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration; Which Way Forward; and the Third World Coalition of the American Friends Service Committee, recently announced itself as “the first national network concerned about immigration issues and racial equity issues surrounding both African Americans and immigrants of African descent.” By bringing visibility to the shared interests of “native born” Black Americans and Blacks as immigrants, the Network counters the factionalism that have stymied strategic alliances in the past. The mission statement of Which Way Forward, a project of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, declares:

“While we recognize that throughout the history of the United States there have existed tensions between the African American community and immigrant communities, Which Way Forward rejects that any past, present or future frictions between ‘Blacks and Latinos’ or ‘Blacks and immigrants’ grant permission to ignore our responsibility in building an America free from political, economic and social discrimination based on race.”

On the Imagine 2050 blog, Eric Ward of the Center for New Community quoted Kayse Jama of the Center for Intercultural Organizing on cross-cultural solidarity within the Black diaspora:

“Racial discrimination in employment, anti-union organizing and poor education are the major barriers to U.S. born blacks having access to jobs… Black immigrants and refugees have a special responsibility to demand an end to structural racism that seeks to disenfranchise U.S.-born blacks,”

While underscoring mutual interests between Black American and immigrant communities, the Network also brings visibility to Blacks as immigrants. The common ground between descendants of American-enslaved Blacks and immigrants from other parts of the African diaspora has become increasingly visible lately. Over-incarceration pervades both the mainstream criminal justice structure and immigrant detention system. The struggle of Haitian immigrants against mass deportation represents both racial bias in immigration policy and the wholesale disenfranchisement of poor countries throughout the Americas. Efforts by unions to engage people of color and immigrants, is another sign of convergence, or at least recognition within the labor movement that survival depends on diversification. In the media, too, President Obama’s ancestry is shifting perspectives on Blackness and ethnic identity. The next phase of the immigration reform movement could involve an embrace of immigration not just as a background or legal status, but as a global social process that shapes all of our communities. Whether the issue is economic empowerment or civil rights, human migrations and social movements both draw strength from breaking boundaries. Image: Mural created by Homeys Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth (Urban Habitat)