Monday, August 20, 2007

Acting White: Africa in America

My daughter’s best friend from her earliest school days is the child of Muslim immigrants from Libya and Yemen. For those who are geographically-challenged, Libya is in North Africa, while Yemen is a stones-throw away just east of Ethiopia. The family is part of a larger family, mostly of women, brought here by a patriarch who opened a grocery store and made good on the American dream.

The children and grandchildren of this old man, who has since retired to Yemen, have done well for themselves, beginning with education and ending in marriage to Muslim men vetted from the top – and herein is the rub. The top down view prizes men from Africa, of any color, who are Muslim, and rejects Black American men as the most unacceptable of suitors. It seems that Black American men are viewed, as a rule, as lazy and unmotivated by our North African brothers.

When I first heard of this thinking and behavior of my good friend, I was offended. But on the other hand, I have studied and written about stereotypes and why they survive and prosper as useful shortcuts to helpful and painful truths, depending on where you sit. I concluded that the battle of the black man is not the same everywhere, although most would have it so.

African immigrants in America, lead by their males, win the coveted spot of most highly educated demographic in the US, with nearly 50% earning college degrees. This accomplishment is beyond that of Asians; is two-times greater than whites; and four times greater than American-born Blacks. Black American men hold the opposite title of achieving the least of any US demographic, except for Native Americans.

Now, as I place myself in the old patriarch’s shoes, I see that my fight is not his fight, unless he chooses it so, and he is an old man from a very different place. The origins of the problems of America’s Blacks are not of their own doing, but I can hear the old man of Northern Africa whispering a light tone so we might strain to hear him say, ‘the problem may not be of your doing, but the solution lies only in you’.

James C. Collier


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DJ Black Adam said...

Very Interesting post. I have maternal ancestry from eastern Africa (Beta Israel, Ethiopian).I stay in touch with that community and also (since I am now a Christian by faith)I interact with the Ethiopic Church.

I have found that due to the differences in our societal conditions, that there are some things that are different from immigrants of any nation to our country and those of shared heritage who are not immigrants.

For example, a person FROM Italy might have a very different view of education than an American born Italian, as does a person born in many of the great nations of Africa compared to an American born child of the African Diaspora.

Would that we learn from each other of the positive that each has to offer. At least that is what I attempt to do with my Ethiopian cousins, as they do with me.

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