Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Being African-American....

I was over at Abagond, reading the comment thread, and I saw a comment that has always irked me during discussions of African-Americans and racism. Usually, I have been on the tail end of this comment during my conversations about African-Americans with my immigrant friends (and friends from immigrant families) - be they African, Asian, Caribbean, etc.

The comment usually goes something like this: "Well, I don't understand why African-Americans complain about racism keeping them down because Africans and Chinese, etc. come over here all the time and make something of their lives. And they (we) come from a legacy of colonialism. I think African-Americans just use slavery to make excuses for bad decision-making."

A version of that comment has been launched at me repeatedly during conversations with many of my African friends in particular. It's always like, "Look at Africa! We have a fucked up history too! But we manage to not let it hold us back like you African-Americans do!" Usually the comment pisses me off so much that I find myself incapable of squelching my anger in order to coherently respond to it.

I was going to respond on the comment thread on the site, but someone beat me to it with an almost perfect response (pasted below). The only thing I would add is: "What makes anyone think that some brown and black immigrants here are not similarly suffering from the same limitations - psychological and economic limitations that stem from the legacy of the racism that manifested itself as colonialism in their home countries? Furthermore, for every African or Chinese, for instance, who comes here and succeeds there are probably a dozen more who end up like many of the black Americans who live perpetually in slums, pathologized and blamed for their near inability to rise from their underclass position. The successes of a few don't erase the suffering and continued oppression of millions." Anyway, what's your opinion on the topic?

“How is it that African, Caribbean, and Asian immigrants with their own painful colonial pasts (some experienced first hand) can come to this country and not similarly suffer from the same limitations?”

A lot of it has to do with subtle differences in the oppressed minority group psychology.

Colonialism has usually meant a minority of powerful Whites controlling (by threat of force) a majority of non-White native peoples.

Americanism has been a MAJORITY of powerful Whites oppressing a much smaller minority of imported, non-White alien people, in a culture that is extremely hostile to them.

The damage done by Americanism is different.


  1. I would add, as a student of Immigration Law, that the reasons why we see high success rates in brown and black immigrants from colonized countries in Africa and Asia stems from our immigration policies. Point blank, the U.S. government doesn't allow in the brown and black foreign people who the government thinks will be a public charge - i.e. those who will require continued government assistance due to lack of education, money and work skills - unless they just so happen to be immediate family of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. (People who get in as refugees - as asylum cases - are very few compared to the number of immigrants allowed in legally.)

    So, it boils down to this: many of the brown and black immigrants do well because they come from economically-advantaged situations (in the mother country) to begin with, compared to the many others of their country who never come here to the U.S. Compared to the extremely poor and uneducated - who generally don't have a chance in hell of being allowed into the U.S. legally in order to even try to make successful lives for themselves.

    As I said in the post, the successes of a few do not erase the continued oppression and suffering of millions (those left behind back on mother continents of Africa and Asia, for instance).

    So, the argument (that brown and black immigrants come here and succeed, so black Americans who don't succeed are just making excuses) fails because it overlooks the very skewed pool of brown and black immigrants that it cites as support. We're talking about ALL of (slave-descended) black America - underclass, working class, middle class, upper class, rural, urban - in comparison to a small class-specific sampling of black people from Kenya, for instance, who mostly come from a position of economic privilege (middle class to whatever degree) in their home country. It's not a fair, accurate, or useful comparison to make.

  2. First off...awesome and relevant topic, Ms. B!

    I also agree with the response the that was made on the original post.

    For me, it always goes back to slavery. Those wounds have never been healed, and until they are healed, we will continue exist in a warped state.

    Present psychology even tells us there are steps to healing from trauma - which was exactly what slavery was - a form of abuse in so many areas. Common steps in healing are 1) DENIAL, 2) ANGER, 3) BARGAINING, 4) DEPRESSION, 5) GRIEF, 6) ACCEPTANCE.

    It seems to me, many of us tango between all of the above, but we have to heal collectively. After we have truly experienced all of those feelings, and released them, we have to recognize, embrace, and learn to function in a new being. This is where we continue to drop the ball. Who is to blame for us never having a consistent and healthy example of a person that looks like us? Is is those who oppressed us or US who are stuck in a psychological mind trap? That question can be debated for a lifetime...

    African Americans have to realize our potential - and act on it - then others will have no choice but to respect and respond to it, too.

    As Nikki Giovanni says, "Deal with yourself as an individual, worthy of respect, and make everyone else deal with you the same way."

  3. *or WE who are stuck in a psychological...* [grammatical error!!]

  4. Thank you for passing through, jidipier!