August 20th, in conjunction with the commemoration of the birthday of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the Pan African Unity Dialogue (PAUD) of greater New York will present a document entitled – A Call for Action on Immigration Reform: Advancing the Interests of People of African Descent. Anyone who is familiar with the issues and concerns of Black America is aware that immigration reform is a controversial and hotly debated issue. Because of the focus on nationalities from Central and South America, large numbers of Blacks view immigration as a “Hispanic issue.” And, because of the huge influx of undocumented persons from these regions, many people of African descent see immigration reform as a direct threat to the interests of Black people. This feeling is particularly pronounced among “African Americans.” Therefore, the purpose for the PAUD document is not to oppose immigration but to ensure that there is reform which incorporates and protects the interests of people of African descent. Ultimately the goal is to overcome resistance in the Black community by assuring people of African descent that any proposed legislation will be equitable and inclusive. This will enable people of African descent to become active partners and advocates for immigration reform. The presentation of the immigration reform document is a significant achievement.
PAUD is a gathering of Caribbean American, Continental African, Afro-Latino and African American leaders who meet quarterly under the auspices of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century to exchange information about the work of their respective organizations, promote operational unity and joint work. Because of the intense emotions and animosity immigration reform provoked, it became clear that it was an issue the group should tackle. An interesting thing happened as the document was being finalized. PAUD participants began to discuss some of the tensions and conflicts among people of African descent. Haitians told of being ridiculed by African Americans (Kango Kid and Wyclef Jean recount being viciously teased as kids). Continental Africans related experiences of being the butt of jokes because of their traditional African attire. Caribbean Americans cited instances of being the object of insults because of their accent and ancestry. Afro-Latinos complained of being ignored as people of African origin by simply being lumped in with “Hispanics “in general. Some “African Americans” bristled at the fact that many Africans from the continent, the Caribbean, Central and South America do not want to be called “African Americans.” These testimonials were extremely moving. They cried out for serious work to bridge the divides and overcome the tensions among people of African descent.
PAUD discussions on immigration reform revealed that while people of African descent were focusing on what was perceived by some as an “external threat,” there is an “internal threat” that poses a danger to the prospects for Black unity and Black power to advance the collective interests of African people in the U.S. and abroad. This danger is not only manifest in tensions with newly arrived African immigrants, it is reflected in old divisions along class and color lines in the Black community, lack of positive racial self-esteem in terms of denial of Blackness/African ancestry and the embrace by some of the myth of a post racial society. All this leads me to pose the question that Rodney King made famous: “Can we all get along?” Or it recalls the exhortations of the 19th century Black abolitionist David Nickens: “Let us cherish a friendly union with ourselves.” This is the challenge PAUD and other organizations, institutions and agencies in Black America must confront if we are to maximize Pan Africanism and Black power in the 21st Century.
To meet this challenge, Africans in America of whatever origin must face the reality that we have a “new African community in the U.S.” which is comprised of millions of relatively recent arrivals from the African continent, the Caribbean (including Haiti), Central and South America. New African immigrants are no longer miniscule minorities in major northeastern cities like New York and Washington, D.C. New York has distinct “little Africa” communities populated by Senegalese, Malians, Ghanaians, and Guineans. Washington, D.C.’s Black population includes increasing numbers of Ethiopians, Somalis and Nigerians. By some estimates there are 50,000 Nigerians in Houston. These days you can purchase Jerk Chicken or a Roti in Jackson, Mississippi and Atlanta as well as in traditional Caribbean strongholds in Brooklyn.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.
This is the first in a two-part commentary, the second installment will run on Friday August 12.