African vs. African-American in America
March 17, 2021 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for media about the experience of racism and identity of being a recent black immigrant to America (especially from an African country) vs. being African-American. English or French material is ok.

I have a friend from Cameroon who moved to the US as an adult. She experiences a lot of racism in the US, but often finds the African-American discussion of racism illegible or inane. She asked me to help her find things (especially to read) that would help her understand both her own experience of racism in the US and the difference in her perspective and an American Black identity. I know this body of work is enormous, but am not well equipped to give recommendations.

She struggles with the idea of having an identity as a Black person as opposed to just "a person" - "something I lack because my early life was spent in a community where being black was not a factor - my default setting is to think it is not a factor despite the many reminders. I wonder if this has been studied."
posted by congen to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I have known black immigrants to the USA who expressed the same sentiment.

You'll find some discussions of related issues if you search for "Descendants of Slavery". For example, Don't pit slavery descendants against black immigrants.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:40 AM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

The novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has some discussion of this from the point of view of its main character, a Nigerian immigrant to the US.
posted by corvine at 9:15 AM on March 17, 2021 [11 favorites]

Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom also touches on some of these issues from an African American perspective.
posted by Dotty at 9:44 AM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

The podcast The Stoop, about Black identity and with an African and an African-American co-host, may be of interest.
posted by latkes at 10:14 AM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: This is a really good article with links to studies. If she feels comfortable or if you do, I bet sending an e-mail or @twitter to the writer of the article would be illuminating.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Years ago, I read a fascinating article: a personal account of a Black British immigrant to the United States who really felt like he wasn't "African-American", he was Black and British. But over time, he began to feel African-American due to the way that (mostly white) Americans treated him. It addressed how his experience and culture - as a British person of Nigerian descent - was really different from that of African-Americans, but also how his experiences in the United States flattened out those differences.

Sadly, I can't find it again,* but in googling, I've found some similar personal accounts:

How I Became Black: An African Immigrant Experience with Racial Identity
I didn't know I was Black until I moved to Canada
What it's like to be an African in the US

*If it helps anyone else identify, one vivid scene I recall is of him hanging out with some of his cousins at his sister's(?) house, and one-by-one they disappeared while making tea (or going to see what was happening with the tea).
posted by jb at 1:34 PM on March 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

She also may want to check out - it's a website mostly produced by academics who work on Africa, for a pretty broad audience. I just searched "immigrant" to see what came up, and got to this article "Black African immigrants, race and police brutality in America." There are definitely a number of other relevant articles that popped up.
posted by coffeecat at 2:26 PM on March 17, 2021

As said, Americanah is such a good fiction example of this. It also comes up in NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names, although further along in the novel.

I'm not sure if the opposite is helpful for her or not, but she could investigate Richard Pryor's response to visiting Kenya. I don't have any links that I trust enough to stand on their own, and should give a content warning in advance for language/slurs.
posted by Paper rabies at 3:43 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Dinaw Mengetsu’s work, especially “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.”
posted by stillmoving at 5:51 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Definitely give this Code Switch episode a listen: Who's Black Enough for Reparations
posted by oxisos at 9:20 PM on March 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

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