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A call to address anti-Blackness within African immigrant communities

As we stand in solidarity against racist practices, it is equally important that we call out and rectify the injustice within our own communities.

“I was on a recent conference call helping an organization put a statement together and this Sudanese brother says, ‘I don’t understand this Black Lives Matter stuff, I have never felt racism in this country.’ You know, I’m just letting people have it now … we [African-Americans] can sniff out anti-Blackness right when we step in the room, wherever we are. … I have never felt welcomed or comfortable in any African immigrant establishment in Minnesota.” These words come from a recent conversation I had with a close connection of mine.

Eskender A. Yousuf
Eskender A. Yousuf
This was nothing short of our regular conversations and check-ins;  however, this time it felt different. With the wake of the current racial uprisings, it provoked me to publicly call attention this issue.

As a second-generation Ethiopian immigrant who is ethnically Oromo, I was born and raised in the Twin Cities. I never imagined that the place I call home would become the epicenter of historic racial uprisings and protests that sparked a fire across the world.

Stood in solidarity

Amongst the sea of protesters that stood in solidarity in the streets of Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s death were 1.5 and second-generation African immigrants (1.5 generation immigrants refer to those who came to America before they reached 12 years old; second-generation immigrants refer to those who were born in America).

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Minneapolis, in fact, is home to a diverse population of racially Black individuals and a large fraction of them are African immigrants and refugees. We have the largest population of Somali immigrants, a vast number of Ethiopians, as well as immigrants from other African countries like Eritrea, Sudan, Liberia, and Nigeria. While African immigrant communities showed up in large numbers to protest police brutality and racial injustices, an oft-neglected nuance is the prevalence of anti-Blackness within these very communities.

The support for the Black Lives Matter movement from the African immigrant community demands that we address and correct the racist practices within our own community that are often left unquestioned. For us to truly support the call for racial injustice, we must take the step eradicate anti-Blackness within our own communities.

Growing up in the Twin Cities, I have witnessed countless anti-Black sentiments, expressions, attitudes, and practices from close relatives and community members. Some examples include: looking down on marrying African-Americans, addressing and treating African-Americans and their communities by negative racialized stereotypes (i.e. lazy, not hardworking, criminals) and our perpetual disassociation with the African-American community in order to distinctly identify ourselves as African immigrants and not “Black/African-American.” This identification process has been heavily documented and proved as a mechanism for us to distance ourselves from African-American communities for various reasons, including social stratification.

Racist undertones within languages

Furthermore, there are racist undertones within our languages and cultural practices that are anti-Black at their core. The way in which we use our own languages to describe African-Americans carry negative connotations. For example, terms like “madow” (Somali) or “gurraacha” (Oromo) literally mean black, but convey a deeper disdain. The way and which we utilize these terms to identify African-Americans is a way of positioning them as inferior to our own African immigrant identities, as noted by immigrant scholars like Nimo Abdi.

I bring forth these examples in order to shed light on the anti-Black and racist injustices that we allow to thrive in our community. As we stand in solidarity against racist practices, it is equally important that we call out and rectify the injustice within our own communities. If we refuse to acknowledge these issues, it is nothing short of hypocrisy.

The purpose of this is to bring forth these wrongs that are practiced within our own communities so that we may correct them. It is imperative that we reflect, interrogate, and critically analyze the ways in which we perpetuate anti-Blackness within our cultural practices and ideologies as African immigrants. Then we must call these out, wherever they may be, to better collectively hold ourselves responsible and truly fight against anti-Blackness and stand in solidarity against racism. So that we, as Black people in America, do not repeat the same marginalizing practices.

I have had countless conversations with many African-Americans who have expressed their exhaustion and frustration with many communities, but especially with the African immigrants here in Minnesota.

Going forward, as racially Black people in America, we must truly educate ourselves on the systemic issues of race. We must understand the various forms of racism and oppression that have formed this country. We must build a bridge to better connect with African-American communities. We must learn from their experiences so that we, as a new African immigrant community, can survive as racially Black people in a systemically racist society.

Eskender A. Yousuf is a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota studying education policy and leadership. His research explores the racial, ethnic, and religious identity development of East African immigrants in relation to their education experiences. 

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