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Conference sheds new light on Black immigrant experience

Organizers push unity for immigration rights

Chloe Herring | 5/29/2014, 9 a.m.
In a session called African Diaspora Dialogues Black people representing various countries in the Diaspora share their experiences. Photo by Chloe Herring

It was the opening day of a national conference hosted by the Black Immigration Network (BIN). Aly Wane, 37, an immigrant born in Senegal, sat in a group of four Black faces: one, who sported a colorful Ghanaian shirt, was from America; another spoke with a strong British accent; an Asian woman sat among them.

Held last Friday at the Little Haiti Cultural Arts Center, this session, called “African Diaspora Dialogues” aimed to arouse discussion that would promote solidarity for participants who are looking to achieve immigrant rights and racial equality. But at 3:30 p.m., an hour after the session began, the audience seemed at first more inquisitive about the process than open to speaking.

“Racial injustice has affected and infected all of us,” said Kevin Sauls, a board member to another Black immigrant collective. He was trying to prompt the conference participants to speak. “[African] Diaspora Dialogues is a place where we can be ourselves.”

It wasn’t until Tia Oso, BIN conference director, took the microphone and told the crowd to break out into smaller and perhaps less intimidating groups that the conversations started flowing easily.

CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SHARED EXPERIENCES

A group of strangers spoke passionately, but softly as to not interrupt other individuals that were scattered about inside the center’s theatre.

Wane spoke about the pervasive influence of media, which largely shaped his perceptions of African-Americans before he moved to the United States from West Africa at age nine.

“The depiction of African Americans were either thugs or tokens and I didn’t realize how much I had imbibed those ideals,” he said.

It wasn’t until he moved to America that he understood that most people would be blind to his nationality.

“I had to learn to be Black,” said Wane to his group, explaining how he suffered the same racial discrimination as Blacks while simultaneously experiencing anti-immigrant sentiments.

‘BLACK IMMIGRANTS ARE STILL BLACK’

The latest reports document 2.8 million foreign-born Blacks in the United States. And while Miami and New York have been traditional hubs for Black immigrants, recent decades of new Black immigrants are evidenced by Carnival festivals, ethnic-religious churches and pop-up enclaves all over the country.

Just like Wane, these communities face the denial of rights as backlash to their immigrant status and racial inequality because of the color of their skin. BIN, which was founded collectively in 2009 by several social justice groups, unites people of color who believe that the obstacles Black immigrants face fit into a larger context familiar to all the African Diaspora: the fight for social, economic and racial equity.

Gerald Lenoir, a facilitator of BIN’s African Diaspora Dialogues, said people of African descent should not fall victim to the legacy of white supremacy that has pitted Black communities against one another.

“We’re trying to strengthen that part of our Black community that says we need to unite with African immigrants because they are facing the same issues of racism and economic dislocation,” he said.

‘CONSOLIDATION LEAVES NO ROOM FOR ISOLATION’