Old and New Diasporic African People in Contemporary USA: Tracing the Relational Journey.

Author:Manguvo, Angellar
Position:Report
 
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Personal Reflections

My personal experiences as a Black African student and later, African immigrant in the United States greatly influenced me to conduct research on inter-diasporic African relationships. I sojourned to the United States from Zimbabwe in my early 30s to pursue my graduate studies. During the last two years of my graduate studies, I served as an executive board member of the Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students (ABGPS), an organization virtually dominated by African American graduate students. The organization had more than 50 registered members of which only two were African people born in Africa. Being an executive member of ABGPS enabled me to foster close relationships with African Americans, who in turn felt more comfortable to share their perspectives and personal experiences with me. At that same time, I was also actively involved with an African students' organization that was predominantly constituted by graduate students from Africa, south of the Sahara. The two student organizations shared commonalities in historical experiences and challenges, all directly or indirectly linked to perpetual White domination. Interestingly, there were also fundamental differences between the two student organizations.

It turned out that ABGPS was a discursive space for Black identity expression where African American students organized and deliberated on challenges they faced in their quest for recognition and equality amidst perceived contexts of prejudicial racial attitudes against Black people. On the contrary, the African students' organization provided a forum through which members shared views on political, social, and economic challenges facing contemporary Africa.

In view of these commonalities and apparent differences between the two Black student organizations, I fathomed what would happen if the two organizations had merged into one; how would the students interact? Would that change their agendas? In trying to envision the amalgamation of the two Black student organizations, the complexities of relations between African people born in Africa in the United States and African Americans born in the U.S. became apparent to me. This stimulated my interest to further understand how the relationship between African people and African Americans outside of academic institutions has evolved over the years. In addition, I sought to understand the role played by the mainstream on the relationship between African people born in Africa and African Americans. With these and many other unanswered questions, I began to critically examine the relational journey between these racially homogeneous, but culturally distinct groups of people.

The nature of the relationship and the interaction between people of African descent in the United States has not received as much attention as the relationship between Black and White people has; and yet, as Darboe (2008) argues, Black people in the United States are a diverse group with similarities and differences that warrant examination. It is indisputable that these differences, real or perceived, have significant effects on how people relate. Moreover, tolerance and solidarity among people of deferent races in the United States can only become more meaningful if Diasporic African people begin by uniting amongst themselves.

The Composition of the African Diaspora in the United States

Two main waves of migrations have contributed to the current composition of the African Diaspora in the United States. The first wave was the involuntary exiling of African people born in Africa to North America during the trans-Atlantic enslavement enterprise, which paved way for a large population of the African Diaspora in the United States. This wave of forced migration is to be separated from the later voluntary migration of people of African ancestry, which was set into motion by the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in the United States in 1965. The act replaced the national origin quota system, which favored Euro-American immigration with a new law that prioritized skilled labor, family unification, and humanitarianism (U.S. Census Bureau 2014). The new act culminated in massive voluntary migration of people of African descent to the United States, thus, ushering in a new crop of the African Diaspora.

Hence, the migration of people of African descent to the United States has increased in recent years, following the enactment of the U.S. Diversity Visa Program, created as part of the 1990 immigration reforms to increase immigration from non-traditional sending countries, particularly Africa. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2014), the program has facilitated the immigration of approximately 25,000 African families per year since its inception in 1990.

Several pull and push factors have orchestrated the second wave of migration of African people born in Africa to the United States. The globalization and integration of the world economy as well as the economic and political failures in African countries are key factors contributing to the second wave of migration (Gordon 1998). Additionally, a growing number of African people born in Africa sojourn to the United States for academic pursuits. Originally, most African students come with the sole purpose of advancing themselves academically, hoping to return to their home countries upon completion, but most of them prolong their stay; ultimately transitioning from educational sojourners to permanent immigrants (Manguvo 2015). These multi-faceted factors have culminated into a rapid increase of the immigrant population of African ancestry. Per the U.S. Census data, by 2013, immigrants of African descent in the United States had risen to nearly 4 million, from 130,000 in 1980; representing almost one in ten of all immigrants and, 9% of the nation's Black population.

People of African descent from both ladder waves of migration assume a monolithic identity in the African Diaspora; a grouping that poses conceptual difficulties in construction of a definition. Gordon and Anderson (1999) define African Diaspora as a denotative label for dispersed people exiled from a common territorial origin: African south of the Sahara. This definition embraces members of both waves of migrations; however, it pays little attention to historical conditions and circumstances behind the two waves of migration. Furthermore, the monolithic identity; the African Diaspora, assumes African ancestry as a foundation from which a common Diasporic identity develops, a consciousness that binds them together. The homogenization of the African Diaspora, though it encapsulates consciousness and solidarity among people of African descent (Zeleza 2009), it also poses a limitation on analyzing the astonishing diversity among them. As Butler (2001) argues, the conceptualization of the African Diaspora must accommodate the realities of the phases of diasporization and the multiple identities that developed within each phase. In the frame of this paper, direct descendants of enslaved African people born in Africa within the boundaries of the United States are referred to as the old Diasporic whereas, the new Diasporic refers to people of African descent who voluntarily migrated, particularly after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and their descendants.

Emancipating the 'Kin Beyond the Sea'

Before critically examining the social and political connection between old and the new Diasporic African people in contemporary America, it is imperative to first trace back the historic nature of the connection between continental Africa and the African Diaspora. This section, thus, traces this engagement back to the turn of the 19th century when twin struggles of Black nationalism and civil rights movements were wedged in Africa and in the United States, respectively. The mutual reinforcement of the two struggles culminated in the birth of Pan-Africanism, a consciousness born and sustained under relentless suppression and physical separation. Conceptualized as both a political and racial philosophy and a movement, Campbell (1994, 285) defines Pan-Africanism as 'an exercise in consciousness and resistance [which] reflects the self-expression and self-organization of African people.' The movement aimed at promoting feelings of oneness among people of African descent, continental or abroad, with the goal of self-restoration and emancipation from perpetual White domination.

African Diaspora's Early Attempts to Emancipate Continental Africa

The African Diaspora initiated and maintained unwavering commitment to liberate and emancipate Africa from colonial and racial subjugation. The Chicago Conference on Africa, convened in 1893, was one of the earliest attempts by the African Diaspora to address the plight of Africa. The conference was aimed at inspiring a responsibility among the African Diaspora to liberate Africa from European imperialism. And similar goals and sentiments to liberate Africa were echoed at a follow-up conference held in Atlanta, Georgia in 1895.

Following political cultivations from these early meetings, Black consciousness came into full conception in 1900 when Henry Sylvester Williams, a London-based Black barrister from Trinidad organized a conference in London. The conference was attended by 32 delegates from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean with resolutions, which included an appeal for European leaders to grant African colonies rights to self-governance. The London conference ushered in a remarkable point in African Diaspora's commitment to the liberation of Africa from European imperialism. It is not surprising that, following this conference, the spirit of Pan-Africanism began to sow its seeds into various parts of Africa and the African Diaspora. The early decades of the 20th century, thus, witnessed numerous efforts by the African Diaspora to emancipate Black people from perpetual European domination...

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