Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell (in his piece “Black Like Them”) outlines the differences of how Black immigrants perceive themselves and how others perceive of Black immigrants with contrast to Black Americans.

Black immigrants, usually, do not see themselves as Black in the same way Black Americans do. West Indians, for one, take black literally, as denoting skin color. Their perception of themselves, while acknowledging racism as an annoying hindrance, is oft that of hard-working individuals who can do anything they put their minds to. Probably because it looks like they have.

Black immigrants live in better neighborhoods and have bigger, enduring families. In some areas, West Indians do as well as Korean or Chinese immigrants. Well, this is exactly the catch. Black immigrants are the new model minorities.

The model minority

The United States makes examples of model minorities to treat racism as the obstacle of an individual rather than as a system of injustice. In the past and now, Asian Americans and Asian immigrants are allotted fairer business setups and loans than Black people, so are quicker to become successful business owners. Furthermore, they placed their businesses in areas where White people would never go, but Black people and other minorities were filtered into for their affordability.

Much like with Black immigrants, Asian success is attributed to education and hard work. Contrastingly, there is veritable evidence that measures objective factors of institutionalized racism and holds that while at first Asian immigrants and Americans fared as worse as Black Americans, racism on their side has mitigated.

The image, howbeit, is the worse problem.

Asians are grossly underrepresented in upper management positions, and naturally in film and television. Finally, even if we look at Asians with similar educational backgrounds as Whites, Whites earn 5 percent more. Hence, society would have it that the Asian community is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to defeat racism and reach success.

On the contrary, though Asians might be better off than Black or Latino folk, they are ultimately working harder to earn less– as are the great majority of people of color almost by definition.

Perception is not always aligned with reality

What's more interesting in this case, albeit, is that Black immigrants appear to thrive on that image. Gladwell’s analysis presents a series of studies, all that add up to employers and other authoritative figures having a higher perception of Black immigrants than Black Americans, merely because they believed that they had a greater ability to work hard given their regarded humble beginnings, whether that be the Caribbean or Africa. Black Americans are discerned as the “bad” Black people, who grew up in “bad” neighborhoods, and are bogged down by old history.

One white manager in reference to West Indians is quoted:

“Island blacks who come over, they’re immigrant. They may not have such a good life where they are so they gonna try to strive to better themselves and I think there’s a lot of American Blacks out there who feel we owe them. And enough is enough already. You know, this is something that happened to their ancestors, not now. I mean, we’ve done so much for the black people in America now that it’s time that they got off their butts.” (Mary Waters)

Gladwell observed that in Canada, West Indians were the anathema of society, just the same as Black Americans in America. Clearly then, it is not that Black immigrants are so special and different.

Because as West Indians were Canada’s first encounter with Blackness, no contrast existed to uphold them.

It should be obvious, hopefully, that Black immigrants are not by nature more loyal nor do they work harder innately than Black Americans. Yet, this impression has comparatively disadvantaged Black Americans.

In comparison, Black Americans and Black immigrants of the same socioeconomic bearings should have comparative chances of getting into a top school. In truth, there are no significant differences. But Black immigrants are seen as more amenable to institution interests and are ergo used as a means to avoid real Diversity, the presumption steadfast that Black people are all alike regardless of background.

Black immigrant privilege

I would not go as far as to say that there is a Black immigrant privilege. As a concept and systemic entity, this is perhaps a stretch. Surely, White people are not adept enough at telling Black people apart to make even their racism discriminatory. This means that Black immigrants and Black Americans face the same or similarly personalized racism, and eventually, this results in a system that both Black immigrants and Black Americans are disadvantaged by. However, the system may manifest itself in different ways, expressly so when the system of American is regarded by itself.

While Black people who pass as such may be the more likely victims of police brutality, Black Americans are the more likely victims of poverty, the poverty that seems to be entrenched in the Black American experience simply as a historic consequence of systematic racism and slavery in America.

Black Americans are more likely to come from single-parent households, that which European colonization in America can be held accountable by way of the disruption of the Black American family through compulsory matriarchal families, the slave trade, the masculinization of the Black woman, mass incarceration, and an abundance of other unfavorable complications. Black Americans are more likely to call themselves “just Black”, and Black immigrants and their children and their children are more likely to know their ancestry past America.

The reality is that Black Americans came and remain in America by force to be exploited, and Black immigrants are here by choice to exploit an opportunity. The classic immigrant story of coming to America for "a better life" cannot be shared with the millions of Black Americans who were brought to America against their will, even if both have to struggle for success.

Black immigrants, irrefutably, remain inhibited by xenophobia, and no doubt the racism inflicted on both Black Americans and Black immigrants look the same more often than not.

Withal, when it comes to a unique experience of disenfranchisement, specifically when we take into account a persistent and troubled socioeconomic history, and the psychological damage felt by centuries of American anti-black racism, Black immigrants are far less familiar. This recognition of a divergent origin is not to trivialize the effects of colonization and racism internationally, especially in the Caribbean and Africa, but to emphasize the differences that exist despite structural racism across the African diaspora.

As a first generation citizen myself– both my parents and even most of my first cousins hailing from Trinidad and Tobago–, I identify strongly with the Black American experience and most aspects of Caribbean culture. But I make sure to remember that my narrative is not one and the same of my fellow Black American, and to ask myself why and how that is.

Real diversity

Variants of class and race must be present at the same time for any likeness of diversity. Economic diversity would be nothing without racial diversity, and racial diversity would be virtually worthless without economic diversity. Just as Black poverty is different than White poverty– institutional racism embedded into the very structure of class– the Black experience in itself is also varied.

All people of color, undoubtedly, come from a set of diverse environments and circumstances.

I cannot tell Harvard how to get real diversity. I can say that it is not what Harvard has now. For a prestigious school, based like so many others off of the principle of exclusion historically and presently, real diversity is not probable.

Real diversity will only occur when we decide that it takes more than approximately 51 percent of a freshmen class to claim diversity; when we decide to be critical in our analyses, and question the victories that are handed to us; when we decide to act on these critiques and challenge the institutions that deserve them, real diversity will occur.

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