The unique circumstances arising from the manner in which the vast majority of African Americans came to the Western Hemisphere and the question of whether African Americans should be considered an immigrant group in the strict sense of the term have contributed substantially to the overarching debate over the role of race in American society. Adding to whatever racial tensions might have arisen among African Americans and certain immigrant groups, resentment has been manifested in some quarters over perceived preferment of newcomers over the long-established African American population.
Over the general, long-term perspective on history, the relationship between African Americans and other immigrant groups to the United States has revolved around mutual suspicion and competition. This aura of suspicion and competition has been heavily overlain and exacerbated by the racial issues that had already been set in place during the early colonial era. During the early seventeenth century, the few Africans who were transported to colonial Virginia, Maryland, and New England colonies held the status of
Communities of free African Americans existed from early colonial times. However, because of the growing incompatibility of the chattel slavery system outside the South, they flourished to a far greater degree in the northern colonies and states, particularly in the more vibrant economic climate of northern urban centers. As a distinctly identifiable and socially denigrated minority, African Americans invariably competed with newly arrived white immigrants for the lowest-paying jobs. With substantial white immigrant communities in nearly every major center by the 1860’s and increasing numbers of African American slaves escaping into the North on the
Harper’s Weekly illustration of the burning of New York City’s African American orphan asylum during the 1863 draft riots.
In New York City,
The great New York City draft riot, notorious and horrific in its scope as it was, set the tune for subsequent northern and midwestern riots against African Americans. This ongoing violence was partially fueled by the anxieties and feelings of insecurity on the part of white immigrant groups. Anti-African American sentiment among white immigrants grew after the Civil War and during the early twentieth century. Meanwhile,
As Jim Crow segregation systems became more rigid throughout the South and economic conditions there generally worsened, African Americans sought comparative freedom and better employment opportunities in northern cities, in which they formed ethnic enclaves. New York City’s Harlem and Boston’s Roxbury became two of the largest and best known of such communities. As black southerners were moving north, large numbers of eastern and southern Europeans were entering the United States, enlarging or creating their own ethnic enclaves. They were also coming into competition–at times violently–with African Americans for jobs. Interactions between Jews and African Americans were more ambiguous because of the existence of small but vocal groups within both communities harboring attitudes of racial exclusivity and religious anti-Semitism.
The decade of the 1960’s witnessed both the ebbing of the old immigration patterns and the crest of the
By the last decades of the twentieth century, American Latinos and Latin American immigrants–who are often collectively known as Hispanics–combined to overtake African Americans as the largest ethnic minority category in the United States. However, Latinos comprise people from many highly disparate nationalities, including Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and other groups with roots in Central America, South American, and the Caribbean. To complicate their relationship with African Americans even further, many Latin groups contain strong black elements. Consequently, there has been measurable outreach between African Americans and Latinos. Some African American community and legislative leaders have joined with Hispanic leaders to support liberalized immigration policies. Many educational institutions, especially historically black colleges, have actively recruited students from Hispanic communities.
Despite increasing African American cooperation with Hispanics,
A question generating great differences of opinion has been what the impact of increasing Hispanic immigration–both legal and illegal–might have on already high unemployment rates within the African American community. Moreover, as African Americans have seen many Hispanics reach higher levels than most African Americans, black resentment has grown over the possibility that favoritism has been shown to the newer arrivals. However, there is no evidence that disparities between black and Hispanic incomes are any more than a perception.
Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Penguin, 2003. Though this book is mainly about Chinese Americans, it often offers comments on African Americans that present interesting juxtapositions of the historical interplay of African Americans with a large nonwhite immigrant group. Katz, Loren William, ed. Anti-Negro Riots in the North, 1863. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Compilation of historical documents that illuminate the reasons why immigrants rioted. Learner, Michael, and Cornel West. Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Two intellectuals, one Jewish, the other African American, discuss the long and paradoxical interplay between their marginalized communities. Morgan, Edmund. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975. Useful for providing background information for and chronicling the advent of slavery and racism into the American social and legal fabric. Morrison, Toni. What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Edited by Carolyn C. Denard. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. Contains the Nobel Prize-winning author’s 1993 essay “On the Backs of Blacks,” which presents a stark analysis of the dilemma of race as relating to nonblack immigrants and their attitudes toward and interactions with African Americans. Swain, Carol Miller, ed. Debating Immigration. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Collection of essays on immigration, the most significant of which concerning racial issues are those by Swain and Jonathan Tilove.
American Colonization Society
Civil Rights movement
Universal Negro Improvement Association
West Indian immigrants