- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

U.S. black leaders have failed to get African and Caribbean immigrants to think of themselves as “black” and have created a rift among the groups, a panel on diversity said yesterday.”When we talk of housing disparities, education problems … many [immigrants] don’t think that affects them,” said William Spriggs, executive director of the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality.”Black politicians … haven’t been able to get [black immigrants] to buy into what white America is all about, about what white privilege is. Immigrants don’t come here with that understanding. We have to change our language to let them know that these are their problems.”Many immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean do not wish to be classified as black, because black leaders here have failed to reach out to the immigrants and identify their concerns, said members of the panel, which was composed primarily of representatives from the liberal black establishment.Several of the panelists said the best way to get together all blacks — immigrants and American — is to emphasize their common ancestry of slavery.”We just got off the boat at a different point,” Mr. Spriggs said.The event, called the “Spirit of Democracy Symposium on Diversity,” was sponsored by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. About 40 people attended the event at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in the District.Between 1970 and 2000, the share of black immigrants among the nation’s black population grew from 1.3 percent to 7.8 percent. Two-thirds of all African immigrants currently in the United States arrived after 1980.Studies have also found that African-born residents in the United States are better-educated and have among the highest per-capita incomes of any immigrant group. They do not arrive in large numbers, accounting for between 5 percent and 6 percent of legal immigrants since 1997, according to federal numbers.The Economist reported in 1996 that three-quarters of African immigrants have some college experience and that one in four has an advanced degree.Several panelists yesterday painted a different picture of these immigrants.They noted that geographically, black immigrant communities in some cities are separate, making connections difficult.Miami’s sizable Haitian community, for example, has been isolated from the mainstream black culture there, which has created a divide.There were reports during last fall’s gubernatorial election there that many Haitians were shut out of voting because some poll workers — some of them black Americans — could not speak Creole and refused to communicate with the voters.”We have to be frank about the problem between Haitians and African-Americans,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the tax-exempt Haitian Women of Miami. “We cannot continue to be divided.”Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said there has always been a struggle over resources in minority communities.Saying he has been around the world, “Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, South Africa … what I feel like is white supremacy is very much with us,” Mr. Shelton said.Many immigrants are not even aware of the “color line” that prevents minorities here from excelling, other panelists said in amazement. At a conference in Miami recently, panelist Beverlye Colson Neal learned that many Hispanic immigrants did not seek citizenship, only residency.”They don’t care about voting and making life better; they just want to make plenty of money and send it back home, or whatever,” she said.

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