Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

African Americans as

minority ( ± immigrant?)

African Americans as minority

African Americans did not immigrate voluntarily like traditional immigrants.

African Americans coming to the New World found not freedom and opportunity but slavery.


African American experience in USA: 350 years of slavery and segregation, 50 years of legal desegregation and unofficial resegregation.

Slavery lasted app. 250 years.

Legal segregation lasted another 100 years (separate & unequal schools, voting restrictions, last hired-first fired, excluded from professions, bans against black-white intermarriage)

In effect, assimilation of African Americans to the USA's Dominant Culture was actively discouraged or legally prohibited. (e.g., separate schools, neighborhoods, bans on intermarriage).

Complete legal equality has existed for only 1-2 generations

Biggest historical drag on African Americans: lack of capital development—slaves were forced to work their whole lives without profit or savings for themselves or their children.

Immigrants had opportunity to work, profit, accrue capital, wealth, property. (Some didn't; others got more than their share from work by slaves and poor whites)


Unofficial segregation continues:

Official segregation is illegal, but segregation has been largely re-established through geographic and economic separation. (white flight, economic inequality, private-school, bible academy, and home-schooling movements)

Public schools are more segregated now than in the 1960s.

Higher education: lower taxes, decreasing state support, higher tuitions benefit wealthier students, burden poorer students.

Red states restrict voting by minorities. (Shorter voting hours, picture IDs)

Black and white intermarriage rates lag behind rates of other interracial marriage generally.


African Americans as domestic or internal migrants

In limited ways some individual and collective relocations by African Americans imitate aspects of the immigrant narrative:

Slaves escaping from South to North gained greater freedom and some rights of citizenship.

"Exodusters": after Emancipation, African American families and communities founded all-black towns in Kansas and in Oklahoma territory (also Florida?)

The Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities, late 1800s through mid-1900s for industrial work and service-related jobs.

Military service, a traditional path to assimilation, rights, and economic improvement for minorities, pulls African Americans away from original communities to larger world, encourages racial mixing, leads to higher rates of racial intermarriage.


Africans as immigrants? (e.g. Dr. Rose Ihedigbo, from Sandals in the Snow (IV2 149-172))

Africans who immigrate are sometimes not counted as "African Americans," a term that may be reserved to Americans descended from enslaved Africans.

Instead African immigrants may be called Nigerian-Americans, Kenyan-Americans, etc., but this naming situation is new and fluid.


African immigration to USA was almost non-existent until late 20th century.

Why so little immigration till recently?

American legal discrimination against African Americans meant immigrant narrative couldn't work for Africans.

Also African overpopulation is unprecedented in world history—overpopulation drives immigration throughout history

By some measures—educational attainment, family stability, generational progress—African immigrants are currently among the USA's most successful immigrants.

Many African immigrants maintain their family religions, whether Christian or Muslim, along with traditional gender roles, which may lead to family stability.

African immigrants sometimes speak British or Commonwealth English, potentially giving their speech prestige beyond that of other Americans.

Also, African Christians are often more evangelical than white evangelicals, providing connections to USA's dominant culture.