While the migration of black Africans is not new, the number of sub-Saharan immigrants has grown swiftly, an influx that is shifting the demographic landscape across the country, including in New York City.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of legal black African immigrants in the United States about doubled, to around one million. During that single decade, according to the most reliable estimates, more black Africans arrived in this country on their own than were imported directly to North America during the more than three centuries of the slave trade.
And while New York State is home to the largest proportion and many have gravitated to ethnic enclaves like Little Senegal in West Harlem or the Concourse Village section of the West Bronx, to live among fellow Ghanaians, black immigrants from Africa have tended to disperse more widely across the country — to California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Texas and Virginia — than Caribbean-born blacks.
About a third of black New Yorkers were born abroad, mostly in the Caribbean. Africans constitute about 4 percent of the city’s foreign-born population, but as much as 10 percent in the Bronx. At last count, according to an analysis of census estimates by the Department of City Planning, from 2000 to 2011 the African-born population increased 39 percent to 128,000, although other estimates suggest that many more are living here without legal residency.
“They’ve been doubling every 10 years since 1980,” said Kim Nichols, an executive director of the African Services Committee, which is based in Harlem. “There’s a more established family and community network here to come to.”
Some come as refugees, some with work visas or special skills, many to stay and others to hone their talents and eventually apply them back home.
“Many black immigrants do not identify with the historical experiences of discrimination encountered by blacks in the United States,” said Kevin D. Brown, a law professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.
Kobina Aidoo, director of “The Neo-African-Americans,” a documentary, said, “I’ve heard people refer to themselves as everything from ‘African African-American’ to ‘Halfrican American’ to ‘White African-American’ to ‘Real African-American’ to ‘American African” to ‘Just black.’ ”
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, recalling the shooting by the police of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant from Guinea in the Bronx in 1999, and of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last month, said color still trumped place of origin.
“Diversity among African-descended communities remains a black box and a mystery to most Americans,” he said. “[Being] Black is all that matters [to blacks].”