The Changing Nature of 'African-American'

By Williams, Sherri | The Quill, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

The Changing Nature of 'African-American'


Williams, Sherri, The Quill


FEBRUARY IS AFRICAN-AMERICAN History Month (also called Black History Month) and is designated to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans, people of African descent who were born in the United States.

But the increase of African immigrants is also notable and is changing the definition of who is an African-American. In 1990, more than 363,000 African immigrants were living in the United States, according to U.S. Census data. The latest census numbers show there are now more than 1.6 million African immigrants living in this country.

The spike in African immigrants is causing an identity shift that is sometimes puzzling for demographers and will surely present a coverage opportunity for journalists.

During the 2010 census, some African immigrants who are now citizens identified as African-American, said Hawa Siad, executive director of the Somali Women and Children's Alliance, a non-profit that assists East African immigrants in Columbus, Ohio.

"There was a lot of confusion about who claims to be African-American," Siad said. "Many of the Somalis are citizens now. So they have to claim they are African-American, but that was not the intent. It was kind of misleading to some."

Reporters can learn to cover the fluid definition of who is an African-American and the growing African immigrant community by learning about the community as it evolves.

DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS WITH AFRICAN COMMUNITY LEADERS

They can give reporters first-hand insight into the issues African immigrants face in a particular community. The businesses that African immigrants are running are revitalizing areas, and that's an important story to tell, Siad said.

"We came here as refugees without any money or anything, but we made it and we're successful," she said. "Immigrant communities are contributing and not dragging."

But the relationship between some native-born AfricanAmericans and African immigrants is strained because of lack of knowledge about one another, she said. A news story about that can start crucial dialogue between the two communities that needs to happen.

Siad has other tips for reporters covering African immigrant communities: Be objective, learn about the community, be fair, use neutral language that is clear, summarize interviews with sources before your story is published or aired to clear up meanings. Getting things wrong or out of context can mislead the public and perpetuate stereotypes. Most importantly, work on developing relationships with African immigrant community leaders by having discussions and building trust.

REACH OUT TO REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT AGENCIES IN YOUR CITY

People who help African refugees and immigrants resettle here can give insight into the community and why they've come to the United States.

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