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Jackie Copeland-Carson

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Beyond Kwanzaa: Embracing the New Black Diversity

Posted: 12/26/2012 2:05 pm

For many Americans, our country's African heritage becomes real for one week every year during the December 26th-January 1st Kwanzaa celebration. This worthy holiday is a way to teach and express African-Americans' history of struggle and success. However, we need to move beyond this week-long celebration to a fuller recognition of Africans' ongoing contributions to our community and nation.

In the past 20 years there has been an almost 200 percent increase in African immigration to the United States. Today, there are more than 1.5 million African-born black people in America. More than 3.5 million Americans self-identify as members of the new African diaspora, meaning that they were born to at least one parent who was born in Africa. In some metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C., Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Los Angeles, Africans make up a third of the black population. Most Africans in the U.S. are from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya with many other countries represented as well. The most prominent example of the new African diaspora is President Barack Obama -- the American-born son of a Kenyan immigrant.

Unfortunately, new Africans in America are subjected to modern versions of the very same distorted stereotypes imposed on black people since the country's founding. Mainstream media still promote the image of Africa as "The Dark Continent" defined by war, famine and poverty. Africans are depicted as corrupt, inferior victims needing the guidance of benevolent, more enlightened Americans to solve their problems.

The reality of Africans in America could not be further from the mainstream narrative. Africans in America come from all walks of life, including courageous, poor refugees escaping political persecution in war torn countries, as well as affluent, accomplished professionals working in every imaginable field.

A recent study by Rice University shows that Nigerian-Americans are the most educated group in America. According to research by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, African immigrants are more likely to be college educated than any other immigrant group. In fact, the study shows, African immigrants are also more highly educated than any other U.S.-born ethnic group.

Despite high levels of education many African immigrants, like many Americans of African descent, face racism; however, they are also subject to discrimination based on their national origin. A largely invisible minority, with few exceptions such as the efforts of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, African immigrant issues are largely excluded from immigrant and civil rights advocacy and foundation funding.

There are many meaningful ways to learn more about and connect with America's new black diversity. The arts are an important vehicle. Africa diaspora leaders are using the arts and media in creative ways to express their own visions of Africa. For example next generation filmmaker Zina Zaro-Wiwa's acclaimed "This is My Africa" and video exhibit "Progress of Love " are riveting expressions of African emotional life that work against the tendency to dehumanize and stereotype Africans. Pan-African and black film festivals throughout the country educate about the rich cultures and public affairs of Africa and its worldwide diaspora.

Applause Africa, an innovative multi-media company, publishes a magazine and website that is fast becoming the Ebony of America's new Africa diaspora, highlighting its diversity and accomplishments. Applause Africa just debuted the African Diaspora Awards in New York City to honor the inspiring contributions of the new African diaspora. The equivalent of the NAACP Image Awards, superstar Grammy winner and humanitarian, Angelique Kidjo, and acclaimed CNN journalist, Lola Ogunniake were among the thirteen outstanding honorees.

The African Women's Development Fund USA (AWDF USA), an Applause Africa partner, was proud to be an ADA co-sponsor. Our Mid-Atlantic region co-chair, Mora McLean, President Emerita of the Africa-America Institute, presented Ms. Kidjo with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Black in America today is not -- and never really has been -- just African-Americans. Since the 1500s, black America has included the rich ethnic diversity of African-descent people from the continent as well as the Caribbean, Latin America, even Europe and Asia.

Although we come from diverse backgrounds, we share much in common. Our communities have among the world's highest rates of poverty, infant and maternal mortality, and HIV/AIDS. At the same time, we have among the highest levels of charitable giving in the country -- a tradition of philanthropy that defines both African-American and African cultures. In 2010 alone America's new and old African diaspora gave an astounding $23 billion to strengthen black and other communities in the U.S. and Africa.

Africa lives across America's backyards. Move beyond Kwanzaa's abstract notions of Africa in 2013. Here's how.

Use the resources mentioned here to begin learning about our diversity and the long history of African contributions to America, including today's African immigrants to the U.S.

Build community across our diversity. Although we may have been born in different places, we share a common African past -- no matter how distant -- and a destiny bound in America's future. We can find unity across our diversity to benefit all our communities.

Marshal our rich economy of giving to address our common challenges in America and humanity's shared African Motherland. Giving is a tie that also binds diverse African diaspora cultures. Giving together activates Kwanzaa's Pan-African cultural principles to make a practical difference to our communities.

AWDF USA can help. Created by a coalition of Americans and Africans, AWDF USA is devoted to building an American Giving Movement to uplift Africa and its diaspora.

Learn more about our Mother Africa Campaign to transform Kwanzaa to a new future for African peoples everywhere.

We look forward to hearing from you and contact us at info@usawdf.org or 408-634-4837 to learn more.

 

Follow Jackie Copeland-Carson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AWDFUSA

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