Monday, December 10, 2007

Building Alliances

by Yusuf Sarfati, Graduate Research Assistant at the Kirwan Institute

Immigration to the U.S and the relations between the immigrant communities and other communities of color (particularly African Americans) in the U.S is of crucial importance for the future and quality of the U.S. democracy. Last weekend at the “A Transformative Agenda around Race Conference” that the Kirwan Institute organized, I had the chance to attend several panels that explored this topic. I also had the chance to interview some grassroots activists, who are engaged in alliance-building work between African American and immigrant communities, for a report that the Kirwan Institute is preparing.

Based on the panels and the interviews, I want to point out two common set of challenges that affect collaboration between African Americans and the newly coming immigrant groups. Focusing on common challenges does not imply that either African American or immigrant experiences are homogenous. There is no doubt that there are class-based, cultural, racial, and regional peculiarities to each relationship that needs to be explored in greater detail.

The first set of challenges is structural. Competition for jobs or housing facilities in low opportunity neighborhoods form the thrust of structural factors that characterize the relations between low-income immigrant and low-income African American communities. In many places the newly arriving immigrants, who work in arduous conditions and barely make survival wages, become neighbors with African American communities with already high unemployment rates.

The second set of challenges is cultural barriers to effective collaboration. Many immigrants quickly “learn” that, if they want to succeed, they need to stay away from the underachieving and unsuccessful African American community. On the other hand, many African Americans are troubled by the lack of racial awareness of the newcomers. (Race is not the primary marker of personal identity in different parts of the world)

Black Alliance for Just Immigration in the Bay Area, the Southeast Regional Economic Justice Network in Durham North Carolina, the Center for a New Community in Chicago, and National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights are some of the many grassroots organizations which aim to build bridges between immigrants and African Americans. These organizations try to overcome the aforementioned challenges by creating safe spaces, where members from both communities can share their stories and spell out their presumptions about the “other”. The more these stories are shared, the more people are able to break their presumed cultural understandings.

In addition to sharing stories or empathizing with each other, the activists emphasized that each community need to be educated about the history of the other community. The immigrants need to be familiarized with the history and achievements of the civil rights movement and its effects on immigration policies as well as the structural racism that continues to inflict U.S. society. On the other hand, the African American communities need to understand that international immigration is a consequence of globalization, and it cannot be understood isolated from the structural inequalities that exist between the developing and developed world. It is also crucial to point out that the racial discourse around the immigrant rights will affect the public discourse around race relations in the U.S.

When this dialogue creates some basis for trust, it is possible to form a common socio-political agenda around issues that are of interest to these communities, such as racial profiling in the criminal justice system, quality of public education, workplace safety or wage policies.

We need to take the efforts of these community activists seriously and try to enhance effective alliances between African Americans and immigrant communities, if we want to have an inclusive pluralistic democracy, in which different races and cultures thrive both by recognizing their differences and working for common goals.


  1. I really dont see any body really helping the kid in nochild left behind
    everyone that has come to USA has to work to progress and I see the hispanics are getting more help then the true irish,china japan,german,ant the ones even born in US-get less

  2. Your desinging in the building has been very beautiful for the students.So because of this things seem to be very beautiful building of the USA.
    regards, saad from