Saturday, July 24, 2010
Medill News Service
A civil rights activist contends it's not the job of black people to stop white people from being racist. That, she argues, is the responsibility mostly of whites.
Hannah Jacoby, a founding member of the Chicago Alliance for Racial Equity (CARE), argues that point. Last, month, her organization hosted its first Anti-Racism Workshop for White Allies to train Caucasians to work better with minority groups in combating racism.
"Everything we try to do here is with the intention of movement building," said Jacoby, a special project's coordinator for the alliance. "It shouldn't always be the work of people of color to stop white people from being racist or to inform white people that they are being racist."
The organization was created by white staff members and supporters of the Chicago Freedom School to teach members of the white community how to be effective allies with minorities.
The nonprofit Freedom School is located at 719 S. State. It provides a place for adults and youth to come together to learn about social movements, and teaches young people to be social activists.
To break the racial barriers that often hinder the community, the alliance, Jacoby explains, felt the need to take part in encouraging positive social movements in Chicago. They look to enlighten the white community, she says, by having them examine their own attitudes. Their comments and treatment of minorities, she argues, can create a negative relationship between them and other races.
"We all have a lot of intersecting identities that make the experience of being white, or the experience of any race, different for everyone, depending on your sexuality, your gender, your class," Jacoby said. "But there are certain things about being white that bring privileges, even if you happened to also be queer or poor-and you have to acknowledge those."
After six months of developing the material, knowledge and support needed for the workshop, the alliance opened the class to those interested-more than a dozen attended.
"We really want people to be doing a lot of sharing and talking about their experience and if it gets bigger than that it just gets hard to have everyone share without having it taking a really long time," Jacoby said.
She worked closely with several of her black and Hispanic colleagues at the Freedom School, garnering a great deal of support for the initiative. The three-hour workshop was open to anyone interested in participating-white people primarily signed up for it.
Jacoby said that while the workshop was created to target white people, she welcomed attendance from any person of color.
"One the points that we want to get across from the training is that we, as white people, have to get to a point where it doesn't matter if a person of color is in the room for us to be doing this work-we have to be doing this work all the time." By MARIANA MORA
Medill News Service
Girmai Lemma is from Ethiopia but has lived in Chicago for many years.
He does not consider himself to be African-American- Lemma says he is African. And he's not alone in saying so. Constant tensions between African-Americans and non U.S.-born Africans refute the notion that the term "African-American" is interchangeable with black. In the eyes of many native-born blacks and African immigrants, it isn't.
"It would have been nice if we had a good relationship with African-Americans, but we don't," Lemma said.
How Lemma defines himself may be irrelevant to the larger American society. But within the black community, less than 2 percent are Africans. Lemma said that in the United States all black people are put in the same group.
"When we came from Ethiopia, we never thought we would be discriminated here," Lemma recalled. "[The police] follow you all the way until your house. It is a suburb; not too many blacks living there. When they see you, what is black is black, until they hear your accent."
While that might make police look favorably on African immigrants, it also cuts the other way.
Eugene Peba, originally from Nigeria, believes his accent causes African-Americans to look down upon him.
"We don't sound like they sound," he said. "It is a little bit weird. We think that they would say, 'This is my brother,' but there is a little bit of resentment."
Garrard McClendon, who hosts a show on CLTV that often focuses on African-American issues, said those feelings of resentment go both ways. African Americans, he noted, can feel disrespected by immigrants, "because immigrants don't see us taking advantage of the [opportunities] we already have."
McClendon blames the media for perpetuating stereotypical images of black people as criminals, underemployed or womanizers. And African immigrants, noted a Chicago educator, pick up on those cues.
David Stovall, who teaches African-American and education studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, agrees that Africans have preconceived notions of African-Americans-some positive, some negative. "When people come to the states they already have an image of what black life is," Stovall said.
He adds that some African immigrants see black people in the United States as a source of community. Others, however, wish to distance themselves from them.
The source of the tension, Stovall said, is that Africans don't understand the history of oppression black people faced in American. Additionally, there are those American blacks who are unaware of the turmoil that Africans faced in their homeland. According to Stovall, the problem stems from an inability on both sides to communicate and engage each other's history.
Though both groups have roots in the same continent, their histories and experiences differ significantly. To some, the American black community and the African immigrant community sometimes segregate themselves.
"Most of the African people seem to group among themselves," said Alice Ogbarmey-Tetteh, a Ghanaian who has been living in Chicago for more than 30 years. "They have to learn how to socialize outside their community. If you want to survive in America you have to learn the system."
A 'different America'
From a sociological point of view, it is not simply a matter of integration between both groups. Mosi Ifatunji, race and ethnicity professor at UIC, explained African immigrants are unable to understand why African-Americans are still upset about racial discrimination-the immigrants arrived at a point when it was formally over.
"African immigrants are seeing a different America, and therefore have a different set of expectations," Ifatunji said. "African immigrants are not upset with American whites about slavery."
For many black Americans, it is still hard to not have resentment against whites," the professor noted.
"To simply forget about the past for African-Americans is sort of to throw their ancestors under the bus," Ifatunji said.
As for the children of African immigrants who were raised in the United States, they too may feel distanced from the African-American community.
"When you come from Africa to United States, your identity is formed by the African-American experience," said Oluwabukola Adeyinka, who arrived from Nigeria when she was 5. "But I'm African. I have been my entire life."
Adeyinka explained that older generations of Nigerians, like her father, have stereotypes of African-Americans as lazy and dangerous, despite having lived in the U.S. for years. The distance between the American black and African immigrant communities is particularly apparent for immigrants during the census count. Although they may not identify themselves as "African-Americans," they have only a single choice on the census form to identify their race: "Black," "African-American" or "Negro."
Other races and ethnicities, though, have several categories from which to choose.
This category is particularly troubling for Africans who don't consider themselves "black." "Ethiopians are a little lighter-skinned than black," Lemma said.
Despite the tensions, there are some-like United African Organization Director Alie Kabba-who think both groups should unite as minorities in the United States.
"I think that in terms of electoral processes, Africans and African-Americans can generally work together," Kabba said. "The same issues that [affect] the African community, also have an impact on the African-American community."
Ifatunji thinks the discussion shouldn't be whether black groups could merge culturally, but rather can they enhance common political interest.
"Your cultural traditions-let it be your cultural traditions. Your history-let it be your history," he said. "But political, if nothing else, we have a common interest across all lines of color against white supremacy."
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Bill Clinton has promised to get tough with countries which pledged billions of dollars in aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti but have yet to deliver the money they promised.
Six months after the disaster that killed 220,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless, only $506m of $5.3bn raised at an international donors' conference in March has been handed over, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
Only four countries – Australia, Brazil, Estonia and Norway – have so far given anything at all, the UN says. Two of the biggest promised contributions, $1.15bn and $1.32bn from the United States and Venezuela respectively, have been held up by delays in Congress and political red tape.
A frustrated Clinton, the UN's special envoy to Haiti, said he would pick up the phone to world leaders to try to get the funds flowing more quickly.
"I'm going to call all those governments ... I want to try to get them to give the money, and I'm trying to get the others to give me a schedule for when they'll release it," Clinton told CNN earlier this week. The American news broadcaster first brought the shortfall to light during a study of figures provided by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and a survey of donor nations.
He accepted that the aftermath of a lingering global recession had played some part in countries not yet delivering on their pledges. "I think that they're all having economic trouble, and they want to hold their money as long as possible," he added.
Glenn Smucker, an anthropologist who advises aid and development groups in Haiti, said: "President Clinton raises a legitimate concern. It's easy to make pledges and harder to find the money, and you can't take it for granted that all of the money will come through. But if you had all $5bn together in one place at the same time it would still be a tremendous challenge to spend it in an efficient and effective way."
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Abdulmajeed Dere expressed frustration with trying to interact with African Americans since he arrived in the metropolitan Phoenix area from his native Somalia in 1996.
“When I came to the country, I saw African Americans as my brothers,” said Dere, a small-business owner. “I was laughing with joy to see them. But every time I talk to them, rejection, rejection—every time. After awhile I felt like, why should I even talk to them?”
Dere is resigned to the cultural split, but is also frustrated by it. As a middle-aged member of the sandwich generation, attending both to children in high school and college and to his elderly mother, he feels he has much to share with his American brothers. A former community case worker, he is deeply familiar with the strain black families face, especially in this recession, squeezed by household demands from both ends of the age scale.
He believes, though, that his accent and a sense of superiority among some African Americans erect barriers to communication and undermine the potential for mutual support. Research published by Arizona State University (ASU) reinforces and echoes Dere's experience.
Two Different Paths
Africans make up a small but growing part of the black population in metro-Phoenix, which limits opportunities for interaction. According to the 2008 American Community Survey, "foreign-born Africans" number around 18,500 in Maricopa County, or 10.8 percent of the area’s black population. The refugee population in Arizona is much smaller, although that figure more than doubled from 2006 to 2009, to 4,327, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.
In a 2008 supplemental report entitled “The State of Black Arizona, Volume I,” ASU associate professor Lisa Aubrey and colleagues found that many African Americans hold new arrivals “responsible” for their ancestral enslavement and “correlate Africa . . . with poverty and feel ashamed.” Aubrey and her coauthors call today’s African Americans “old diasporans,” descendants of slaves and other earlier African arrivals. The scholars refer to modern continental Africans, including refugees who fled strife in their countries, as “new diasporans.”
Extremely different paths to settlement in Arizona, combined with dissonance within each group, pose challenges for African Americans seeking to build bridges between old diasporan and new diasporan communities. New diasporans in metro Phoenix hail from many parts of Africa, including Liberia, Somalia, Rwanda and Sudan.
Elders from both old and new diasporan communities confront complex issues that will impact their quality of life and that of their descendants for generations to come. While African Americans face myriad health challenges, African immigrants also run into barriers of transportation and isolation, which impede their social and emotional health.
“People are too busy with life, no one is interested in reaching out to African communities,” said Abraham Reech, a senior case manager at Lutheran Social Ministries, a Phoenix area refugee resettlement agency. “There is no reason, no incentive.”
“There is a lack of communication,” said Tap Dak, outreach coordinator for the AZ Lost Boys Center, which serves the Sudanese community of metro Phoenix. He said differences in religion, ideology and politics among African immigrants and refugees often lead to misconceptions between different ethnicities, despite their similar experience and mutual concerns.
Dak added, “The (African) community doesn't have dialogue within itself.”
Recent African arrivals in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun often possess starkly different experiences, expectations and outlooks on America—and on each other, ASU’s Aubrey noted, Along with refugees seeking political asylum, the immigrants include “some of the most highly educated, professionally skilled and accomplished Africans from the continent,” she said.
Preconceived ideas about other ethnic groups often lead to rifts.
Reech, who is Sudanese, recalled an instance when African neighbor—like Reech, a recent immigrant—forbade his son to associate with Reech's son. Reech believes that the father didn't want his son to associate with black people, whether African or African American -- even though he was also black. He said this is a common reaction among immigrants, who wish to avoid negative associations with African Americans.
“My son was on the principal’s list,” Reech said, shaking his head in exasperation. “What would make the father think that way?”
Little Interaction Among Immigrants
Charles Shipman, Arizona’s refugee coordinator, acknowledged that there is little interaction among the newer African immigrant groups. He attributes the problem less to outright antagonism than to a sense of competition.
During his eight years of working with refugees, Shipman said, he has seen collaborative efforts between African immigrant groups quickly collapse when discussions turn to pursuing funds.
But the situation is improving, Shipman added. “Organizations are starting to understand that mutual assistance is about mutual assistance. They are starting to come together,” he said.
African Americans around Phoenix also constitute a diverse population, including Valley natives and recent arrivals from other states. In many instances, a shared ancestry with African immigrants is not enough to promote intercultural connections.
“Refugee assistance is all about outreach, and there is not a lot of outreach from the African American community,” noted Eman Yarrow, a community and economic development manager for the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program.
Yarrow cited First Institutional Baptist Church and the Light of Hope Institute as faith-based organizations particularly committed to aiding refugee families. “Resettlement agencies need to do a better job—talk to larger churches about supporting smaller immigrant churches.”
For example, First Institutional invited Kigabo Mbazumutima, a doctor from Benin, to speak at its 2010 Community Health Forum and share his experiences growing up in the Congo.
Mbazumutima is working with ASU faculty to improve health care access to the Great Lakes region of Africa, and the mostly African American attendees at the forum showed interest in volunteering and making donations. He and event organizers hope that by providing access to resources, such as the church facility, established groups in the African American community in Phoenix will foster cultural understanding and the greater acceptance that new diasporan communities need to flourish in this desert region.
While Arizona is a hotbed for immigration issues, concerns about aging African immigrants and refugees in Phoenix don’t always garner the same attention as the much larger Latino population.
This article is the first of two articles for PhxSoul.com conceived and produced as a project for New America Media’s Ethnic Elders News Fellowship, supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies.
While Arizona continues to make headlines as a hotbed for immigration issues, concerns about African immigrants in Phoenix do not always garner the same attention afforded to the larger Latino population, or the predominant African American community.
African immigrants residing in the Metropolitan Phoenix—many of them refugees resettled here by the U.S. government--are a compact pan-African group of less than 20,000, according to the 2008 American Community Survey. They enrich Phoenix culture from an impressive array of nations, from West Africa (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria to East (Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia), and from the central continent (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania), to South Africa—plus many other countries.
Life in this arid new land is especially trying for many older African immigrants. They find themselves far from often strife-ridden homelands, unable to find work and facing barriers of language and mobility. Adding to their stress are daily confrontations with a generation of Americanized children, who seem to turn traditional values upside down.
Although immigrants constitute an underwhelming 4.3 percent portion of the total black population of the Valley of the Sun region, they continue to raise families, start businesses and establish themselves in Phoenix. They also face the daunting challenges of transportation, language and eldercare.
Among the African immigrants in the Valley, the main population increase has come from refugees escaping brutal circumstances at home. According to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, the overall refugee population in Arizona more than doubled from 2006 to 2009 to 4,327.
Refugees resettled in the Phoenix area are not only from multiple African countries, but include large numbers from Iraq and Burma, as well as other strife-torn nations.
Jobs Are Scarce
The recession is having a strong impact on employment for Arizona’s refugees. Finding jobs for immigrants is a primary concern for the state-contracted refugee resettlement agencies, which bring a large portion of Africans to the Valley.
Only one in three of people in the refugee caseload entered the workforce in 2009, the lowest level in three years for the Office for Refugee Resettlement. Those who landed work received an average hourly wage of $7.17.
Job placement was particularly tough for non-English speakers. At the AZ Lost Boys Center, outreach coordinator Tap Dak said the program is developing English as a second language (ESL) classes for the organization’s service population of Sudanese immigrants.
“Lost Boys” is the term for the generation of Sudanese refugees orphaned and dislocated by religious and ethnic conflict since the mid-1980s. Since 2001, the U.S government has resettled many of them to Phoenix and other American cities.
Dak said the center is examining whether to start a training program for stay-at-home seniors. “We want to get elders a daycare worker's license, but with state requirements and liability, we're still looking at how that will work,” he explained.
Transportation Barrier Isolate Many
High unemployment among African immigrants and refugees also reflects their difficulty getting to and from work.
“Transportation definitely impacts a lot of people here,” acknowledges Lorraine Stewart, chief operating officer of the Maricopa County Area Agency on Aging.
Stewart states that there have been great strides in affordable housing and that support for elders is particularly strong within the religious community. She stressed, “But without transportation, elders can become extremely isolated.”
The Phoenix Valley Metro light rail system, a positive step toward public transportation access, began in 2008, and is a positive step. But many Valley residents require two or three transfers to reach work or school.
For African elders struggling to learn English and faced with the prospect of waiting for buses during triple-digit summer temperatures, the simplest errand in Phoenix can be daunting.
The urban sprawl of Phoenix can intensify elders’ isolation, leading to discouraging circumstances and depression among older Africans. “Elders need a place to gather,” says Abdulmajeed Dere, a Somali businessman and former caseworker of 10 years in the Valley.
Seniors often find themselves relying on case workers, volunteers and their working adult children for tasks ranging from the mundane to the essential, Dere said. This creates considerable strain on families with a dependent elder in the household, he added.
“They want to visit each other,” Dere said of Somali elders. “The [culture] they come from is about sitting together. When they have to stay at home because their young don't have time to take them back and forth, stress builds up.”
Dere knows of this stress first hand. His grown children attend Arizona State University and high school, while he and his wife manage a cafe in a plaza and a driving school. His typical work day, which runs from early morning until 8 p.m., leaves his mother, who is approaching her 70s, long periods to occupy herself.
The Somali community is concentrated on Phoenix’s east side, but Dere’s home is in Glendale, a long ride to the west.
Also, the strained economy in Phoenix has forced several potential gathering places to close. For example, the Somali Association of Arizona's Hope Center offered a score of services ranging from job training to citizenship classes, until it closed its doors in 2006, due to a lack of funding.
When asked if elders are valued in the Somali community, Dere shrugged, calling the subject “a big challenge and messy.”
Often, he said, Africans recently immigrated to the United States discover that authority in the household is turned upside-down, in part, because of language difficulties.
Children, he said, usually adapt to American culture and learn English more quickly than their parents and grandparents. In a city with poor translation services in hospitals and schools, Dere continued, young family translators effectively become gatekeepers for their elders in accessing medical, legal or other services.
The result, Dere said, is to leave generations on either side of a widening cultural and digital divide. “Yes they can translate, but still a child doesn't know about legal things or immigration law,” he noted.
Despite the difficulty for African elders, English classes could provide the positive community space older adults long for, if done the right way.
“Elders want to see people they are close to,” Dere said. He stated that while volunteer agencies and community colleges provide ESL classes, they design them for the whole community. Many older immigrants find those environments intimidating.
Dere emphasized, “Remember these are people who have never attended formal school.”
Besides needing more training capacity in ESL and other skills, older Africans could benefit from fewer barriers to become childcare workers. Arizona requires those qualifying for a daycare worker's license to know English and be certified in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
Dak described the potential benefits of teaching a certification program to Sudanese elders that takes into account their learning styles. They would gain a greater sense of purpose, and relieve economic pressures on parents in their community struggling to make ends meet. “Do you know the (daycare) fees, if children are not picked up on time?” Dak laughs, shaking his head.
There are no easy answers for African elders in the Valley of the Sun, but efforts to meet the needs of this community group still persist despite the demanding economic obligations of working adults, and the dearth of funding available on the state level.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
June 30, 2010
I recently had a conversation with the mayor of North Miami, Andre Pierre, who has the distinction of having invited thousands of generally low-skilled immigrants with an imperfect command of English to come settle in his city.
Pierre was chief sponsor of a resolution, passed without dissent by the U.S. Conference of Mayors a few weeks ago at its annual meeting. The resolution urged the Obama administration to accelerate entry for 55,000 Haitians whose petitions to immigrate to the United States have been accepted but who are languishing on waiting lists that could last up to 11 years. The conference justified its demand as a means to provide relief for the earthquake-battered nation and increase cash transfers from Haitians working in the U.S. back to their relatives at home. The 55,000 Haitians in question have relatives who are either American citizens or permanent legal residents living in the U.S.
Probably no city in America would be more affected than North Miami if the administration moved the Haitians up to the front of the visa line. According to Pierre, about a third of his 60,000-plus constituents are of Haitian descent, meaning that thousands more would be likely to settle in the city if the administration opened the doors to the Haitians. But he said his town is prepared.
“These are folks with family members who are U.S. citizens and residents who want to be reunited with their families,” he told us. “The U.S. has really nothing to lose by [allowing] them in -- the government wouldn’t be paying for their travel, passports, airfare, or to go to eat or live in a home or take a shower.”
As it happens, Pierre, 41 years old, is himself a Haitian immigrant; he arrived in New York as a teenager and, before attending college and law school, made his way by cutting grass, pumping gas and delivering newspapers. And he has a further personal interest: his brother-in-law and teenage nephew and niece, whose applications to immigrate to the U.S. were accepted in 2002, are still awaiting visas; they’ve been living in a tent since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The proportion of this country’s foreign-born population is near historic highs, and unemployment is edging 10 percent. Many Americans are hostile to the idea of new immigration -- particularly if it involves low-skilled newcomers with rudimentary English. But the fact is that America has absorbed great waves of immigrants in the past, and most have become productive, patriotic citizens.
If tens of thousands of Haitians were admitted from the wait list, the burden would fall heavily on a handful of places -- cities such as Miami, New York and Boston. Those three cities owe much of their texture and flavor to immigrants from Haiti and elsewhere; they tend not to look at newly-arrived Haitians as a foreign element, but as part of the fabric of their communities. The most venomous grousing about the Haitians would be likely to come from elsewhere -- from Americans far from the cities that would actually feel the arrival of a new influx of immigrants. It certainly won’t come from Mayor Pierre.
Haitian nationals who were in the United States prior to Haiti's deadly earthquake six months ago will have more time to apply for Temporary Protected Status after the government announced an extension for its filing deadline this week. The original filing period was set to expire next Wednesday, but has now been pushed back to January 18, 2011.
Temporary Protected Status offers these Haitian nationals the legal right to stay and work in the country for 18 months. It was announced days after the disaster as a compromise of sorts to stem an influx of refugees from the country. The hope was that by offering temporary legal status to Haitians, people here could continue to work and bolster the Haitian economy by sending remittances to family there.
But when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the offer of TPS on January 15, she also warned that those who arrived in the U.S. after the Jan. 12 quake would be deported. And dozens of refugees did end up getting caught up in immigration detention. MSNBC highlighted some of the myriad struggles facing Haitians who are trying to survive in New York six months after the earthquake. Homelessness, strained family relations, and little knowledge of or ability to access health care, are taking their toll on Haitians whose home country still has a long road ahead to full recovery.
As of April, the Department of Homeland Security was reporting that they'd received fewer applications for TPS than they'd expected. Only 10,000 people had applied, even though there are an estimated 200,000 undocumented Haitian nationals living in the country. Michelle Chen explored some of the reasons for the few applications: language barriers, a not insignificant filing fee of $500, uncertainty about getting tangled up in the immigration system, and a well-founded fear that registering with the government could lead to deportation down the line. Also, people with criminal convictions are ineligible for TPS.
The new extension on TPS will only be granted to Haitians who have stayed in the country continuously since the earthquake. People interested in filing for TPS can call 1-800-870-3676 or visit uscis.gov for more information.
Photo: Getty Images/Michael Nagle
Utah state officials are investigating how a list of 1,300 largely Latino names and sensitive personal information got sent to media outlets and ICE officials this week. The list, which an anonymous group claims is a roll of the state's undocumented immigrants, includes information like Social Security numbers, birth dates, workplaces, addresses and phone numbers. And in case it couldn't get more frightening, it's also got the names of children and due dates for the list's pregnant women.
State employment agencies are usually the ones with access to such detailed personal information.
In an accompanying letter, the anonymous group demanded that those on the list be deported immediately. The list to news outlets also came with a letter, dated April 4, from "Concerned Citizens of America."
"Our group observes these people in our neighborhoods, driving on our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools and entering our public welfare buildings," the letter reads, according to Utah's Dessert News. "We then spend the time and effort needed to gather information along with legal Mexican nationals who infiltrate their social networks and help us obtain the necessary information we need."
The group says it plans to send new lists on a continual basis and insists that state and federal agencies take "forceful action."
While state officials scramble to investigate the matter, some in the state's Latino community are terrified.
"It feels like we're being persecuted," one mother of four who is on the list told local reporters.
Meanwhile, community advocates are outraged.
"My phone has been ringing nonstop since this morning with people finding out they're on the list," Tony Yapias, former director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs, told Yahoo News. "They're feeling terrorized. They're very scared."
At least some of the people named on the list have already been proven to be documented.
Officials at ICE haven't confirmed whether it's investigating the matter because of "finite resources," while Utah Gov. Gary Herbert Tweeted yesterday asking state agencies to investigate the matter.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Friday 9 July 2010 14.30 BST
Nigeria is the largest black nation, with approximately 150 million people. So it was little surprise that when Barack Obama became the first black president of the US, Nigeria's then-president, Umar Yar'Adua, attempted to visit him. A visit with Obama, arguably the most popular man on the planet at the time, would have benefited Yar'Adua, who faced questions about his health and competence as a leader.
That visit never happened and instead the public relationship between Yar'Adua and Obama was practically nonexistent. A Nigerian news outlet indicated that Obama was unwilling to meet with the Nigerian leader because of a lack of democratic and human rights progress in the country. Instead, the American president chose Ghana as his first stop in sub-Saharan Africa, where he spoke sternly about democracy, good governance and leadership in a speech that was interpreted as a condemnation of Nigeria's leadership.
Tensions were further inflamed when Yar'Adua's political party accused Obama of seeking to destabilise the then-president's government. Flash forward a year and, following Yar'Adua's death in May, the Obama administration has chosen to be very vocal in its support for Nigeria's new president, Goodluck Jonathan. On his first day in office, Jonathan was visited by the American undersecretary of state in what can only be interpreted as a show of support. America quickly signed a bi-national agreement with Nigeria, the first with an African nation in decades.
Jonathan was also invited by Obama to attend a nuclear summit in Washington, DC, where he was heralded as an example of African democracy at work. Even the "terror prone" classification afforded to Nigeria after a citizen attempted to blow up a plane was soon scrapped, and Nigeria went from being on a list with the likes of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, to being touted as an example of countries with US-approved enhanced screening technology. Unfortunately, America's support for Jonathan risks sabotaging him and even creating problems for the US and President Obama.
While oil remains an important factor in the Nigeria-US relationship, America's military aspirations are equally a reason for the change in America's tune. In 2007, Yar'Adua had formally rejected a request by the Bush administration to house United States Africa Command (Africom) in Nigeria. However, now that Yar'Adua is no longer in power, the US has another opportunity to reintroduce Africom to the African audience. If Nigeria were to get on board, there is the likelihood that other countries will view the military command more favourably, thus paving the way for an Africa-based Africom headquarters. This could also prove beneficial to American private military companies that are expanding their presence in the region, and especially in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea.
These possibilities are even more likely now that the US has a black president. Although his popularity ratings have slipped in the US, Obama remains a very popular figure on the African continent. This popularity, coupled with the new treatment being meted out to Nigeria and its president, could increase the chance of a public declaration of support by the Nigerian government.
It would be detrimental for Jonathan to be seen as an American puppet, a perception that has already taken root. In early 2010, American officials insisted on a change in the leadership of the Nigerian electoral body and its controversial chair, Maurice Iwu, was soon removed, fuelling concerns that the removal was at America's request.
America has also proclaimed its support for a 2011 Jonathan ticket. If indeed Jonathan runs for president and wins, the credibility of this win will be diminished and America will be accused of tampering in the domestic elections of an independent nation. This would be detrimental not only to the resulting Nigerian administration but also to the credibility of the American government, which asserts that it hopes for true democracy in Nigeria and the region.
In addition, obvious American support for Jonathan, a southern Christian, could reinforce negative religious and tribal divisions. Considering that many believe Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim, was snubbed by Obama, the new attitude towards Jonathan could foster the already widely held belief that America is anti-Muslim. Such an attitude, if further entrenched by opportunists, would destabilise any future Nigerian government and encourage intertribal friction in a country with over 250 different languages and groups. In 2010, a North African al-Qaida group offered to train Nigerian Muslims to kill Christians. This was during a period when socioeconomic, religious and ethnic tensions fuelled repeated fighting in the country's middle belt.
If these and other negative possibilities were to come to pass, America's support could be interpreted as a failure of its Africa policy. This would not only weaken the African belief in Obama's leadership and vision for the continent, but make him prey to further foreign policy criticism by opponents at home.
America's carefully crafted but public preference for Jonathan could very well serve to complicate Jonathan's position as president and even the possibility of him running again. It could also have repercussions for President Obama who can hardly afford more missteps considering the challenges he already faces at home. And, most significantly, such support could create more problems for Nigeria, a country recently listed as the 14th most failed state in the world, and, undoubtedly, with enough issues to deal with.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 9 (IPS) - The Statute of Racial Equality, soon to be signed into law in Brazil, is at the centre of a controversy between those who consider it a historical achievement, like the abolition of slavery in 1888, and those who see it as failing to satisfy the demands of the black movement.
The ceremony at which Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will sign the statute into law, scheduled for Jul. 20, will not be the brilliant occasion hoped for by the government's Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR).
After nearly two decades of debate, the statute approved by Congress on Jun. 16 has not left everyone happy.
It is ”a watered-down text that does not include some of the major demands of the social movements linked to the cause of black people” and also ”waters down political aspects,” the Collective of Black Entities (CEN) said in a declaration.
CEN, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), was referring to the suppression of clauses recognising the nature and origins of racism, which it regards as decisive for ”properly overcoming it.”
According to the state Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 50.6 percent of Brazil's population describes itself as black. In spite of this, the term ”race” was expunged from most of the text, Marcos Rezende, general coordinator of CEN, told IPS.
Senator Demóstenes Torres of the rightwing Democrats Party, who steered the statute through Congress, amended terms in the text like ”racism” and ”racial inequality” to expressions like ”ethnic differences or discrimination.”
The senator said the reason for the changes was that the concept of ”race” is outdated, because genetic research shows there is only one human race.
Rezende pointed out that sections of the statute establishing racial quotas for university admissions and political parties, and tax breaks for companies with over 20 percent of black employees, had also been eliminated.
”They want to deny that skin colour affects access to certain positions,” he complained.
In 2004, barely two percent of university students were black, but in 2006, after quotas were adopted at some universities, the proportion of black students increased to 12.5 percent, he said.
In Rezende's view, other education and public health statistics also ”show that black people receive a different, and lower, standard of care.” In the state Unified Health System (SUS), black and mulatto women are given less anaesthesia during normal childbirth, he said.
The SUS is free to the entire population of 190 million Brazilians, and is used by 80 percent of them.
In the labour market, the same situation occurs. Black people with the same qualifications are paid less than their white colleagues for doing the same job.
And in the political arena, black people are under-represented in the circles of power, Rezende said.
The lower house of Congress, for instance, is made up of 513 lawmakers of whom 10 percent are self-declared black and 33 percent mulatto. Out of 81 senators, only one is self-declared black, he said.
”Discrimination against black people in Brazil is the result of the racist structure of our society, which preserves privileges for some and excludes others,” the activist said.
”Black people have greater difficulty in obtaining public goods and services, entering the labour market and higher education, getting access to land, and securing rights, even when they are guaranteed by the constitution,” he complained.
According to IBGE, two-thirds of poor people in Brazil are black, half the Afro-descendant population live below the poverty line, and a white youngster is three times more likely to go to university than a black one.
”This is the friendly Brazilian form of racism. No one is racist, but the statistics confirm what we say,” he said.
In the view of Ivanir dos Santos, the head of the Centro de Articulação de Populações Marginalizadas (CEAP), an NGO working with marginalised people, although the statute is silent about many of the black movement's demands, it does address important issues.
The statute reaffirms freedom of religion, already enshrined in the constitution, and so guarantees the right to practise religions of African origin, he told IPS. Dos Santos emphasised that this is the first time this has been acknowledged in an official document.
Other criticisms refer to the elimination from the text of the need to make reparations for slavery, and of the description of the slave trade as a crime against humanity, with no period of limitation.
On the other hand, the non-governmental National Afro-Brazilian Congress, which works to raise black consciousness in the black movement, said the statute is ”the most significant political event in recent centuries.”
Among other gains, they highlight the reaffirmation of compulsory teaching of the history of African people and their descendants, as is already provided by law.
They also celebrate the document's reaffirmation that the black population's rights to health, housing, culture and so on, must be guaranteed by federal, provincial and municipal authorities by means of social and economic policies.
The minister in charge of SEPPIR, Eloi Ferreira de Araujo, said the statute is ”a diploma in its own right, an affirmative action law.”
”This is an extraordinary victory, 122 years after the abolition of slavery,” he said.
In Ferreira de Araujo's view, criticism about the elimination of racial quotas from the text is baseless. The statute stipulates that the government shall adopt affirmative action programmes to reduce ethnic inequalities, which will include quotas, he said.
He also downplayed the elimination of the terms ”racism” and ”racial discrimination”, on the grounds that the concepts of race and racism are defined in several parts of the text, and the term is included in the statute's title.
Certain sectors of the black movement also complain that the text does not adequately define the modern remnants of the ”quilombos”, free communities originally founded by runaway slaves.
The government has recognised 1,345 such communities, and will now proceed to demarcate and register their land.
Proposals for the social integration of these communities, and for providing credit, health care and housing, will now be examined, the minister said.
Monday, July 5, 2010
A small, but rapidly growing, community of African immigrants has its own concerns about Arizona's controversial immigration law. And organizations that assist the community face their own challenges of how to educate their members about their rights.
The majority of this primarily East African community entered the United States as refugees. The total population of Africans in the United States increased 40-fold between 1960 and 2006, with most of the growth coming after 1990 (as violence grew in the region). That influx is reflected in Arizona as well — Africans now comprise about 2.6 percent of the state's foreign-born population, more than twice the percentage in 1990. (For more background on Africans in Arizona, read this series at Phxsoul.com.)
Arizona's new law will go into effect later this month — unless stopped by a preliminary injunction. It requires law enforcement officials to ask for documentation if, after they have lawfully stopped someone, there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally. Officers "may not solely consider race, color or national origin" to determine suspicion.
Mursal Ali, who helps with immigration services for the Somali Bantu Association of Tuscon, says that while most Africans in Arizona have documentation, there are exceptions.
Most Africans enter the United States on a refugee visa and have one year from arrival to apply for permanent residency. Ali says that some never actually applied for a Green Card, and some of those who did have lost their cards. Others cannot afford the $390 application fee.
A number of the organization's members are now going through the process to apply for permanent residency because of the changes in the law, a process that Ali says can take about four to five months. In the meantime, applicants get documentation proving they have started the process.
With or without paperwork, Africans have raised questions about how the law will impact them.
Ali says immigrants wonder what would happen if they were to call 911 in an emergency. Before, he said, if you were in a car accident, police only asked for a driver's license. "But now, if you need a police to help you, you have to prove that you are a legal immigrant," Ali believes.
That may be one example of the change in the law leading to a misconception. The Arizona Republic has been looking at hypothetical situations like that car accident scenario. In such a case as that, there generally would not be enough evidence to suspect the driver is in the country illegally — even if he or she didn't have a driver's license to show.
At the Arizona Lost Boys Center, Executive Director Kuol Awan says members have been briefed on how to respond to police.
"We try to tell people that you don't have to react differently. Just give the police what they want," Awan says. He says he does not want the community, particularly young men, to get defensive about inquiries into their immigration status.
Though some African immigrants fear they may get swept up in the wide net of enforcement, Arizona State University Professor Matthew Whitaker says their presence is not always noticed by the larger Arizona community.
"To many folks in Arizona, Africa might as well be Neptune," Whitaker says. "It's just not on their radar screen."
The invisibility of the African community is partially due to its small size. But Whitaker says it also has to do with the fact that they tend to live in the same area, even in the same apartment complexes. Still, Whitaker says Africans could eventually draw more attention.
"If the percentages hold, and the immigration continues, and they continue to increase, that's going to be interesting," says Whitaker. "What you're going to hear from folks is, 'When did they get here?' "
(Dana Farrington is a Digital News intern with NPR.)