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Oct. 24, 2020

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Black immigrants find camaraderie, division amid protests

Some in younger generation frustrated with attitude of elders

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Ade Okupe sits outside his home in Parkville, Md., near Baltimore, on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Okupe is among the many young Black immigrants or children of immigrants who say they are speaking out for racial equity while also trying to convince older members of their communities that these issues should matter to them, too.
Ade Okupe sits outside his home in Parkville, Md., near Baltimore, on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Okupe is among the many young Black immigrants or children of immigrants who say they are speaking out for racial equity while also trying to convince older members of their communities that these issues should matter to them, too. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark) Photo Gallery

Inspired by the global protests against systemic racism and police brutality, Nigerian American blogger Nifesimi Akingbe donned a black shirt that read “I am Black history,” and began recording a video.

Akingbe then went on to list her frustrations about racism in America and directed her message to Black immigrant communities like her own: This is your battle, too.

“When these cops see us or when some of these racist people see us, they see a Black person,” Akingbe said during the 34-minute video posted on YouTube. They “don’t care if you were born in Alabama, if you were born in Nigeria, in Ghana, in Sierra Leone. They see one color.”

Akingbe, of suburban Baltimore, is among the many young Black immigrants or children of immigrants who say they are speaking out for racial equity while also trying to convince older members of their communities that these issues should matter to them, too.

“I feel like their mindset is different,” the 31-year-old told The Associated Press, referring to immigrants like her parents, who she says tend to overlook racial issues.

To be sure, most Black immigrants have experienced the brutal legacy of European colonization, and those from Latin American and Caribbean nations have a history of slavery in their own countries.

In the U.S., from the civil rights movement to the current Black Lives Matter demonstrations, there have also been generational tensions in the African American community when it comes to taking a stand against racism. But these have largely been over tactics, said David Canton, a professor of African American history at the University of Florida.

“Everybody has a role in the movement. People have to learn to live with that and respect people’s decisions,” Canton said.

Like Akingbe, fellow Nigerian American Ade Okupe has been having conversations with older immigrants in hopes that they will see police brutality as something that also affects them.

So far, the 27-year-old said, he hasn’t been successful.

“It’s a non-issue to the older generation,” said Okupe, who lives in Parkville, a Baltimore suburb. During some of their chats, older immigrants tell him they came to America to work and provide a better life for their children, not to protest about race.

“They want to make sure they are not doing anything that rocks the boat,” said Daniel Gillion, author of “The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy.”

“They are trying to be good citizens and protests, in their eyes, — pushing back and criticizing the nation — isn’t their perception of being a good citizen.”

For some immigrants, their attitudes are driven by worries about their children.

Elsa Arega, an Ethiopian immigrant who lives in Lancaster, Penn., was horrified by the police killing of George Floyd in May and cares about what is going on. But she also wants to keep her daughter, a college student in Virginia, safe and fears her daughter could put herself in danger if she participates in protests.

“I just want her to focus on her education,” Arega said, speaking her native Amharic language. “People come to this country to work and change their lives, not to get into an argument with the government.”

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