Outcomes for Black Immigrants Undercut Notion of Systemic Racism
Black newcomers find success, suggesting factors other than race hold back black Americans
Black immigrants, on average, earn more money and use less welfare than blacks born in the United States, raising doubts about the reach and impact of systemic racism.
The income data, which comes from the Census Bureau, is not new. But it appears in a pair of new reports — one last week by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and one released this week by the Center for Immigration Studies.
“There are some things about black immigrants that would make the do better.”
The median household income for black immigrants, $48,232, is more than $14,000 higher than the median income for blacks born in the United States. Whites, Hispanics, and Asians born in the United States all out-earn their racial or ethnic counterparts who have immigrated to the United States. American-born blacks also are more likely than black immigrants to be enrolled at least one government-assistance program and more likely to be living in poverty. Those two categories also are the reverse of other racial and ethnic groups.
“There are some things about black immigrants that would make them do better,” said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
He pointed to fact that 29.5 percent of black immigrants have college degrees, compared with 19.3 percent of American-born blacks.
“That probably helps explain why they do better,” he said. “But there could be other factors.”
White immigrants also come to America better-educated, on average, but earn less than native-born whites. The share of white immigrants with a bachelor’s degree or better is 46.6 percent, more than 11 points higher than native whites. Yet, the median household income of white immigrants is only 95 percent of American whites.
Rapidly Growing Population
Black immigration, like immigration generally, is quickly rising. Since 1980, the number of foreign-born blacks in the United States more than quadrupled. Blacks currently make up nearly 10 percent of all immigrants, up from 3.1 percent in 1980.
“Many black migrants perceive things are better overall in the U.S. than where they are coming from,” said Carl Lipscombe, who is on the senior leadership team at the left-leaning Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “I think many of them don’t realize or don’t expect to face discrimination based on race.”
But some black immigrants said dark-skinned immigrants from Africa and Caribbean perceive better opportunities in America because there are better opportunities.
Rick Nugent, president of the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations, said he originally came on a student visa in 1967 because there were few opportunities in his homeland. At the time, Jamaica had a single university, he said.
“Once you get adjusted to the lifestyle and the opportunities, you don’t go back,” he said. “There are jobs for people who want to work. Same with education.”
Nugent, a retired engineer who lives in Maryland, said he is like many immigrants drawn to America for opportunities lacking in their home countries.
Hispanic,$47 268,$39 732
Black,$34 070,$48 232
Asian,$77 251,$72 583
White,$60 321,$57 382
|Share in poverty
|Use at least one welfare program
|Bachelor’s degree or higher
“Many black immigrants, first and foremost, they come to improve their lifestyle,” he said. “And they work hard. I remember at times, I had two jobs.”
Nugent said blacks born in America do not have the same perspective as blacks who came from other places. He said Jamaicans feel embarrassment in accepting assistance from the government. He said it not in their personal experience, either. He said when he was growing up, his country had no social safety net — if you lost your job, you had to find another one.
“I say to black Americans, ‘You are blind. You guys don’t know what it’s like,'” he said. “Their spirit is not our spirit … In some parts of the world, it’s worse. It’s all about perception.”
Nugent said he never felt constrained by the racial strictures of America. He said he bought a house in an all-white neighborhood in 1971.
“I don’t think an average black American would do that,” he said.
Nugent said that does not mean his Jamaican birth made him immune to racial prejudice. He recalled having eggs thrown at his house when he moved into the white neighborhood. Eventually, he said, the hostility faded.
Another time, he said, his daughter was at a white friend’s house and overheard the grandmother scolding the girl for playing with a black child.
But Nugent said he never seriously considered moving back to Jamaica.
‘The White Man’s Ice is Colder’
Larry Davis, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and director of the Center on Race and Social Problems, said he is not surprised that black immigrants earn more than their native counterparts. Census statistics indicate that black immigrants are much more likely to be in the United States legally than Hispanics.
As a result, most black immigration comes from an unrepresentative subset of foreigners. America gets immigrants who are far better-educated and wealthier than the typical resident of the countries they come from.
The data suggest that black immigrants have an advantage over their Hispanic counterparts because they are much more likely to be in the United States legally. It is a self-selected group better equipped to succeed.
“Not only is it a drain [from the countries of origin], but it’s a screen,” Davis said, referring to America’s ability to select the best immigrants. “They come from the very best of their group.”
Davis, author of “Why Are They Angry with Us? Essays on Race,” said the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow cannot be ignored, either.
“The second ingredient [black immigrants] have that blacks in America don’t have to the same degree is they come intact,” he said. “They have a sense of who they are. They have a language. They have a culture.”
Davis pointed to an old story about a black person shopping for ice choosing the white vendor over the black seller. Why? “The white man’s ice is colder,” goes the answer. Immigrants are not afflicted by that kind of thinking, Davis said.
“Blacks still fundamentally don’t believe in themselves,” he said.