The Changing Face of Race: New Black Immigrants in American Public Schools

Anthropology; Race and Ethnicity; Education

This project explores the experiences of new black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean in US public schools as a window on contemporary processes of racialization in American public life.

Research Interests
  • Identity Development
  • schools
  • informal learning
  • African diaspora
  • Caribbean
  • youth culture

Black immigration fromAfrica and the Caribbean is rapidly transforming communities  across the United States. According to UScensus data,  there has been a more thanfourfold increase in black immigration since 1980, and between 2000 and 2013alone the black African-born population in the US more than doubled (Foner,2016).   In Charlottesville, across the South, and indeedacross America, immigration from Africa and the Caribbean has begun totransform the face of race in American schools and communities (see Fix &Capps, 2013). Debates on "who counts as black?" have  emerged on university campuses (Guinier andGates at Harvard, 2004) and most recently at Cornell last fall, whereprotesters noted that the "black" student population at Cornelldisproportionately represented international or first-generation African orCaribbean students (Jaschik, 2017).  WhileAfrican-Caribbean migration to the US is not new, the dramatic upsurge in blackimmigration in the past decade presents new issues and raises new questionsabout processes of racialization, assimilation, minoritization,  human dignity/personhood , and  social justice as they are enacted in theAmerican public school system.

            This project will explore how experiencesin schools (as cultural spaces as well as institutions) shape black immigrantencounters with existing processes of racialization and assimilation that havelong characterized immigration in the United States.  We will explore the following questions:

            How does diversity  within the immigrant black population impact(nor not) immigrant black youth and parents' experiences in schools?

            How is race represented, discussed,debated, etc. in public discourse in schools, especially compared topersonal/private experience?

            What particular practices of theschool are influential in black immigrant experiences and/or contribute tomarking difference and/or equality/ inequality?

            How, when and where are encounterswith racism in schools salient? What interpretations or meanings do immigrantblacks give to such experiences?

            How do teachers of black students(both immigrant and non-immigrant)perceive differences/similarities acrossthese groups?

            How are black immigrant interactionswith non-immigrant blacks salient (or not) in immigrant's experiences ofschools?  

            How do notions of opportunity,freedom, and achievement characterize discourses of immigrant blacks on theirexperiences of schools?

            How do notions of ethical personhoodand morality as embodied in school practices and discourses shape immigrantblack experiences and interpretations of public schooling?

            Our research approach will bemultimodal/interdisciplinary. We will use demographic data, surveys,  ethnographic interviewing and observation, videoanalysis, and narrative analysis to explore these questions.  We will conduct interviews with parents,teachers, and youth themselves (ages 10 to 18); we'll participate in dialogues,meetings, and other community-school events; we'll design and administersurveys and gather demographic statistics.

Desired outcomes

This project will create research that contributes to debates over race and public education in the US. The desired outcome will be a co-authored or edited book, a series of conference papers, and potentially an educational video for use in Universities and schools that documents the nature of immigrant experiences and their moral/ethical implications for larger narratives of identity and belonging.