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African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal
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The African second generation in the United States
– identity and transnationalism: an introduction
To cite this article: Kassahun Kebede (2018): The African second generation in the United States
– identity and transnationalism: an introduction, African and Black Diaspora: An International
Journal, DOI: 10.1080/17528631.2018.1559791
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17528631.2018.1559791
Published online: 27 Dec 2018.
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The African second generation in the United States –identity
and transnationalism: an introduction
Department of Anthropology, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA, USA
The New African Diaspora’s second generation in the United States
is large and growing, yet it is one of the least studied immigrant
groups. The purpose of this special issue is to bring together
recent work by immigration researchers on the identity
negotiations and transnational engagements of the children of
ﬁrst-generation African immigrants. Second generation Africans,
who create hybrid identities at the intersection of their ethnic/
national origins and the racial categories of U.S. society, often
contest (and sometimes embrace), being boxed into embracing a
Black identity that is the product of speciﬁc African American
histories, values, and experiences not shared by recent African
immigrants. Contributors examine these issues, as well as the
occurrence, distinctive nature of, and motivations for second-
generation economic and cultural participation in transnational
activities. The collection by key immigration scholars represents a
groundbreaking contribution to the nascent discussion of the
New African Diaspora’s second generation.
The new African Diaspora;
identity; the second
In the half-century since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, close
to 2.1 million Black African immigrants have come to the United States (Anderson 2017). In
fact, Africans make up 36 percent of the overall foreign-born black population, up from 24
percent in 2000, and their numbers are growing steadily. According to a recent study from
the Pew Research Center, there are currently around 800,000 U.S.-born adult children of
African immigrants (Pew Research Center 2013). There are comparable number of
people who came here as infants and small children who are part of the second gener-
ation. Nevertheless, relative to its large and growing size, the New African Diaspora’s
second generation in the United States is one of the least studied groups. Much of the
existing research has focused on the second generation or the new second generation
as it is often called, whose parents came from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean (Kasi-
nitz et al. 2009; Nibbs and Brettell 2016).
Indeed, some researchers have already started studying the third generation of the
post-1960s immigrants from the aforementioned regions (Jiménez, Park, and Pedroza
2017). Yet, the research literature on the second generation of immigrants from Africa
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Kassahun Kebede firstname.lastname@example.org
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL
remains limited. While this is somewhat understandable given that Hispanics and Asian
Americans constitute about seven-in-ten of today’sﬁrst-generation immigrants and
about half of today’s adult second generation
(Pew Research Center 2013), the most
recently edited work on the identity of the second generation has no case studies at all
on the experiences of children of African immigrants (see Nibbs and Brettell 2016). In
seeking to remedy this striking lack of scholarship on this ever-increasing segment of
the U. S population, this special issue of African and Black Diaspora journal brings together
original articles on the lives and experiences of second generation Africans born or raised
in the U.S. The purpose of this collection is to explore what we know thus far about the
new African second-generation, their identity and their transnationalist practices, and to
consider future directions for research.
This special edition builds on some recent groundbreaking studies on the experiences
of the African second generation in the United States, particularly, how they negotiate
ethnic diﬀerences within the black population and their transnational connections (Kwar-
teng 2016; Imoagene 2017; Adjepong 2018; Balogun 2011; Onuzulike 2016). Generally,
however, the articles focus on two broad issues. The ﬁrst four pieces, especially, engage
issues of identity and address the following questions: What structural factors and inequal-
ities, political dynamics, and cultural and social processes aﬀect the ethnic, racial and other
identities that have developed among the U.S.-born or raised African second generation?
How do second-generation African immigrants understand and navigate racial identities
in their host country? In particular, how do they view themselves in relationship to
African Americans and others who self-identify as Black? Do they accept established cat-
egories of U.S. racial identity? How do they interpret, reconcile, or contest their ethnic and
racial identities? Moreover, in what ways do these negotiations crosscut and create new
dimensions in the on-going debates about race in the U.S.?
The second group of articles engages issues of transnational ties, particularly the
second generation’s participation in transnational activities at both symbolic and material
levels. Transnational activities encompass sending remittances, entrepreneurship, and par-
ticipation in sending country politics, visiting and maintaining contacts in the homeland,
philanthropy in the host country, and participating in cultural activities. The phenomenon
of second-generation transnationalism has only recently been addressed in the broader
literature on migration, mobility, and transnationalism. However, it is clear that it is signiﬁ-
cantly diﬀerent in many ways from the transnationalism of the ﬁrst generation (see Lee
2009). The question is how does the new second generation of African immigrants
build upon, expand or diverge from the transnational experiences of their parents.
What kind of transnational practices and engagements characterize the lives of the
African immigrant second generation? Do they send remittances? Are they involved in
transnational political activities? In most cases, the study of second-generation transna-
tionalism has yielded either skepticism about, or only tepid acceptance of, the distinctive-
ness and importance of the experiences of second-generation transnationals. Therefore,
Chacko’s, Ndemanu’s articles and my piece speciﬁcally address the issue of transnational
identity formation and transnational engagement respectively.
Thus, generally speaking, the articles in this collection are both theoretically oriented
and present empirically-based research that explores issues of racial and ethnic identity,
transnationalism, economic, professional, and social attainment. Given the primary objec-
tive for this special edition, this introduction is divided into ﬁve parts. In the ﬁrst part I lay
out theoretical debates surrounding the second generation, including identity and transi-
tional belonging. Second, I present a brief demographic proﬁle of the New African Dia-
spora. Third, I discuss insight into the intersection of African immigrant cultures and
mainstream expectations, as the New African Diaspora and their oﬀspring seek to
deﬁne and redeﬁne being and becoming black in America. I especially focus on how
ﬁrst and second generation Africans contest being boxed into embracing a Black identity
that is the product of speciﬁc African American histories, values, and experiences not
shared by recent African immigrants. In the fourth section, I review the main themes
and ﬁndings as they particularly relate to the second generation. Finally, I provide an over-
view of the main points of the articles in this collection.
Theoretical orientation –second generation identity and transnationalism
The last half a century has seen an inﬂux of nonwhite immigrants into the United States.
Latinos and Asians have dominated this ﬂow, but large numbers of people have also
entered from the Caribbean. Africans are also increasingly signiﬁcant in current immigra-
tion to the United States as indicated above. Several theoretical perspectives have been
proposed by scholars to conceptualize the identities, socioeconomic status, and transna-
tional connections of the new second generation
or the oﬀspring of post-1960s immi-
grants. In this section, I brieﬂy review the theoretical discussions and eﬀorts to
understand who the new second generation are, what shapes their experiences, and
the contributions they make to both home and host countries.
Two primary theoretical perspectives that inspire spirited debate about the new second
generation are the theory of straight-line assimilation and the theory of segmented assim-
ilation. The ﬁrst to emerge was the theory of straight-line assimilation, proposed by Gans
(1992), which states that children of immigrants either join the white middle-class majority
or assimilate into the inner city poor, leading to poverty and downward mobility. The
theory of segmented assimilation was developed and reﬁned by Portes and associates
(Portes and Zhou 1993; see Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Waters et al. 2010) as a critique
of straight-line assimilation theory. Brieﬂy, segmented assimilation theory is based on
the acknowledgment that American society is now unequal, stratiﬁed, and diverse.
Thus, diﬀerent groups are available to which the new second generation may assimilate.
These assimilation paths include upward, or straight-line assimilation into white middle-
class, downward assimilation, and upward mobility with selective acculturation (see
Portes and Rumbaut 2001). While they diﬀer, both theories equate success with progress-
ive assimilation (into a mainstream American culture dominated by white citizens) and
The straight-line assimilation theory was the ﬁrst to draw scholars’attention to the fate
of the second generation. When scholars using this theory predicted the decline of the
second generation, particularly among the black second generation, a signiﬁcant contro-
versy was ignited. Gans, in his article, ‘Second Generation Decline: Scenarios for the Econ-
omic and Ethnic Futures of the post-1965 American Immigrants,’argued that most
immigrants ﬁnd themselves in a post-industrial America in which the promised prospect
of working from rags to riches has vanished with the outsourcing of factories and a result-
ing dearth of well-paid jobs (1992). Compounding the problem, most immigrants’children
attend poor quality urban schools, which derails their educational prospects, further
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 3
constraining immigrant aspirations to advancement. Given the disadvantageous socioeco-
nomic environment that many immigrant communities experience, Gans argued that the
second generation youth were at risk for joining gangs or pursuing other social vices. Gans
concluded that ‘especially dark-skinned ones’will succumb to joining the underclass for
two main reasons. First, he assumed they lack immigrant optimism and would conse-
quently be less willing to take low paying jobs. Second, he took race as an exogenous con-
straint and argued that most dark-skinned immigrants would experience racial
discrimination, which would cause them to embrace defeatism and join ‘lines of the
welfare agencies’(Gans 1992, 189).
In Gans’cynical generalizations, the children of immigrants are assimilating, but they
are integrating into a minority group with lower socioeconomic status rather than embra-
cing the norms, behaviors, and values of the dominant sector of mainstream society. In
spite of such skepticism, research shows most second generation are exceeding expec-
tations. If we consider socioeconomic indicators, they are not only more successful than
their parents, but they’re on par with the overall population in the United States (Pew
Research Center 2013; Imoagene 2017). Gan’s nihilism however continued to create a
ﬂurry of interest in the second generation and a desire to gauge how well they are
faring (Portes and Zhou 1993; Waters 2001; Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Kasinitz et al.
2009; Tran and Valdez 2017). It also sparked the development and reign of the Segmented
Assimilation theory since the 1990s.
Segmented Assimilation (SA) departed in many ways from straight-line assimilation
theory. First, SA accounts for the context of reception and the macro-structural factors
that shape the second generation’s potential for achievement. These include government
policies (favorable, neutral, or hostile), the societal response (degree of prejudice), regional
distribution (concentrated or dispersed), and the class composition of the co-ethnic com-
munity (poor, working class, entrepreneurial, or professional) (Tran and Valdez 2017; Kasi-
nitz et al. 2009). Second, SA takes into account the socioeconomic backgrounds of
immigrants, particularly how most of today’s immigrants are not poor compared to
those described by Emma Lazarus in her famous poem about late nineteenth century
immigrants to the United States, The New Colossus.
For the most part, ‘immigrants
were just as likely as the U.S. born to have a college degree or more, 32 percent and 30
percent respectively’(López and Bialik 2017, 1). Given the diﬀerent levels of human
capital (education/skills) that immigrants bring with them, the social/economic structure
of the host society’s policies and many other variables including the immigrants’optimism,
SA theorists continue to evaluate the three assimilation avenues for the prospects of the
various socioeconomic segments of the second generation (Waters et al. 2010).
The ﬁrst segment of the second generation is composed of those who have or are des-
tined to join mainstream society. Because of advantages from their parents’better socio-
economic status, along with other related variables such as improved race and ethnic
relations in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, this group of young people has
managed to attain a socioeconomic level on par with middle-class Americans (see Kasinitz
et al. 2009). The second group of the second generation have remained within the orbit of
their parents; they have embraced their parents’cultural traditions, selectively combining
them with American social customs to invent and reinvent a composite identity (for
example, Ethiopian-Americans). In other words, they stay within the tightly knit economic
and social circle of the ﬁrst generation and retain access to their parents’social capital,
which may provide them with employment and other opportunities that can lead to ‘rapid
economic advancement’(Portes and Zhou 1993, 82). More speciﬁcally, this segment is
characterized by ‘preservation of parental authority, little or no intergenerational
conﬂict, and ﬂuent bilingualism among children’(Portes and Rumbaut 2001, 52). The
third segment of the second generation has adopted the norms of the American ‘under-
class,’including dropping out of school, teenage childbearing, joblessness, and poverty
(Portes and Rumbaut 2001). Negatively racialized by the wider society, this group exhibits
an oppositional culture and lack faith in the value of schooling. Impoverished, unem-
ployed, and/or incarcerated, they reject their parents’ethnic identity and cast their lot
with inner city African Americans and Puerto Ricans.
The most comprehensive work concerning the experience of Black second generation
immigrants was done by Mary Waters (1990). Waters explored the lives of second-
generation West Indian immigrants. Her research followed their segmented assimilation
and noted the economic decline of some West Indian youth in New York in response to
experiences of racialization and other identity-conditioning situations. The young second
generation’s responses included identifying as inner-city Black Americans, identifying as
ethnic Americans with some distance from Black Americans, or identifying as immigrants
in a way that does not reckon with American racial and ethnic categories (Waters 1990).
She asserted that most young second-generation West Indian immigrants who participate
in the quest for upward mobility felt that the eﬀort to distance themselves from American
blacks would simply be a ‘futile one’(Waters 2001, 325). Her analysis has a biased undertone
since it largely glosses over black immigrants’cultural uniqueness. Rather than contrasting
them with other immigrants children (for example, contrasting how Nigerian-American
Second generation are doing as compared with Mexican-American second generation),
the Black second generation is commonly compared to African Americans. Essentially,
such perspective mistakenly sees race as the only deﬁning variable for Black people.
Interestingly, segmented assimilation theory has been hugely inﬂuential for the last
three decades (Imoagene 2017). However, despite its usefulness, SA theory suﬀers from
many shortcomings, one of which is a middle-class bias. Primarily, it assumes a uniform
American mainstream into which the second generation should be incorporated. In fact,
‘if graduation from a four-year university and admission into the professions or other
“lofty”positions are needed to enter the mainstream, then most Americans, including
most white Americans, are not part of it’(Alba, Kasinitz, and Waters 2011, 765). Second,
the segmented assimilation model partly endorses the pathologization of immigrant
youth. By arguing that not all second generation youth are in economic decline, it
implies that economic decline is the norm for many of the children of immigrants. Yet,
several recent studies have found little evidence of socioeconomic decline among the
African second generation (Imoagene 2017; Onuzulike 2016; Adjepong 2018). Third, SA
theorists have overemphasized the power of racism and, in focusing on racial discontent
and the negative eﬀects of racial categorization, fail to adequately acknowledge the
important advances in civil rights. The movement for civil rights, however contested,
brought legislation supporting equal status and employment to minorities, and social
pressure caused aﬃrmative action policy to bring about increased integration of min-
orities into the labor market. More importantly, ‘programs and institutions developed in
post-civil rights America, such as diversity outreach programs and aﬃrmative action’facili-
tate social mobility (Alba, Kasinitz, and Waters 2011, 764).
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 5
Generally, SA theorists have failed to appreciate the coping strategies of the immigrant
population, a group which well understands the damaging impact of racialization. Many
parents realize that their children will face various kinds of negative racialization. In
response, they make sure that their oﬀspring express pride in their roots, sometimes
sending their children back home for cultural anchoring (Kebede 2017). Indeed, a
recent report shows that: ‘The overwhelming majority of the second generation is comple-
tely ﬂuent in English and integrated in many ways in American society’(Alba, Kasinitz, and
Waters 2011, 263). At the same time, ﬁrst generation parents strongly emphasize the value
of education in the host country (Imoagene 2017; Adjepong 2018). More importantly, in
viewing identity formation and the development of a sense of belonging in the second
generation as occurring within the boundaries of a nation, the core ideas of segmented
assimilation suﬀer from methodological nationalism (Wimmer and Glick-Schiller 2003).
Thus SA theory erroneously assumes that a person develops only one racial, ethnic, or
The most useful theoretical perspective is one that takes into account transnational per-
spectives. This approach adds several nuances to understanding the second generation.
First, it gives attention to the intersecting realities at play in the lives of immigrant families,
particularly the ways that continuing interactions between migrants and their homelands
aﬀect the second generation. Second, it takes into account the ways the second gener-
ation have increasingly found themselves part of social ﬁelds that tie them to complex
relations between one place and another. Instead of using segmentation as a way to
understand this ﬂuid process, the intersecting, overlapping, and multiple ﬁelds of ties
that members of the second generation engage in might better be described as a
sphere of ﬂuid, hybrid identity negotiation or what is now called Afropolitan in the
context of the African second generation (Adjepong 2018).
Given Afropolitan identity the remaining questions are: How can we understand the
African second generation’s transnationalism? What can we learn about the second gen-
eration by examining the extent and quality of their transnational connections? Transna-
tionalism, as ‘the process by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social
relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement’(Glick-Schiller, Basch,
and Blanc Szanton 1995, 48), has changed how we look at the lives of immigrants and
their children. Researchers have long accepted the conclusion that most of the ﬁrst gen-
eration maintain strong links with their home countries. However, the nature and even
existence of transnational involvement among the second generation has engendered
many doubts and much debate particularly whether or not the second generation con-
tinue the tradition of transnationalism (see Lee 2009). A perennial question has been
whether members of the second generation directly or indirectly participate in cross-
border activities, such as sending remittances, participating in transnational politics,
migrant entrepreneurship, visiting and sustaining contacts in the ancestral land, being
part of hometown associations in the host country, and participating in cultural activities.
Although in the lives of the second generation transnationalism and assimilation are not
mutually exclusive, the second-generation transnational connection has garnered only
modest attention (Kwarteng 2016).
Research and empirical studies on the second generation, only available for a recent
and short time span, have largely focused on whether or not the second generation
were assimilating into American society. Nevertheless, several studies have begun to
explore the issue of transnationalism among members of today’s second generation. Two
key lines of thinking emerge from a review of this literature. Some researchers argue that
particular transnational activities, such as sending remittances, etc., are not central to the
lives of the second generation, although their lives have been inﬂuenced by transnational
entities (Imoagene 2017). This line of thinking is predicated on the notion that transna-
tional links will necessarily decline over generations. Yet, other researchers put forward
the claim that many, if not most, of the second generation transnational practices are
core to their ways of being (Wolf 2002, 259; Le Espiritu and Tran 2002, 367).
Speaking of transnational ways of being places the emphasis on the actual social
relations and practices that individuals engage in, rather than the identities associated
with those actions. Yet, much scholarly analysis seems to focus on how transnationality
shapes identity formation without addressing the ways transnational engagement pro-
duces belonging through practices that signal or enact identities by demonstrating a
conscious connection to a particular group. Thus a third group of researchers posit
that more often than not transnationalism experienced at the level of socialization
and growing up in a transnational family may lead to concrete actions (Lee 2009, 10;
Kwarteng 2016; Onuzulike 2016;Trieu,Vargas,andGonzales2016). In other words, the
children of immigrants experience their parents’home mostly as an integral part of
socialization that creates a transnational identity. For example, two recent studies on
second-generation Ghanaians and Nigerians in the United States indicate that they
have a concrete transnational orientation which includes sending remittances, visiting
the ancestral land, and so forth. Interestingly, Onuzulike found that almost all of his
second generation research participants reported transnational social relations and prac-
tices, ‘even though some of the parents were indiﬀerent over passing along cultural tra-
ditions to their children’(2016).
Largely, many researchers report that second generation transnational activities are
often diﬀerent from and less intense than those of the ﬁrst generation. Scholarship on
second-generation transnationalism, though relatively new, does suggest that a succes-
sive generational drop-oﬀin transnational engagement may be gradual and that transna-
tional orientation may continue into the third generation (Trieu, Vargas, and Gonzales
2016, 16). Looking forward, scholars of second-generation transnational activities would
do well to take note of how the second (and third) generation invent and reinvent trans-
Post-colonial Africans in the United States
The ebb and ﬂow of African migration to North America toward the end of the twentieth
century has received some scholarly attention (Arthur 2000; Okpewho and Nzegwu 2009;
Falola and Oyebade 2016). After WWII and the end of colonialism a signiﬁcant number of
Africans began migrating to the United States. From 1951 to 1970s over forty-three thou-
sand Africans immigrated to the United States (Thomas 2011), constituting a new diaspora
of black Africans in the U.S. (Gordon 1998, 6). Since the 1980s, the African immigrant popu-
lation has increased ﬁvefold as a result of the so-called Structural Adjustment Program
SAPs, supposedly designed to ameliorate Africa’s economic problems, actually pro-
duced economic, political, and social upheavals and destabilizations that have increased
pressures on the educated and skilled to emigrate.
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 7
In the last three decades the inﬂux of African immigrants to the United States has
shown signiﬁcant growth. By 2015 the number of African immigrants living in the U.S.
reached 2.1 million.
Africans now make up 36 percent of the total foreign-born black
population, up from 24 percent in 2000 and just 7 percent in 1980. Interestingly, the
Census Bureau projects that by 2060, 16.5 percent of U.S. blacks will be immigrants
although the current anti-immigrant administration may undermine the growth (Ander-
son 2017). While these African immigrants come from all ﬁfty-four African countries, the
majority are from Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Ghana. New York and the Washington metropo-
litan area are their primary destinations, while Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul
and Dallas-Fort worth are also emerging destinations.
Certainly, it is the socioeconomic status of African immigrants in the United States that
is most signiﬁcant in understanding the second generation. While there is signiﬁcant
socioeconomic heterogeneity among African immigrants, for at least three reasons it is
fair to say that most are the crème of the crop. First, the initial post-war wave of Africans
who came to the United States and decided to settle were graduate students. Second, a
signiﬁcant number of Africans who left the continent during the 1980s because of SAPs
and protracted violent conﬂicts were highly educated. There was what some scholars
have characterized as an exodus of the middle-class (Koehn 1991; Logan 2007). Third,
the cost of coming to the U.S. is steep; coupled with the social capital and network of con-
nections needed to successfully emigrate, coming to the U.S. is prohibitive for average
Africans (Imoagene 2017; Kebede 2017). Even today most African immigrants are dispro-
portionally professional elites, traders, and students. Some of them are also beneﬁciaries of
the ‘diversity visa program’of the post-1990s, which was aimed at boosting immigration
from underrepresented nations. Thus, on the whole, African immigrants are proﬁcient
English speakers, better educated, and more likely to be employed than people born in
the U.S. or, indeed, the immigrant population as a whole (Anderson and López 2018, 1).
Although compared to their educational achievements, their household incomes are
lower than the median U.S. household (Anderson and Connor 2018) their post-settlement
experience seems to be largely positive. Many have had ‘little trouble settling into good
positions and securing permanent residency statuses’(Okpewho and Nzegwu 2009, 9).
The American Community Survey (ACS) shows that African immigrants, particularly Niger-
ians and Ethiopians, have the highest labor force participation at 76 percent each. The
national average of labor force participation is about two-thirds of the total population
for 16 years and older (Ogunwole, Battle, and Cohen 2017). African immigrants are
buying homes and moving to the suburbs; starting new businesses and revitalizing neigh-
borhoods. The second generation Africans faces enormous pressure to do well in school
and succeed, as well as to embrace their respective national and ethnic identities.
Contesting African Americanization
In one of the ﬁrst comprehensive studies of the new African immigrants in the United
States, John A. Arthur (2000) described how Africans were ‘invisible sojourners’because
of their limited numbers, public perception of them as African Americans, and their
reported longing to return to their respective countries. However, over the past several
decades many of them have settled in the United States, buying homes, forming commu-
nities, and participating in the American social fabric. These days it is not uncommon to
ﬁnd neighborhoods, in urban centers, of Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Nigerian, Somali and Liber-
ian immigrants, among others (Chacko 2003; Watson and Knight-Manuel 2017). However,
ethnic and racial identity is a persistent challenge for the post-1960s immigrants and their
oﬀspring in the United States. That is, where do non-European immigrants ﬁt in the Amer-
ican racial structure? This question of belonging is even more vexing and complex in
relation to the growing population of African immigrants and their children.
Consider that, for Asians the 2010 U.S. Census questionnaire asks the respondent to
mark a single circle if they are ‘Other Asian’(i.e. not Asian-Indian), and then to ‘Print
[your] race, for example, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and so on.’African immi-
grants and the second generation are not oﬀered such options. The census form assigns
them to Black/African American or as I call it African Americanizes them, overlooking the
diversity within the black population (see also Bashi-Treitler 2013, 149). These immigrants
do not tend to assimilate with African Africans, rather, they emphasize their ethnicity,
nationality and cultural distinctiveness through food, language, customs, family dynamics,
dress, and so forth. African immigrants and their descendants object to the erasure of their
cultural identity through being arbitrarily assigned to an undiﬀerentiated black
While nominally African Americans, the disparate groups of recent immigrants from
Africa are culturally and socially distinct from domestic Black Americans, the group con-
ventionally also called African Americans. As the African immigrant population in the
U.S. has increased and second generation Africans are coming of age, there has been
an earnest eﬀort to coin a name that captures the economic, cultural, and ideological dis-
tinctiveness of these African immigrants, particularly what it means to be Americans from
Africa, as opposed to African Americans. Early on Africanist scholar Ali Mazrui suggested
using ‘American-Africans’to describe recent immigrants and their oﬀspring, while using
‘African Americans’for those who are the descendants of survivors of the Middle
Passage, enslavement, and Jim Crow. Mazrui (2009) states:
Normally, an American-African is still very conscious of his indigenous Africanity, is aware of
his immediate continental ancestry, is in contact with relatives in Africa, is bilingual (speaking
at least one African language), and is at home with aspects of indigenous African culture such
as cuisine like fufu for West Africa, matooke for Uganda, sima or ugali for Tanzania, etc.
While Mazrui made valid points, calling them ‘American-African’underemphasizes their
African identity. African immigrants, at least culturally, are African ﬁrst and American
Several scholars examined the experiences of new migrants as separate from those
whose ancestors arrived in the Americans as slaves, a laudable eﬀort in capturing a
better understanding of the experiences of the new diaspora. Shaw-Taylor and Tuch
(2007) point out that it is not appropriate to speak of all African Americans, domestic or
recent immigrants, as though they were of the same culture and socioeconomic status.
Most scholars challenge the assumption that the power of race as a socially deﬁning
force in U.S. society renders black intra-racial diﬀerences irrelevant and inconsequential
for analysis (Nagel 1994, 156). The cultural, socioeconomic, and religious diversity within
African immigrants and across ethnic groups, such as Caribbean blacks and African Amer-
icans is thriving and socially signiﬁcant. The most consistently used name, and the one I
have adopted in this special edition, is the ‘New African Diaspora’,
a term coined by
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 9
Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (Zeleza 1998; see also Falola and Oyebade 2016). This name captures
their transnational identities and activities, which entail cross border entrepreneurship,
participation in the cultural and political life of the host nation while remaining culturally
and ﬁnancially engaged with the home country.
Acknowledging the diversity of blackness allows for new solidarities to emerge both
inter- and intra-racially (Adjepong 2018). The New African Diaspora and their oﬀspring
can help revitalize interest in Africa among the historic African diaspora. They may also
serve as a trans-Atlantic bridge builders, ‘as cultural mediators between the continent
and its old diaspora, whose communication and knowledge of each other has largely
been through the distorted lenses and prejudices of imperialist and racist media’
(Zeleza 1998, 11). Yet, some scholars view the New African Diaspora eﬀort to establish
their respective and distinctive ethnic identities, such as Nigerian American, Ethiopian
American, and so forth, as naive. Some observers see it as a manifestation of being unin-
formed about the complexities and perniciousness of racial inequality in the United States.
For instance, Sorenson argued that African immigrants’attempts to emphasize their
respective ethnic identities and cultural diﬀerences ‘aﬀorded amusement for some
Western observers who take such classiﬁcation as common sense realities’(Sorenson
1993, 28; Mohammed 2005). Such denigration is a twist on melting pot (assimilationist)
ideology. A society organized around overt and covert racism uses the power of the
state to lump African immigrants in with Black Americans, thus forcing on them an identity
that is not their own.
Other analysts view these new American African identities as impediments to maintain-
ing and creating a sociopolitically black population. However underappreciated, the diver-
siﬁcation of what it means to be Black is likely to be one of the most enduring legacies of
recent African immigration to the United States. Indeed, the much-hyped notion that
immigrant and second generation Africans distance themselves from Black Americans
(Mohammed 2005; Nsangou and Dundes 2018; Jackson 2010), seems to lead many aca-
demics to miss the meaning and value of the fresh perspective Africans of the new dia-
spora bring to the table of American racial culture and politics when they contest
Perhaps the most simplistic yet ubiquitous explanation by researchers for the increas-
ing visibility of the New African Diaspora’s ethnic group formations is highly instrumental-
ist. These analysts argue that establishing and maintaining privileged economic and
political niches constitute the primary motivation for the push to defend and emphasize
ethnic identity tied to the country of origin. In this view, distancing themselves from
African Americans is seen as a calculated move. Africans use their ethnic identities to pos-
ition themselves as ‘model minorities’and secure better jobs as the mainstream American
employers, ‘prefer new immigrants of color to America’s native-born black workers’(Bashi-
Treitler 2013, 154; Arthur 2000). Showers (2015, 13) questions such claims, noting that, at
least in the health-care sector, pervasive constructions of Africa ‘as a region that is inferior
and backward’often work to derail the upward mobility of African immigrant
At the same time, it is noteworthy that these scholars rarely question African Americans’
views of African immigrants, particularly in relation to the negative stereotypes of Africa
swirling in the media. In the past, African Americans played an active role in helping to
decolonize the continent. Over the decades, however, the connection has declined
10 K. KEBEDE
signiﬁcantly. Perhaps, given the fact that the label ‘Africa’conjures images of Ebola, vio-
lence, and other negative stereotypes there is a tendency among African Americans to
associate less with the continent and African immigrants. A recent study of African Amer-
ican feelings of closeness to Africans indicated how only 58 percent of African Americans
reporting that they feel either very or fairly close to Black people in Africa (Thornton et al.
The other crucial refrain concerns relations between African American and the African
second-generation. Relations between the two are full of tension, particularly on college
campuses where most African second generation students are members of African
student organizations (Chacko 2003; Clark 2008; Adjepong 2018; Creese 2018) although
second generation Africans do embrace a black racial identity that they associate with
upward mobility, negotiating the tension between Black, African and American identities.
Recent developments at Cornell University and elsewhere are an outcome of long time
interaction or lack of interaction between the two. It was reported that African American
students were protesting the overrepresentation of second generation African and Carib-
bean students in prestigious universities. The students at the university demanded
increasing the presence of underrepresented Black students. Underrepresented Black stu-
dents were deﬁned as ‘black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in
this country’(Jaschik 2018, 1). Such a situation leaves African second generation students
struggling with what it means to be Black.
Perhaps, a much more nuanced explanation is needed for why African immigrants and
their oﬀspring resist being forced into embracing the identity of a group –African Amer-
icans –whose values and experiences are not their own. The notion that members of the
New African Diaspora seek to preserve their African ethnic identities in order to avoid the
ethnic stigma mainstream white society imposes on African Americans is myopic. First,
African immigrants’pre-immigration experiences and the force of their ongoing transna-
tional connections powerfully shape their sense of self and group membership. African
immigrants and the second generation refuse homogenization because almost all of
them come from sovereign nations and have a strong sense of both their national and
speciﬁc ethnic identities (Logan 2007; Humphries 2009). They are culturally distinct from
African Americans, Caribbean blacks or any other social groups. Second, given the com-
pression of time and space aﬀorded by modern communication technologies, they are
able to stay in continuous touch with their home countries, thus locating themselves in
a transnational social ﬁeld deﬁned by family, ethnicity, nation of origin, and host
country. Third, while social attitudes and government policy toward ethnic and racial
groups is far from perfect in the U.S., pluralistic appreciation of diﬀerence (multicultural-
ism) is a strong thread in the American ethos and the New African Diaspora and their chil-
dren are not under intense pressure to commit cultural suicide. In the legacy of the Civil
Rights Movement, there is considerable support in the mainstream society, at least ideo-
logically, to challenge forces that seek to impose a monolithic cultural hegemony.
In fact, there is a serious weakness in the automatic and liberal use of the label ‘African’
for at least two distinct reasons. First, African immigrant identities are very diﬀerent from
each other: that is, individuals from Cameroon are distinct from those from Ethiopia
(Nsangou and Dundes 2018,19). Second, within the Nigerian immigrants, for example,
there are ethnic diﬀerences such as the Igbo who would prefer to be identiﬁed as Igbo-
American. Certainly, African immigrants are advocating for pluralism, for keeping their
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 11
cultural distinctiveness while also adopting their host country’s culture. Thus, the attach-
ment of African immigrants to their distinctive ethnic identities is positive rather than
negative; they seek to enrich the American cultural landscape rather than merely avoid
a stigma they had no part in historically. Thus, the theme of how the second generation
deals with ethnic and racial identity issues runs through many of the contributions to
The African second Generation –trends and patterns
Although the study of the second generation’s identity and transnational ties is relatively
new there are a few emerging themes and trends. The African second generation, whether
U.S.-born or raised, are doing well economically; mostly raised in middle-class African
families, they are graduating from college and attaining gainful employment (Imoagene
2017; Watson and Knight-Manuel 2017). Such ﬁndings defy the expectation in much of
mainstream society that, as Black students, they will drop out of school, be unemployed,
and join the ranks of the poor if not the criminal class. Moving forward it is important to
pay attention to the factors that shape life chances, including the time of entry into the
host society, pre-immigration socioeconomic, and ethnicity.
Several studies demonstrate African parents living in the United States appreciate their
children embracing American values but they also work hard to teach their children about
their respective cultural heritage, language, and values (Kwarteng 2016; Chacko 2003;
Onuzulike 2016). In fact, second-generation Africans in the U.S. often grow up in house-
holds that replicate the norms, values, and traditions that are found in households and
communities in Africa. This is because, for the most part, ﬁrst-generation Africans have suc-
cessfully maintained the cultural values they brought with them. Second-generation Afri-
cans tend to embrace many of the values their parents instilled in them. Most identify
themselves as, for example, Ghanaian American or Nigerian Americans, or even ethnically
as Yoruba, Igbo, or Akan, and so forth (Creese 2018; Onuzulike 2016). In fact, they are often
the strongest custodians of their African heritages. They form and participate in African
student organizations on university campuses. This is in spite of considerable societal
pressure to jettison their transnational identities and allow themselves to be lumped in
with Black Americans.
It should be noted however that the African second generation are not a mere reﬂec-
tion of their parents, nor are they isolated from African Americans; rather they are, to a
certain extent, ‘African Americanized’(Clark 2008, 173). In other words, the African
second generation does embrace some African American cultural values, aesthetics, and
speech practices/ patterns. They have intimate knowledge of both African American
and American African experiences. Of course, embracing and practicing multiple identities
challenges the conventional binary thinking, which posits cultural identities as in opposi-
tion to one another. The most crucial focus should be on the extent to which the African
second generation are building transnational identities. It should also be on how they chal-
lenge essentialist and monolithic views of race and ethnicity, particularly the persistent
tendency of mainstream U.S. society to ignore the diversity of the black population.
In fact, there are now reports that the second generation Africans participate in trans-
national activities such as traveling to their respective ancestral land, initiating and main-
taining contact with friends or relatives, exhibiting symbolic expressions towards their
12 K. KEBEDE
parent’s homeland and even sending remittances (see Kwarteng 2016; Balogun 2011;
Onuzulike 2016). These transnational ties are very relevant to the identity development
of the second generation and also how they impact everyday lives in their ancestral
countries. Does their transnational commitment increase or decrease? How do they
inﬂuence social and cultural values in their ancestral lands? Do the second generation
return to their familial land? If they do, how does that shape the meaning and boundaries
of their identities? Further studies need to be done to determine with regards to the factor
for transnational engagement, the role of social media in facilitating such connection as
well as the extent and duration of transnationalism both at symbolic and material levels.
Importantly, there is a pattern of class-based marginalization seen in African second
generation ethnic groups. The majority of second generation Africans in the U.S. hail
from the middle-class families that value and prioritize education. One result is that
often the economically less privileged segment of the new African second generation
are marginalized in their own ethnic group. This issue has recently been speciﬁcally dis-
cussed among Ghanaian (Adjepong 2018) and Nigerian (Imoagene 2017, 70) second gen-
erations. For example, among the Nigerian second generation, not going to college is seen
as ‘Un-Nigerian.’Some Nigerian and Ghanaian second generation members note that
those with no college education are often left out of community organizations and
social circles. Some scholars see an ethnic attrition in which, ‘Those who persist in their
Nigerian identity are more likely children raised with college-educated parents and high
family incomes which may bias our perceptions of the Nigerian second generation’
(Emeka 2018). This is a topic that requires further study.
In the end, the second generation of the New African Diaspora must continually
struggle to create an identity that is rooted in mainstream white US culture, African Amer-
ican subculture, and their respective ethnic groups’cultural norms. Thus, it is important to
recognize and appreciate how the experience of the second generation shapes the ethnic
landscape of Black America. Within this context, the ability of immigrants of African heri-
tage, for instance, to unsettle U.S. racial formations through diasporic and transnational
ways of belonging must be recognized as a powerful resource for children of immigrants
as they experiment with identity construction.
The case studies
The articles in this collection oﬀer fresh perspectives and present new research with a
number of the groups that constitute the New African Diaspora in the United States.
They address the many topics associated with identities of the second generation,
oﬀering both a broad picture of second-generation identities and exceptionally detailed
studies of particular groups. The case studies presented are also timely contributions to
the broader ﬁeld of African immigrant studies. The contributors range from scholars estab-
lished in the ﬁeld of migration and ethnic studies to a postgraduate student engaged in
cutting-edge research on the New African Diaspora. Some of the authors were invited
to contribute chapters in the years following the African Studies Association (ASA) confer-
ence held in Chicago, Illinois in the Fall of 2017. The outcome is the ﬁrst collection of
papers on second-generation identity and transnationalism in the United States –a
richly detailed selection of studies of the multiple and complex ways in which migrants’
children wrestle with issues of identity and their ties to ancestral homelands.
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 13
The ﬁrst article is by Dialika Sall, an advanced graduate student at Colombia University.
Ms. Sall examines boundary processes between West African youths and their African
American peers in a New York City high school. The article is novel in that it draws
upon interviews of subjects from both groups. In so doing it draws on interviews and eth-
nographic observations to explore the intra-racial boundary work that children of West
African immigrants engage in with their Black American counterparts in high school.
Sall addresses an important issue in the race and immigration literature when she
argues that while students thought of themselves as being part of the same racial
group, they nonetheless thought of themselves as ethnically distinct.
The second piece is by Onoso Imoagene, a highly acclaimed immigration scholar. She
presents Nigerian second-generation immigrants’views on Aﬃrmative Action (AA) pol-
icies as a window into understanding the links between the social experience of these
respondents and African Americans. She argues that the fate these two groups share is
mainly navigating a shared context of discrimination based on perceived race. And yet
Nigerian second generation members distance themselves from both poor African Amer-
icans and disadvantaged Nigerian second generation. Imoagene suggests further
research, particularly into how recent events and social movements, such as the Black
Lives Matter Movement, impact the ethnic identity and racial solidarity of African immi-
grants and their children.
In the third article Bernadette Ludwig, an established scholar in international migration
studies, looks at the identity of the 1.5 and second generation in the Liberian American
community on Staten Island. She contrasts the socioeconomic and migration context of
this group, largely composed of refugee parents with little education, low levels of literacy,
and low incomes, with other African second-generation groups who come from highly
educated middle and upper-class backgrounds. Ludwig focuses primarily on how the
refugee context and challenging material conditions these Liberian immigrants face
lead to the second generation tending to form stronger aﬃliations with African Americans,
rather than identifying with their parent’s national or ethnic heritage. This article moves
forward the discussion on identity formation for Black immigrants in the United States.
In her article, Clémentine Berthelemy explores the diasporic consciousness of the
second generation. Her research demonstrates how second-generation Africans on
college campuses develop a diasporic consciousness and claim their distinctive ethnic
identities in response to having their identities racialized by others. Her ﬁnding is consist-
ent with the existing literature that suggests that while aware of ethnic diﬀerences,
second-generation students are also cognizant of how out-group members racialize them.
Michael Ndemanu’s article highlights some of the adaptation, integration, and survival
challenges of second generation Cameroonian Americans. Ndemanu is a scholar of multi-
cultural education, curriculum theory, comparative education, and social foundations with
vast research and publications in transnational education. He extensively discussed how
second-generation Cameroonian Americans rarely travel to Cameroon because of prohibi-
tive travel cost and in some cases, their U.S. immigration status. However, they are
suﬃciently exposed to Cameroonian culture and the youth actively participate in commu-
nity events, which helped them to develop a transnational identity.
Addressing the speciﬁcs of transnationalism, immigration researcher Elizabeth Chacko
looks at the ethnonational-racial identities adopted by what s/he labels 1.5 and second
generation Africans. Her study is based on focus group discussions with college students
14 K. KEBEDE
(graduate and undergraduate) at a university in the Washington, D.C. area. Chacko con-
tends that the students draw on African-based traditions and cultures to build an image
of themselves as powerful future change agents who will improve ethnic relations. Particu-
larly during their years in college, the second generation tend to seek out African-based
traditions and cultures, fusing these with American sensibilities to reﬂect their complex
and hybrid identities. Their transnational connections with Africa are often expressed
through their tastes in Afrocentric music, fashion, art, and dance.
The collection ends with my paper on second-generation transnationalism, in which I
interrogate and expand the scope of transnationalism. The existing literature on each of
these topics is surveyed, showing that as yet little attention has been paid to the ways
in which the second generation choose to be transnationally involved. I explore the
limited body of work on second generation transnationalism and show that the transna-
tional practices and attitudes of migrants’children often diﬀer signiﬁcantly in kind and
degree from those of their parents. I address particular issues associated with second-gen-
eration transnationalism, including remittances, philanthropic activities in Ethiopia, and
what I call the role of cultural ambassadors, often emphasizing the positive aspects of
their parents’country in the United States.
The articles in this collection are contributions to a discussion that is only just begin-
ning. Bringing together these articles highlights some of the adaptation, integration,
and identity challenges that the African second generation encounters. All of the case
studies presented show how complex issues of identity can be for members of the
second generation in the transnational context, issues that increasingly aﬀect migrant
populations around the world. There is still a great deal of research to be done to under-
stand the identity transformations of the second generation in the context of ever-emer-
ging new communications technologies and growing global population mobility. It is my
hope that this volume will contribute to that eﬀort.
1. In this study, second generations are classiﬁed as including children born in the United States
to at least one African parents or who migrated to the United States before age twelve (Portes
and Zhou 1993, 75).
2. The new second generation refers to children of immigrants who have come to the United
States following the 1965 reforms in immigration policy. Although the term most often
refers to U.S.-born children of immigrants, I use it here to also include those who migrated
as children to the United States (see Portes and Rumbaut 2001).
3. Emma Lazarus (1849–1887), an American writer and activist, wrote the poem The New Colossus
(1883) which welcomes immigrants. It appears on a bronze plaque on the base of the Statue of
Liberty. For the musical, Miss Liberty (1949), Irving Berlin set the last stanza to music in the
song ‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.’
4. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Western donors advocated and
implemented Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), which emphasized macroeconomic
stabilization, privatization, and free market development.
5. The 2.5 million does not include 619,000 unauthorized black immigrants living in the U.S. in
2015 (Anderson and López 2018, 1).
6. Shaw-Taylor and Tuch (2007) used the ‘other African Americans.’Although many African immi-
grants consciously maintain the dress, language, and many aspects of their homelands to clas-
sify them as other or othering implies exclusion of persons who do not ﬁt the norm of a
particular social group.
AFRICAN AND BLACK DIASPORA: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL 15
This special issue beneﬁted considerably from many scholars and researchers. Special thanks to
Dr Fassil Demissie of DePaul University at Chicago and senior editor at Routledge Taylor & Francis
Group, African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal (Routledge) for providing me feedback
as the ideas for this special issue developed. I truly appreciate his support and encouragement
throughout the process of putting the articles together. I am also grateful to the contributors of
the chapters and the many anonymous reviewers for their constructive and insightful comments.
Special gratitude to Dr Fumilayo Showers, associate professor of Sociology at Central Connecticut
State University, who worked with me on the call for papers and reviewing proposals. Her generosity
of heart and insightful ideas made this special edition possible.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author.
My research was supported by Eastern Washington University Faculty Grant for Research & Creative
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