The term “diaspora” means a community of people who live outside of their home country and the country of origin of their ancestors, but maintain the connection with it. This concept combines both immigrants and their descendants. Diasporas often make important contributions to their country of origin. The beginning of the contemporary research on diasporas was the article of Safran that was published in the journal Diaspora. He sought to set the limits to the research rather than give the opportunity to conduct research studies freely. Safran made a great contribution to the research by creating a list of the main characteristics of diasporas. He noted that none of the diasporas could meet all the desiderata. However, he argued that diaspora exists when community members share some basic characteristics. This paper will provide an overview of the history of African migration to the United States, describe the context of their arrival, settlement, and adaptation, pay attention to their major socio-economic characteristics, the nature of cultural and identity challenges confronting them, and the relative success in meeting and accommodating these challenges.
The life of African Americans in America, caused by their migration, was forced in some cases and done by the will of people in others. The first example of the force migration is the transatlantic trade of slaves. Another reason is the internal slave trade. People were moved from the Atlantic coast. Additionally, migration is the voluntary move of people from countryside to cities. At the end of the twentieth century, Africans had to deal with global migration. During this period, people of African descent moved to America from all around the world. Despite the impact of each of these movements on the lives of Africans, the first one is the most important. This is due to the negative experiences of Africans; days, weeks, and months were spent on ships locked as prisons, without freedom and awaiting lifetimes of slavery. These events described the desire of people to survive and the hope that they will gain freedom and the rightful place in society.
The transatlantic slave trade started in the middle of the fifteenth century. At that time, Portuguese ships reached the coast of West Africa. Arriving to trade spices and gold, they saw more valuable goods – people. Since that time, the trade of people has become widespread and was considered a leading industry. Mass transportation of African slaves was required to help white people develop land. About five percent of Africans that were forced to America were moved to the United States.
The first African women and men came to the United States in the sixteenth century. With the appearance of plantations, the nature slavery in the United States has changed, so there were changes in the slave trade. In areas like Lowcountry and Chesapeake, this increased the levels of violence, exploitation, and brutality. Slave labor became harder, while slaveholders became rich and expanded their ownership. As a result of the increasing number of plantations, they needed more slaves who could provide good work. Most Africans in the Chesapeake worked on tobacco plantations and farms. The production of tobacco was hard work, because tobacco gives crop for 11 months. The work on farms was not as difficult but took a lot of time. Despite the hard work, it had some advantages. Slaves were able to live in families and had one day off. However, these slaves were severely punished and could be sold or presented. The prisoners usually were brought from Africa across the ocean by boats. Additionally, the vast majority of slaves were remitted to districts. In 1660, slavery was legalized. As a result, African slaves became the principal source of labor on plantations.
Bringing a large number of slaves could make Chesapeake a continuation of West Africa. At the time, the dynamics of life of African people has changed. According to the European people “Slaves in the Chesapeake proved “very prolifick among themselves” (Berlin). By the 1730s, the number of children born in Chesapeake to African women exceeded the number of people that were brought from Africa; the population increased naturally. By the middle of the eighteenth century, most of the oppressed women and men have never been to Africa. The beginning of the American Revolution became the end of the Great migration to Chesapeake. African – Americans sinked their roots in North America.
Despite the end of the slave trade in Chesapeake, it continued in Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. Forced migration in these areas was similar to that which existed in Chesapeake, but there it started later and existed for much longer. Because of the flow of people, the number of Africans who arrived to Lowcountry was two times higher than that of Chesapeake and reached almost 400,000. As a result of such migration “Sullivan’s Island became the Ellis Island of black America” (Berlin). Despite the fact that the import of slaves during the revolution decreased after the war, the demand for labor increased, leading to greater import of African Americans into the United States.
With the new wave of slave trade and the continuous import of marine slaves, the problem of having families appeared. Slaves did not want to start families with the newcomers. But by the middle of the eighteenth century, slaves began to give birth to children. It increased the number of African Americans. The opportunities to communicate with Africans were scarce in Chesapeake and Lowcountry. In the middle of the century, Chesapeake had little opportunity to communicate with Africans. Instead, Africans and African Americans in the Lowcountry were friendly. Slave owners had their own categories for choosing slaves. These were the so-called “boys – men” and “women – girls” factors. They preferred young adults who could work and increase the population. Therefore, a person from 15 to 25 years of age was the best choice. Moreover, men were more in demand than women. During this period, bringing slaves to America was clearly defined by age and gender. The needs and demands of slaveholders became well known over time.
Slave trade was aimed at combining different cultures. Thus, mainland North America began to mix different nationalities, which led to the creation of new African-American cultures. Regardless of gender and age, slaves experienced oppression. During their trip to the country of enslaving, Africans had to endure many challenges. Sometimes, the travel lasted for months. Many African countries took part in the slave trade, so during the route slaves passed from hand to hand. A large percentage of slaves escaped and died before they could reach the coast.
After arriving to the new land, slaves faced new challenges and abuse. Severe life-long exhausting work and residence drafts led to early death. Those who survived after the long road and during the first months on the new territory began to get used to their circumstances and learn the language of Americans, find new friends and build their lives. Their descendants, who have never seen their homeland, made the land where their parents were transported to their home.
African immigrants make up a small part of the population of the United States, but their number is growing. The growing African Diaspora is the largest in recent years. In comparison with other groups that have moved to the United States, Africans have the highest growth rate. The voluntary migration from Africa is widespread today. One of the factors that contribute to migration is the Refugee Act of 1980 that makes Africans’ migration to the United States easier from conflict areas, such as Somalia and Ethiopia. This view confirms the fact “Among refugee arrivals in 2013, five of the top 10 countries of nationality were in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia” (Anderson). A large part of Africans arriving in the United States comes from the Southern Sahara region. This fact contributes to the diversity visa program – an act passed in 1990. Africans arrive from all over the continent, but the most common places are Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya. People from these countries account the half of the African population in the United States. Africans move mainly to the south and northeast of the United States. The largest African Diaspora is located in New York, California, Texas, Maryland, and New Jersey. There are about one hundred thousand African people in each of these states.
African immigrants come to the United States as refugees. Additionally, some of these people are legal permanent residents. “These immigrants primarily entered the United States through one of three type of visa programs: family reunification, employment, and diversity” (Capps et al. 7). They have some public benefits after the arrival.
The African diaspora in the United States is one of the most educated population groups. In 2010, “40.1% of African born immigrants reported a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree compared to the entire foreign born immigrants population (27%) and 28.4% of U.S. native born” (Nyamwange). The African Diaspora has significant educational achievements, high number of school and college diplomas, which is much higher than that of people of other foreign origins. Seven out of ten Africans speak only English or have good knowledge of English. Thus, “In 2009, 22.4% of African born immigrants age 5 and older reported only speaking English and 48.5% reported speaking English “very well” (Nyamwange). A very small fraction of Africans in the United States does not speak English. The high level of education and good knowledge of English improves the social life of Africans. Most of them have good jobs. A large part of people of the African Diaspora has professional jobs. They work in business, science, and arts. Some of them are involved in the service industry and work in the field of sales. However, African immigrants are much poorer than the indigenous inhabitants. Most of them are not able to buy a house, so they rent it. Moreover, they have average or below average incomes. Such indicators show that although people of the African Diaspora are well educated and have jobs, they are fighting for their socio – economic status. Their income is low, considering their level of education and the nobility of language.
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Africans faced cultural and identity challenges for a long while. The abolition of slavery did not solve all the problems of Africans in the United States. The racial problems remained and had a serious impact on people’s lives. People suffered from inequality and mistreatment by others. The history of the American nation influences the lives of their descendants. They lived in poverty, had difficulties in finding work and housing. Their areas of living were the poorest in the United States. Moreover, Africans have suffered humiliation and ridicule on the part of the white race. For example, Liberians have come a long way to find a better life. Thus, “The Americo-Liberians, as they were called, soon took on the appearance of colonists – refusing to learn the local languages, imposing American-style institutions, acquiring the airs of a social elite and ruthlessly monopolizing political power” (Cohen). In the 1930s, the Liberians who held political positions generated slavery again. Africans suffered from oppression and enslavement, but in another way. In 1935, Africans faced the Italian Fascists in Ethiopia. The symbol of pride and independence of the black people was under threat. However, they were able to get out of this situation. With calling “every son and daughter of African descent should render assistance to their blood relatives in Ethiopia. We must not desert our Race in Africa” (Cohen). The Ethiopian Diaspora started to protect their land. Despite the desire to raise the spirits of African countries, for many African Africans the word “Africa” meant poverty, oppression, hard life, and loss of liberty and dignity.
Later, the situation changed. Some of the African people created a bourgeoisie class in different port cities of Africa. Some buildings are still there, and people can observe them. African people began to occupy important positions and were famous in the world. In 1879, the son of Gurney Nicol graduated the Cambridge University. He became the first African who did this. After the abolition of slavery, many people from Liberia achieved independent status in America. Despite the hard life after the abolition of slavery, “the Liberian constitution committed the country ‘to provide a home for the dispersed and oppressed children of Africa’ it remained an island of optimism in a sea of racial discrimination and colonial domination” (Cohen). Being a slave was difficult, but those called Negroes gave the world such thing as the understanding of right and wrong, which is a correct basis for religion and culture. The leader of the African Diaspora was W. E. B. DuBois. He wanted to make Africa rich and strong. Other representatives supported the liberation movement by writing articles for journals. Other Africans occupied leading positions. Barack Obama became the first black president. Many Americans saw a positive side for the future of race relations after the election. There are a lot of others notable African Americans. Malcolm X was an African – American civil rights activist. Toni Morrison is an American writer. She writes about slavery and the life of black people in that period. African Americans have achieved equal rights and a good level of life among the citizens of the United States. The cultural achievements of the African diaspora are notable. They have achieved significant progress in dance, architecture, and art. People cannot forget about the development of music. Their most famous musical achievement is jazz. Bop, the blues, and bebop are also worth mentioning. African diaspora has made a significant contribution to the development of the United States.
To conclude, the African Diaspora in the United States is not very large. Despite this, it has a long and difficult history. Africans began to arrive in the days of slavery and were considered to be valuable manpower, because of their endurance. For a long time, they suffered humiliation and abuse. Furthermore, after the abolition of slavery, Africans suffered racial inequality. Despite the hard life, their descendants have the right to live in the United States and consider this country their own. Many of them are educated and have good jobs. Moreover, some Africans are famous in America. Additionally, African people developed several new kinds of art that are known all around the world.