Day Four of my Summer Institute at the American U and Library of Congress

Day four of my National Endowment for Humanities Summer Institute focused on African, Afro-Caribean immigrants. Led by Prof . Violet Johnson, the authors of many articles including “What, Then, Is the African American?” African and Afro-Caribbean Identities in Black America.
A Sierra Leone descent, born in Nigeria and now American citizen, Prof. Johnson’s lecture started with discussion on semantics, the terms used to describe the immigrants of African Descent. Some scholars talk about voluntary immigrants vs forced immigrants to make distinction between black immigrants and descendents of slavery.
Despite the inclination of some scholars to present African immigrants as homogenous group, Johnson observes these  are not monolithic. Some are well established. Actually African immigrants as a group are the most educated group in America, more than even Asians and whites. Others are refugees forced from their home by war and prosecution. Prof. Johnson lamented that refugees are presented as a helpless group who lack what social scientists  call “agency.” Agency refers to the person’s ability to  make personal decisions that affect their destiny and fate.

Another problematic approach to studying Africans is the simplistic comparison between African immigrants and African Americans where immigrants are idealized as a hardworking, survivors  who avoid dysfunctions stereotypically associated with African Americans. This “model minority” representation does not take the social problems African immigrants, more so the second generation, continue to face in contemporary America. Prof. Kraut, the director of the Institute and noted immigration historian commented that it’s common to have the historiography of immigrants go  through stages. The stages include the creation of the immigrant image as hero and noble. This type representation is perpetuated often by people who have agenda of using the success or claimed success of one immigrant group as a prove that the promise of America is within the reach of everybody who’s willing to work for it.  

Prof. Johnson discussed how second generation immigrants reclaim their heritage event they don’t have personal experience in that heritage. This cultural production takes the form of parades and other public celebrations. The most prominent parade is the Nigerian Independence day in New York. This is being mainstreamed so much that it has the potential to become another St. Patrick’s Day where everybody becomes Irish, in this case , for a day.

In Africa, there is growing recognition to the Diaspora. Ghana now celebrates the Diaspora Day where the celebration or marking of the day of “Departed” take place.

In the last half of the lecture, we were divided into three groups with each group tackling a set of questions that deal with how to teach African immigration and its importance.

Then we broke for lunch….

…and moved to the Library of Congress reading rooms to do research. A painstaking but rewarding process that tests one’s patience. The Library of Congress is behemoth, a maze that I got lost several times in a matter of minutes.  I took the reminder of the day to acclimate myself with this labyrinth of archives and collections of knowledge that is estimated to be 123 million items. Hopefully, I’ll be able to gather the type of I need in a timely fashion so I can maintain the required progress for my research.


…That’s it for day four. Stay tuned for day 5.


2 Responses to “Day Four of my Summer Institute at the American U and Library of Congress”

  1. Saxarla Says:

    Nice entry Jamal,

    Just curious if The professor is clumping “voluntary and forced” african immigrants as part of his statement of this populations being the most educated in America?


    • nehinstitute Says:

      Saharla, the most educated group of in America are African immigrants (this does not include African Americans). Impressive. But bad for Africa because it brain drain.

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