New America Media

Black Lives Matter on International Migrants Day, Too

By: Opal Tometi


Today is International Migrants Day. It takes place each year on December 18th and is promoted by the United Nations as a day to recognize the millions of people who migrate across the globe – many of whom are forced to move due to famine, violence or economic hardships. As one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, I can’t help but wonder when the world will begin to address the way racism affects Black migrants.

Just over a month ago, the U.S. media got wrapped up in a frenzy over Ebola. Misinformation and myths about the disease have led to discrimination and even physical violence against African immigrants in the United States.

Hysteria over Ebola has led to acts of violence against those who are perceived to be African, denial of services and verbal assaults. The word “Ebola” has even come to be used as a derogatory term or insult.

A family in Connecticut is suing the school district for banning their daughter from class after she got back from Nigeria. In the Bronx, two middle school boys originally from Senegal, Africa, said students have been harassing them with Ebola taunts. And CBS reports that a college in Corsicana, Texas has stopped accepting applications from African students.

Today, there are an estimated 4 million Black immigrants in the United States. About 1.8 million of them are from the Caribbean and 1.6 million are from Africa. Within the Black immigrant population, African immigrants are growing at the most rapid rate. In fact, between the year 2000 and 2009, the African immigrant population increased by 92 percent. This is important as these communities are navigating stigmatization and racism as part of life in the States. Although African migrants hold many high degrees and educational certificates, they still suffer from the lowest wages, highest unemployment and experience the most discrimination in the workplace in comparison to any other foreign born population.

African American communities have faced a similar racialized stigmatization from public health issues before. In recent history the HIV/AIDS pandemic left the Black community reeling not only from the actual disease, but also from stigmatization, racism in public discourse and institutional policies. These lessons must not go unaccounted for as Black communities, both African American and immigrant, begin to articulate what they know from past experiences, that racism has psychological and material impacts — and it must be stopped.

The devaluation of the lives of African Americans and African immigrants also extends to the way we think about the continent of Africa, where restrictive aid policies have diminished health systems, leaving nations impoverished and ill-equipped to address public health concerns like Ebola.

To counteract these attitudes, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the national network it coordinates, Black Immigration Network, are working to combat racist attacks against African migrant communities. We encourage people of conscience to support groups like African Communities Together and Priority Africa Network as they document and fight stigma and abuse.

This International Migrants Day, we are committed to fight for the rights and dignity of all Black communities – including Black immigrants. We’ll continue to be part of this global movement for Black lives until we are truly certain that all Black lives matter.

Opal Tometi is the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), an education and advocacy organization comprised of African Americans and Black Immigrants working at the intersection of racial justice and migrant rights.