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In Diversity Push, Top Universities Enrolling More Black Immigrants
The study's authors considered several possibilities to explain the large number of immigrant students. They noted that black immigrants tend to come from the uppermost classes of their native land and tend to be highly motivated to succeed. The authors also considered that black immigrants posted higher grades and test scores, and that admissions officers were impressed by their work ethic.
But the final theory, based on previous research by Nancy Foner and George M. Fredrickson, who co-wrote a 2004 study on immigration, ethnicity and race, was the most provocative.
"To white observers," they wrote, "black immigrants seem more polite, less hostile, more solicitous and 'easier to get along with.' Native blacks are perceived in precisely the opposite fashion."
On campus, native black Americans and immigrant students both embrace and wrestle with diversity. At the University of Georgia, native black American and African students met in the student union two years ago to discuss an emotional topic, "Where's the Africa in African American?" They were quiet at first, senior Oluwatoyin Mayaki recalled, but with some coaxing, the black American students spoke up.
"They were saying, 'I don't think it's fair that you get affirmative action like we do,' " said Mayaki, the American daughter of Nigerian parents. " 'This country was built on my parents' backs, not on your parents' backs. You didn't go through the years of slavery, discrimination or the civil rights movement.' "
Mayaki counts many black Americans as friends, but that was not always so. As a child, she was steered away from black Americans by her protective Yoruban mother, who emigrated from Nigeria in the 1980s.
"My mom wouldn't let me go next door for a sleepover with African American kids, but I could go five houses down to Asian houses. I kind of got along better with foreigners," she said. "You don't go to parties. You don't go to movies. You just study, stay at home, do your chores. My Indian and Asian friends got it. All my other friends, they never got it."
At Rutgers University in New Jersey, Ghanaian immigrant Abena Busia said that drawing distinctions between black Americans and Africans is divisive and dangerous.
"What disturbs me . . . is it immediately casts African Americans as unmotivated," she said. "It's like a good Negro, bad Negro syndrome and I reject it. It creates more problems than necessary. It's also a myth."
Busia grew up in Ghana's upper classes, was educated at Oxford University and received additional education in the United States. Regardless, she said, U.S. immigration laws were stacked against her and other ethnic immigrants.
"Look at me. Even with all my degrees, when I adopted my daughter in Ghana it took more than seven years to get her here," she said. "They lost my papers twice. I had my fingerprints taken three or four times. You have to do this and . . . that. This country . . . has always been an inhospitable place for Africans to enter."