The vicious beating of a 13-year-old Liberian boy in Southwest Philadelphia this week has exposed a larger problem of animosity between African Americans and African immigrants, according to community members and school officials.
Police reported no arrests yesterday in the beating of Jacob Gray and were reluctant to label the incident a hate crime, but members of a Liberian community that has grown along Woodland Avenue say the attack fits a widespread pattern.
“It’s been going on for a quite a while,” said Sekou Kamara, 25, a Liberian immigrant and Temple University student who runs a music and video store. “It’s just the first time we’ve seen it in the newspapers.”
Kamara said his 18-year-old brother, who attends high school in Delaware County, was beaten this year by other blacks, and his sister had braids ripped from her head in an attack in Atlantic City.
Kamara said some African Americans perceive the growing African-born community as a threat.
“There’s anger about African immigrants coming here and doing so well,” she said. “You see them fixing up their houses, buying cars.”
“The worst of all is if you’re good in class,” said Varney Kanneh, 47, a host on WSKR-FM (97.7) from Liberia, who alleged that some of his children had been harassed and attacked in Philadelphia public schools.
The immigrants make some of the African American students look bad, Kanneh said, “and they don’t want to look bad.”
Another way for African youths to deal with the hostility and cultural differences is to assimilate, and that creates more tension between African Americans and African immigrants, because the immigrant parents feel they are in a struggle with black America for the souls of their children.
“African parents feel their children are being influenced,” Richards said. “The kids assimilate. They try and imitate [African American] children in their manner, their dress. They’re hanging out in the neighborhood. And their parents don’t want that.”