African Immigrants Face Bias From Blacks

Ervin Dyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 13, 2006

In 1989, Zedueh Doerue, a proud and traditional-minded father of eight, smuggled his family out of civil-war ravaged Liberia into Guinea, a more stable West African nation to the south.

Before long, Guinea, a former French colony, began to slide into political unrest as well, and Mr. Doerue was jailed and harassed as an insurgent because he spoke English.

Four years ago, a Catholic refugee resettlement program brought him to Pittsburgh, where two of his children were born. Now, working as a nursing assistant and living in a two-story Bon Air home, Mr. Doerue and his family would seem to have left danger and chaos behind.

But Mr. Doerue, 44, said that for the last year he’s been continually harassed, his children have been bullied by neighborhood thugs, his car damaged and the windows on his home have been repeatedly broken.

Mr. Doerue has called police because he feels “hunted” by the perpetrators, who he claims are mostly black youths.

Police are unclear on the motives for the attacks, and Mr. Doerue said, “I don’t understand it.”

He’s not alone. Many sociologists and researchers are trying to understand the relationships between black Americans and a recent boom of immigrants who have come to America from Africa and the Caribbean.

It is not always an easy transition and black Americans and the immigrants find they are being forced to confront complex issues of identity, ethnicity and community.

“As a general trend, the two groups are having tensions,” said Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, a scholar with the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and author of the book, “Creating Africa in America.”

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Mr. Doerue says his children were picked on and targeted simply because they speak differently.

Accents can also target immigrants as people less familiar with the system and thus more vulnerable to scams, robbery or attack.

Some of the 30 to 40 Somalian families in town have faced other hostilities from black Americans.

Their dress, mannerisms and accents mean they stand out as foreigners in many neighborhoods, said Joshua Kivuva, a University of Pittsburgh teacher and Kenyan native who helps ease the families into life here.

In Northview Heights, there are allegations that a Somalian has been threatened with a gun; in Homewood, a Somalian middle school student has had a gun pointed at him, and a Somali mother in Homewood has been told she needs to move to be safe, said Mr. Kivuva.

In Oakland, with its stew of international students and faculty, the immigrant Africans can fit in, said Mr. Kivuva, but in low-income areas open conflicts are more likely.

“I think the perception is that [immigrant Africans] are given priority for services and that causes tensions,” he said.

The tensions surface not just in Pittsburgh, but across the country.

Three months ago, a 13-year-old Ghanaian boy was brutally beaten, police say, by black American youths in his neighborhood in southwest Philadelphia.

On occasion, the conflicts turn deadly.

Congo immigrant Nzubamunu Mitete, 51, a Pentecostal preacher, was robbed and murdered in Lincoln-Lemington while driving a jitney on a cold December night. Police say his attacker was a young black man.

Thirty days later, David Agar, 24, a “Lost Boy,” one of the survivors of the conflict in the Sudan, was killed while leaving an Uptown club. Police arrested Todd Akrie, 26, of Windgap, charging him with robbery and homicide in the incident.

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