Africans, American Blacks Try To Defuse Tensions

Lornet Turnbull, Seattle Times, July 20, 2006

Tensions between African Americans and newly arriving immigrants from Africa sometimes play out on school grounds. The same distrust shows up in small businesses, too, as evidenced by the reluctance of one group to hire the other.

And some believe those same tensions may have been a factor in the shooting a week ago of two immigrants—one Ethiopian man, one Eritrean—outside an Ethiopian restaurant in Seattle. One of the two men died. The survivor believed the shooter was an African-American woman.

In a rare meeting Wednesday, about a dozen African-American and African leaders sat down to discuss the distance between people who share ancestry and heritage, if not culture, and to develop ways to bridge the growing gap between them.

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The arrival of immigrants from Africa, particularly East Africa, has helped drive population growth in places like Seattle. In many large cities, tensions have led to conflict and all-out violence.

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African-American leaders said the tension between African Americans and arriving immigrants is driven by economics and worsened by misconceptions about one another. Some at the meeting even suggested that some African Americans blame the immigrants for their problems.

“African Americans have watched their community [in the Central Area] change,” James said. “They see a new group doing all the things that they used to do and that has created some interesting types of resentment.”

African businesses need to hire African Americans and black businesses need to hire immigrants, they said.

“We shouldn’t be distinguishing between whether someone comes from Africa or America,” Jeffrey said.

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