Camouflaged Excellence

 I struck up a conversation a few weeks ago with a taxi driver in Washington, DC & we almost immediately began chatting away on subjects ranging from politics to technology before reaching my destination. You will be surprised by the number of foreign-born taxi drivers who are college graduates in DC. This particular taxi driver had more than just a bachelor’s degree: he was a medical doctor. I have spoken to accountants, businessmen, graduate school teachers, writers/poets & lawyers who moonlighted as cab drivers, but this was the first time speaking to a cab driving doctor. One thing which they all shared in common: they were African. This highlights a little-known but myth-defying fact: African immigrants are the most successful immigrant group in the US in education,  income & employment. Why is this fact not more well-known? Perhaps it is too disconcerting for many to place the African scholar ahead of the pack, but the facts remain :-

=> 48.9 percent of all African immigrants hold a college diploma which  is more than double the rate of white Americans, and quadruple the rate of African Americans.

=> In 1997, 19.4 percent of all adult African immigrants in the United States held a graduate degree, compared to 8.1 percent of adult white Americans and 3.8 percent of adult black Americans in the United States

=> Of the African-born population in the United States age 25 and older,  87.9% reported having a high school degree or higher, compared with 78.8% of Asian-born immigrants and 76.8% of European-born immigrants, respectively.

One factor which I think contributes to the success of many African (& Caribbean) immigrants in the US is the high expectations others have for them – teachers, parents, children, friends, relatives, colleagues. Sadly, the history of institutional/structural/internalized racism in the US has created the opposite affect within many African American, Native American & Latin American communities. The power of expectations should not be dismissed or taken lightly (read this very enlightening study). Kids pick up on it quickly & if all they’re experiencing are people low-balling/underestimating them, it is highly likely that they will come to believe it – as countless already have.
The stereotype of Asian Americans as the only “model minority” endures, perhaps owing to their high concentration in places like California & New Jersey where they comprise a sizable number of the student population in many premier institutions. However, I think it is more likely the case of a racially-charged American narrative which has rendered the high academic achievements of black immigrants from Africa (& the Caribbean) invisible, as if this truth would collapse some carefully constructed, immaculate order. There’s way too much foolishness passing as truth – let’s just give credit where credit is due!



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