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Looking For(ward) and Beyond the Black Atlantic: Contemporary African Immigration in the US and Germany

Robert Reid-Pharr, CUNY, Martin Lüthe, FU Berlin

While African immigrants comprise the largest share of migrants to Europe where they stand at the center of intense debates about immigration and identity, African immigrants to the United States still represent at 4% a distinct minority of the foreign born population. At the same time, they are one of fastest growing groups of immigrants to the U.S. According to the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council, the numbers of African immigrants in the United States doubled between 2000 and 2010 to 1,606,914 individuals. The New York Times reported on February 21, 2005 that according to immigration figures, more Africans have arrived in the U.S. since 1990 than during the entire period of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that officially ended in 1807. The socio-economic status of African immigrants to the United States is generally higher than that of their European counterparts. Seven in ten African immigrants in the United States speak English well or fluently while one third of them are working in the professions.

Our goal is to establish a multi-year collaborative research project examining the social and cultural lives of post-World War II African immigrants to the United States and Europe with a particular emphasis on Germany and the United States. This comparative and broadly interdisciplinary project will both collect data about the social and economic status of first generation African immigrants to Germany and the United States as well as gather and examine quickly developing traditions of art and culture within these communities and their cultural meaning-making potential for groups of African immigrants and beyond. We thereby take up the matter of the differences and similarities between African immigrants in the United States and Europe both to gather data about the receptions of these communities on the two continents as well as to advance—and modernize—our understanding of the African Diaspora. In the course of our presentation we will also briefly address the formal complexities and challenges of trans-Atlantic collaboration, as we have encountered it thus far.