The Problem With Downward Assimilaton
This story from today’s PI deserves a very close reading, which I can not provide at this moment in time. But it basically says one thing without saying it outright: When black Africans become black Americans they suffer the horrible fate of black Americans—prison, poverty, drug addiction. This belief informs the sociological concept of upward and downward assimilation: If a white European becomes a white American, that is upward assimilation; if a black African becomes a black American, that is downward assimilation.
From near the end of the story:
These kids, being the first generation (to be born in America), they don’t know who they are,” said Abunie, an energetic 45-year-old computer consultant. “They are in-between. We have a responsibility to teach them who they are, where they come from.”
On a recent rainy morning, Abunie lectured 10 students about Ethiopia’s independence from Italy in 1896. He taught a few phrases in Amharic, including “Sit down” and “Be our guest.”
“This is your homework for next week! Read, read, read it, OK?” Abunie said, waving a sheet of phrases. “Make a conversation with your parents, OK? You guys, are you listening?”
It seemed like a losing battle. An 11-year-old boy in the back was watching a D4L rap video. An 8-year-old boy played a gun-slinging computer game, while two teenage girls listened to Mariah Carey on headphones.
The PI story pits black African parents against their black Americanized kids. The parents, black Africans, have a work ethic; their kids, black Americans, don’t. The parents have a sense of culture; their kids, because they are now black Americans, don’t. That is the ultimate meaning of the PI article, and this is why it is ultimately rotten.
Black American culture does not stand outside but inside of the American economy; it is shaped by the American economy, and responds to real economic conditions. The PI article is written as if black American culture is completely isolated and produced purely by the accident of biological circumstances. However, what is wrong or bad is not being a black American but being in a society that refuses to distribute its wealth in any way that resembles fairness. Without this context, an examination of the black African experience of black America can only be useless and racist.