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Black immigrants face more discrimination in the US. The source is sometimes surprising

Tyrone Beason, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK — Winsome Pendergrass watches as her fellow Black New Yorkers take selfies in front of Brooklyn's Central Library. Rap lyrics penned by hometown hero Jay-Z cover the Art Deco facade to promote an artistic exhibit dedicated to the hip hop mogul.

But Pendergrass feels more drawn to the weekend farmers market she frequents across the street, where tables loaded with fresh produce transport her back to her homeland 2,500 miles south in Jamaica.

She picks up a yam, also a staple in Black American kitchens, and expounds on its use in African cooking. She holds a bright-green okra spear and explains how her older Jamaican relatives, like countless Black elders in the U.S., were unfazed by the nutrient-rich vegetable's slimy texture.

She marvels at the way enslaved Africans — her ancestors and the forebears of most Black Americans — sustained themselves by transforming the worst cuts of meat into flavorful meals.

Black people — be they in Jamaica or the U.S. — carry inside them this capacity for perseverance over adversity and scarcity, she says.

And yet, it feels to her as though some Black Americans look down on Black newcomers and resent them for taking opportunities they fought long and hard to get.


"You know, the people who tell me to go back to my country the most is Black people — not white people," Pendergrass says with a sigh.

Her experience reflects a widespread reality among Black immigrants whose ranks have swelled from just over 2 million in 2000 to nearly 5 million today, or about one-tenth of the nation's Black population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These newcomers, who've settled mostly in East Coast cities such as New York, Newark, Washington and Miami, are expected to double in number by 2060.

Pendergrass, 64, who migrated to the U.S. two decades ago and became a naturalized citizen in 2011, is a part of that surge. She participated in a nationwide survey of immigrants conducted by The Times in partnership with KFF, formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation, that provides unprecedented insight into the 1 in 6 American adults who were born in other countries.

Those from Africa or the Caribbean experience a double burden of discrimination in the U.S., both as immigrants and as Black residents in a country with a long history of racism, according to the first-of-its-kind survey.


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