Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ongoing tensions between African Americans and newly arriving immigrants from Africa in Seattle

Lornet Turnbull:

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.

"We are going to rise together and we're going to fall together," said the Rev. Robert Jeffrey, of the New Hope Baptist Church in Seattle. "Until we embrace each other in a very visible way, there'll always be this level of division."

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.

The shootings happened outside the Blue Nile Ethiopian restaurant, at 456 12th Ave.

Charlie James, a longtime African-American activist, said he called the meeting, which was held at the local offices of the Urban League, after the restaurant's owner expressed a feeling of isolation from the African-American community.

The group will meet again in a month at the Blue Nile. "We want to begin a dialogue here between Africans and African Americans working together as brothers and sisters," he said.

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.

The African leaders at the meeting pointed out that black Americans paved the way for immigrants to be able to live and work here.

Enana Kassa, owner of the Blue Nile, who left Ethiopia 22 years ago, said that when she has asked troublemakers to leave, they have told her, "Why don't you go home?"

"It's not uncommon to hear that," she said. She said young people need to be educated about black people's common ancestry.

Shooting puts light on ethnic divide between African Americans, immigrants


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