Diversity in Black America

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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Black America continues to become more diverse--just like the country as a whole. According to my estimates from Census Bureau data, in 2008, about 3.5 million people with black identities (including people with more than one racial identity) in the United States were foreign-born. In 2000, there were only 2.6 million foreign-born blacks. This means that the foreign-born black population increased 33 percent from 2000 to 2008, while the U.S.-born black population increased only 9.5 percent.

Although the foreign-born black population is growing rapidly, it is still a relatively small portion of the black population nationally. It may surprise many to learn that in 2008, only 8.7 percent of blacks were foreign-born.

There are a number of reasons why people may assume that the foreign-born share of the black population is larger than it is. One reason is because the black foreign-born population is not uniformly distributed across the country. Nationally it was 8.7 percent of the black population in 2008, but in New York state, for example, it was 27.7 percent of the black population. In the metropolitan New York city area, it was 32.4 percent. In New York City proper, it was likely an even higher percentage. People from parts of the country where there are large numbers of foreign-born blacks will likely be shocked at the small percentage of foreign-born blacks overall.

A second issue is that people may not distinguish the foreign-born from the foreign-identified. There are blacks who were born in the United States but who have a parent or grandparent who were foreign-born and who identify with the parent's or grandparent's country-of-origin. The percent of blacks with a foreign identity is presumably larger than the share of blacks who are foreign-born.

Another aspect of black diversity is the growth of the black multiracial population. In 2008, 2.6 million blacks identified as having more than one race. In 2000, 1.9 million blacks had more than one racial identity. This population has therefore increased 41 percent.

(It is important to be aware that not everyone who has parents with different racial identities, identifies as multiracial. Barack Obama, for example, identifies as black although he could identify as multiracial.)

Researchers often ignore the multiracial population in data analyses. But the population is becoming too large to ignore.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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