A new analysis of demographic population data collected during the most recent American Community Survey shows that the face of the Black community in the U.S. is more diverse than ever.
The Pew Research Center recently released its breakdown of the 2019 results of the survey of over 3 million people across the country. The demographic study is conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau in between the census count— which happens once a decade.
The survey shows that the Black population in America has increased by 29 percent since 2000, with 46.8 million people identifying themselves as Black in 2019. Black people still make up roughly 14 percent of the overall U.S. population, but the rise in number of people who say they are Black is notable for how it reflects the increasing nuances in America’s growing Black community.
“It’s not a monolithic population, but one that has people of many different demographic, social and economic characteristics and many different experiences in their backgrounds,” Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Race and Ethnicity Research at Pew Research Center, told The Root in an interview.
“The population is growing for a multitude of reasons—including a greater number immigrants arriving from around the world moving to the United States, also many people are identifying a multi-racial background and a Black and Hispanic background more so than in the past,” said Lopez. “It’s important to capture all of those different ways in which people see their identity, because they’ve told us that is how they see themselves.”
Immigrants are indeed accounting for some of the increase in America’s Black population—more than four million Black people in America (or 10 percent of the demographic) are foreign born. This is up from 1.9 million “single-race, non-Hispanic” Black people in America who were foreign born in 2000.
Lopez also points to U.S. Census survey questions that now allow for people to identify as multiple races as a potential driver of the broader basket of what Black includes, but that’s not all that has driven a massive 145 percent increase of Latino and Hispanic people in America who identified as Black in 2019, as compared to those who did in 2000. The rapid growth of the Latin American population in the U.S., which researchers have been tracking for years, partly accounts for that.
Immigrants from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic show the fastest growth in the U.S. Though comedian Godfrey’s memorable joke about Dominicans denying they are Black against all evidence may be perking up in your mind, Pew says they are increasingly identifying with their Blackness—as are their U.S. born children.
Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, a scholar of the African diaspora who co-founded the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in New York to promote connections among people of African descent, says the jump in the percentage of Hispanic and Latino people in America identifying as Black is a result of a relearning of the roots they were disconnected from through colonization and miseducation.
“It’s always been there, anybody coming from the Caribbean is of African descent—there are very few of us who can claim not to have African descendancy,” Dr. Moreno Vega told The Root, speaking from Puerto Rico. “It’s either indigenous or African descendants who are are majority in our countries, and that’s the population that has been coming into the United States.”
The process of miseducation caused an under-acknowledgement of that Blackness that is now being corrected, said Dr. Moreno Vega, pointing to the vast numbers of enslaved Africans who were brought to Caribbean and Latin American countries.
“Brazil, Puerto Rico, Haiti—all these countries received an inordinate amount of these peoples. In the telling of our history, that has been erased or made invisible,” she said.
(Sidebar—Cardi B has been making the same point on her Twitter page regarding education about the wider Black diaspora, amidst yet another argument about whether she is allowed to identify as Black.)
In the U.S., the racial nuances in the Hispanic and Latino community have historically been flattened, Dr. Moreno Vega told The Root. “Regardless of what you look like, you’re labeled as Latino without any kind of reference to race.”
It doesn’t help that the questions on the U.S. Census usually equate Blackness to being African-American, though these terms are not synonymous for the vast majority of Black people around the globe.
“When it uses the terminology that’s normal to the U.S.—African American—people in Latin America and in the colony that is in Puerto Rico generally don’t identify with that term,” said Dr. Moreno Vega.
But cultural and even linguistic barriers notwithstanding, Dr. Moreno Vega says organizations like hers (which include Creative Justice Initiative and the Global Afro Latino and Caribbean Initiative) have been steadily working to educate more people in the Hispanic and Latino communities about their African roots.
“The diaspora has organizations that have been actively correcting the miseducation of a colonial school system that has erased the presence of Blackness,” she said. “It’s a multiplicity of things that have now come together in real ways.”
Togetherness is our origin, and should be our shared goal, says Dr. Moreno Vega.
“This increase in numbers will find allies within the different African diasporic communities that exist within the United States. That is why we do the work we do—it’s an education process. People don’t understand that African descendants were Africans first, and that language should not separate us, and cultural differences should not separate us—because when you look at the data, you see that our people throughout the diaspora are underemployed, victims of racism, victims of genocide, incarceration, and so on. We have to really create the learning spaces to correct history for ourselves and for others.”
So is the wide array of Black people in America—those who descend from generations of Africans brought to the U.S. as slaves, those of us who descend from Africans brought to the Caribbean as slaves, and those coming directly from majority-Black countries like those in Africa—ready to join forces to address our shared challenges? The first step is owning our common Blackness, yes, but the process must also include standing up for all of our lives and being thoughtful in listening to our different experiences. We are here and our numbers are rising; we can remain divided, but it would be nonsensical and only to our own peril.