Marvel’s latest entry into the superhero movie genre collection, Black Panther (pictured), is breaking multiple box office records and with numerous cast members of African and Caribbean descent, it’s already igniting the national conversation about immigrants from these parts of the world.
Regrettably though, even amid the prevalence of February’s Black History Month storytelling, the narrative of the foreign-born black American community is still largely a secret. African and Caribbean immigrants have historically made noteworthy contributions to American society; however, their unique stories are often lost in the media’s depiction of the black American experience.
Does it surprise you that roughly one in five black Americans is foreign-born or are descendants of immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean?
In an article published Jan. 28, a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data placed the black immigrant population and their children at 18% of the total black population in the U.S. in 2016.
What this means to most demographers is that the market of foreign-born black Americans and their offspring numbers 8 million strong, at a minimum.
Clearly, this is a sizeable enough audience that shouldn’t be ignored; however, I can’t seem to recall there being any regularly scheduled programs or specials on broadcast or cable TV that reflect the experiences of this audience segment.
As far as I can tell, the stories of the foreign-born black American experience are nearly invisible on both mainstream TV as well as on any of the channels targeted to black audiences, even though there are some compelling reasons to recognize that the U.S. black population is not homogeneous.
Here are a few more facts from the U.S. Census about this target market that you may not know:
• The black immigrant population has increased five-fold since 1980.
• About half (49%) of the foreign-born black population is from the Caribbean, with Jamaica and Haiti being the largest source countries.
• Between 2000 and 2016, the number of immigrants from Africa doubled and they now make up about 39% of the overall foreign-born black American population.
• U.S.-born black Americans have a median age of 29 compared to immigrants from Africa (37) and from the Caribbean (47).
• Household incomes for some well-represented black immigrant groups are quite impressive, namely Nigerians ($94,030), Guyanese ($76,316) Ghanaians ($74,500) and Jamaicans ($72,237).
• Overall, 31% of adults 25 or older in the U.S. have a college degree, however among Nigerian-American adults, 59% have bachelor’s degrees or higher.
• In some black immigrant communities, more than 60% of the population are home owners, namely Guyanese (65.1%), Eritreans (63.4%) and South Africans (63.4%).
• Perhaps the most impressive characteristic of the foreign-born black American community is their economic connection to home. The Inter-American Development Bank reported that nearly $10 billion was remitted to the Caribbean in 2015, mainly from immigrants living in the United States. Similarly, economists calculate that Africans living in the Diaspora remit more to their homeland annually than all the aid from Western countries, combined.
In an era where all rating points and consumer dollars matter, the benefit of serving up more relevant programming reflecting the total black experience should be apparent. Programmers and advertisers, hungry for new “underserved” markets, must realize that there is an economic advantage to effective target marketing.
Interestingly, there is an impressive list of well-known celebrities of Caribbean and African origin and ancestry who could be allies in an initiative to engage this target market.
You can probably name a few, like Lupita Nyong’o (Kenya), Rihanna (Barbados) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Nigeria), but a quick Google search will uncover quite a few others who you may never have known had roots in the Caribbean or Africa, namely Nia Long (Trinidad), LL Cool J (Barbados), Thandie Newton (Zimbabwe), Kandyse McClure (South Africa), even Al Roker (Bahamas). Many of these artists might relish an opportunity to create content that reflects their ancestral roots.
So, if you are a TV programmer or advertiser who has not recognized these segments of the black audience during Black History Month, luckily there are other opportunities to reach both the African and Caribbean communities.
June is Caribbean American Heritage Month, a time recognized by the U.S. Congress and the White House to celebrate the contributions that people of Caribbean descent have made to our country. Africa Day, May 25th, is an occasion established by the African Union to commemorate the independence of all 54 African nations.
Mark Walton is currently president of sales & marketing for One Caribbean Television and was previously EVP, sales & marketing at The Africa Channel. He also teaches part-time in the Media Studies department at The New School. Pictured: Lupita Nyong’o and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther.
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