African Immigrants Excel Academically. Why Don’t African Americans?


The presence of melanin in your skin shouldn’t affect your academics.

But in America, it does.

On average, black students achieve less academically than white students. They have worse grades, lower test scores, meager graduation rates and fewer achieve advanced degrees.

The question is – why?

Why does pigmentation matter so much in this country? What about it brings such negative academic consequences?

This is especially apt since it doesn’t apply to foreign born black students who come here to study or those who recently emigrated here.

In fact, they see just the opposite effect – they earn some of the best grades, have some of the highest test scores, and disproportionately graduate from high school and achieve advanced degrees.

This is something that distinguishes foreign-born Africans – especially those from Sub-Saharan Africa – even from other immigrants. African immigrants sit near the top of the scale of so-called model minorities.

According to a report by Christine Gambino and associates at the Census Bureau, 41% of the African-born immigrant population earned a bachelor degree compared with 28% of the overall foreign-born population in the US.

The four African birth countries with the highest percentages of bachelor and higher degrees among their expat populations in the US are Egypt at 64%, Nigeria at 61%, South Africa at 57% and Kenya at 47%.

So why the difference?

Obviously, it’s not skin color.

Part of it seems to be qualities selected for in the immigration process, itself.

We don’t let just anyone come to the U.S. We have rigorous qualifications and prerequisites that have to be met. For instance, students who want to study here must get high marks on the SAT, Act and/or the TOFFEL – the language proficiency test. To do that, they need the money and resources to study for these exams. They are already some of the best achievers in their native countries.

Moreover, there is a huge cultural difference coming from Africa as opposed to coming from the United States. Native-born Africans have to deal with the effects of post-colonialism. It wasn’t so long ago that European nations conquered and plundered the African continent for gold and resources. That era has mostly ended, but those living there still have to deal with lingering consequences. This has an effect on everything from gender, ethnicity, class, language, family relationships, professions, religions and nation states.

However, native-born Africans do not have to navigate the world of American white supremacy. The affects of being black in this country may be much more harmful than negotiating post-colonialism.

For instance, most mainland Africans enjoy intact cultures. They are not the product of families that were torn apart, religions that were displaced and entire belief systems, world views and genealogies that were stolen.

Nigerian cultures, in particular, highlight the importance of learning.

One typical Nigerian saying goes like this:

“The best inheritance that a parent can give you is not jewelry or cash or material things, it is a good education.”

This is why academics in Nigeria are widely supported, mandatory and free.

Meanwhile, in America native-born black students grow up in a much more stressful and unstable environment. This translates to academic struggles.

For one, they are the victims of educational apartheid. Brown v. Board is more than 60 years old, but American schools have become increasingly segregated by race and class. Black students receive fewer resources than whites and their schools struggle to provide the same quality of education. Moreover, they are the target – either directly or indirectly – of privatization schemes that result in less control over their own schools and the further reduction of resources through charter and voucher schools that can cut services and pocket the savings as profit.

However, the problem is not just systemic. I hate to say it, but sometimes even American teachers put up obstacles to black students success due to (often unconscious) bias.

Most teachers are white. They have certain societally reinforced expectations of black students. When these children struggle, they are more often put into special education and stigmatized for their differences.

It is no doubt that black students are more often disciplined and suspended than white students – numerous studies have shown this.

I think this is due at least partially to white teachers’ expectations. It is tempting to see black student behavior as negative in the default. We too often label them “bad kids” and then try to find evidence to support it instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt or assuming they’re smart and well-behaved until proven otherwise.

African immigrants don’t have to deal with these stigmas to nearly the same degree. They don’t get the same negative label. They have more support from close-knit families. They have more positive role models including more college graduates in the family.

Another obstacle for American born black students is a cultural imputation against academic achievement. Doing well in school can be seen as “acting white.” In order to maintain popularity and prestige, they are steered away from the exact things that immigrant Africans are steered toward.

The poverty of American blacks plays a huge factor, too. Even in moderately successful African American homes, parents or guardians are often working multiple jobs or long hours to make ends meet. This reduces their ability to oversee their children’s homework and monitor academic progress.

It seems then that the so-called proficiency gap between native-born black and white students in this country is due to generational poverty, white racism and coping mechanism in their own culture.

If we want to help American-born black students, we need to realize, first, that this problem is not due to inherent racial deficiencies. It is the product of class warfare and white supremacy.

As such, it can be cured through progressive economic policies and anti-racist efforts.

The strongest argument for reparations comes from a recognition of the lingering effects of our history of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex.

These are daunting problems, but they can be solved.

It just takes an honest appraisal of the issues and the social will to make things right.


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36 thoughts on “African Immigrants Excel Academically. Why Don’t African Americans?

  1. Good job. Poor performance by blacks is mostly due to poverty and the stresses that come with it. Another big difference is that most African immigrants feature two-parent families, while most black kids only have one parent. As principal 25% of my kids were refugees and they all had two parents. The parents also expected the students to do well in school and bad behavior wasn’t accepted. I never had to discipline the refugee kids.


  2. I agree with much of what you have written, however I believe most vehemently that the major problem is due to the lack of importance placed on education. Growing up in Chicago during the late 50’s and 60’s Education was very important to African Americans. Our families pushed and supported our Educational Desires. I was the 1st person in my family to get a Bachelors Dsgree, I later went on to earn a Juris Doctorate. We had family and family values then. Today’s young African Americans don’t have that.Our family structure has been torn down by drugs, prison and systemic racism.


    • The social structures are breaking down. It’s not just African Americans. Many kids don’t put importance on education because they don’t believe they’ll be treated fairly by our society. They don’t see the value of a free mind when the body can be riddled with police bullets at any time for no good reason.


    • It’s ignorant to think that color has more influence on someone’s inability to excel than a particular country/society which was designed to suppress a specific group of ppl’s intellectual expansion, intentionally! #GTFOH


  3. African Americans have been subjected to violence, racism, classism and many other biases for centuries. This is an affliction that has permeated us on a cellular level, creating mutations, and even compromising long term memory too. How? “ No stress mind learns.” Albert Einstein Immigrants come into the country and are oppressed for a shorter duration of their generations life span. Blacks in this country are more vulnerable due to the underground racism. In this country there is a school to prison system that is supported by the just us Justice system, which perpetuates the dysfunction in society by hiring those who have a. High school education and no cultural competence based on religious, ethnic or communal connection. We should know the bias of those we are hiring to oversee our safety. Back to your question it is multifaceted.


    • Debbie, that seems to me to be a fair response. Most problems have more than one cause. However, there are things we can do to help African Americans overcome these obstacles. Let’s commit to doing them.


  4. I think one of the major contributors to why African Americans are facing the struggles they are is this kind of pervasive dialogue. Yes, African Americans over the years have been dealt a poor hand – many are born into poverty, are born into families that are inherently broken, and are born in neighborhoods in which crime and violence are part of daily routine. But rather than recognizing that these unfortunate circumstances can only be overcome by following societal norms, working hard, practicing abstinence or safe sex, and staying away from drugs.

    We blame our police for profiling African Americans and being quick to pull the trigger when they are encountered. But no one stops to analyze the behavior that is exhibited on all of the viral videos we have recently seen that capture police violence. Often times the parties in question will challenge the authority of the officer, will pull out their phones to videotape what the officer is doing, rather than sit quietly, respond with ‘yes sir, no sir,’ and allow the officer to do his job without obstruction.

    I am an Indian American physician, and I too have sometimes been ‘profiled’ as a trouble maker when I am out at the bars. My response, however, is to keep my mouth shut, obey authorities, and follow the norms of society. Everyone in society is racist. Indian Americans want to preserve their culture so marry within their own race; African Americans have their own fraternities that one cannot join unless he is African American. The problem now is not racism – the problem is not taking ownership for your actions and blaming the world around you for making you the way you are.


    • S-Ta, I think you give too much blame to African Americans for their own persecution. There are far too many cases of black people being murdered by police without any provocation. And those are just the cases we hear about where the incident is caught on video. There is an entire prison industrial complex that predates on black people from school-to-prison. You blame the victim when you should be offering help and solidarity.


      • Blaming is a waste of time, total and complete. It achieves nothing, absolutely zero, zilch. Only one thing is worse; finding excuses. “If you wanna git better, y’ll git better. If you don’t, you won’t”. ~ John F Kennedy or was it Plato ? I forget, I am sorry.


    • And we as Americans on a whole are not taking responsibility. We are decisive, and like yourself so quick to say its their problem, then not realizing that it’s a societal problem. Remember America began, and grew this country with tge help of Africans, who were used, and abused to this day. America, is the problem.


    • Amazing ! Stunning ! One person in 300+ million found the courage to speak the truth. I salute you S-Ta (although I do wish you also had the courage, and decency, to post your name). What happened here was horrible, terrible … despicable. Yes it was. Now, do we keep moping about it or do we move on ? Do we spend all our energies blaming demons of centuries past and the devils of the present for our woes, or do we pick our butts and run on the road that has opened up (as narrow and as uneven as it may be) ? As a person of Indian origin myself, I tell whoever cares to listen that we, the Indian people, only recently got rid of the yolk (yep, “Dogs and Indians not allowed” sign and all the good stuff) … AND IT HAPPENED TO US IN OUR OWN COUNTRY … but we picked up our brown asses and we ran. It was barely a slit but we ran through it like we could see tomorrow. It says somewhere that we have already run past our old masters, except we don’t have time to look … we are running … running towards tomorrow. Wish you spoke more S-Ta, for you spoke the truth.


    • It’s not about obey in the police officer. There’s several cases where in African-American did obey police orders and still got killed. Like Philando Castile he did what every NRA member has told people especially gun owners you tell the police officer that you have a gun in your car he was being very compliant and as a gun owner myself I do tell police officers that yes I have a gun in my car it’s not something that you’re supposed to do but it’s something that you tell the cops first hand before the police are trying to be a dumb butt and charge you for gun possession. But he got shot. Then there was another story of a young man name Oscar Grant who complied with police orders and was killed on the ground facing down. I know white people who did not comply and lived to saw another day so that just do what the police officer says is a bunch of BS.


  5. I have taught in inner city schools, and have dear African friends.
    In schools I taught, some black students are ridiculed by their peers for “acting white” if they get good grades.
    Have two African friends, a brother and sister. Both graduated with honors from Indiana University: he in business, she international relations. He married with family, she works for the UN in New York.
    The difference is astounding when given considerable thought. And I fully agree how African Americans must navigate what seems an atmosphere of entitlement for white supremacy.
    The Kirwan Institute at Ohio State has referred to “structural racism” historically embedded in our political and justice systems as we witness militarized police gunning down mostly unarmed black men in epidemic waves across America. Or the severe divisions over “patriotism” and national anthem.


  6. So many of these responses have validity, but many fall short. Emphasis on education in the Black communities of America is not so intense as those in poorer countries of the world. American societies have many social services to help ppl who aren’t educated enough, or have skilled trades that contribute greatly to societal advancement. Not so in many regions of the world! So what is the “Golden egg” for Blacks from these regions? Stronger emphasis on education than American Blacks. Though many will debate all day (and night) long that this has no merit, look at young black kids for the most part and pay attention to who or what they idolize. Many times, what’s portrayed is sports figures, entertainment figures, or community’s shining star, usually NOT an academia! Ppl from African and other poorer regions know from an early age that to even get a foot in the door for a better life than the one they may have been born into, is really increasing their mental capacity, not their physical one, etc, yadda, yadda, yadda!


    • Conrad, I think what you’re missing is the highly justified belief among African Americans that they won’t be treated fairly by U.S. society so why try to play by the white man’s game. And the more educated one becomes on American history (or even just current events) it becomes obvious why some may feel this way. We need to change the system to be more equitable. We need to dismantle the prison industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline. Then more of these kids might find hope that education is a viable path for them.


      • I agree with some reasons above but, I think this analysis fall short of one factor. Black immigrants know who they are, even they suffer prejudices and backlash from everyone, they don’t stop at that. We know, we don’t have a choice. It is pride in a culture, family and community. We believe, you are the one that is sent and the entire family count on. We know fighting racism and prejudices by complaining will not solve nothing, so we work for it. I came here I was a student wasn’t that great in school back in Ivory Coast. But when I came here my mind set change, I saw all the hurdles and I said to myself the only chance I have to make it, is to excell. I got honor student. I am in the Army now. I see African Americans kids, even most Americans kids feel entitled to things. It’s so embedded into them the way they should be treated this way that way that, they stop growing or lose the fighting spirit. And because they so individualist, whatever they do is for them, so when they cannot no more there is nothing to push them and go beyond. As Africans, I know where I came from, I know or live the struggles of my people, and my only power is my mind. No immigration system select the best from Africa’s. When you know who you are, you know where you are going. No way to get loss


  7. It’s up to us parents to emphasize education, good behavior and we have to follow up on those. It can be done. It all start at home!


  8. A very complex issue that sometimes has simple answers.

    The African is usually driven by;

    1. Family values
    2. Collective Ethos
    3. Societal expectations

    For the Nigerian, I believe these above listed points provide very little wiggle room and therefore any hardships/racism/roadblocks encountered along the way are expected to be overcome in order to accomplish the education/success goal. Added to that for most Nigerians is the inherent self-confidence of self with the belief that with God, anything can happen 😁.

    I therefore inherent that in order for African American kids to succeed, they first must be taught to have the confidence of who they are. Strong, creative, expressive and dynamic people originally from the first continent, who have survived untold hardships but are still standing.


  9. This is dumb and I’m going to say why, hopefully without insulting Africans, including those whom I live amongst and are my family. For one thing, the overwhelming majority of Africans who come to America are highly educated and generally come from middle to upper class backgrounds, thus to a large degree, they’d succeed anywhere. This would be like taking the top 5% of Black Americans (the Obamas, Bob Johnson, Oprah, Ursula Burns, Don Peebles, etc) to France, seeing this small segment excel and then the French saying “look at these Black Americans excelling! Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas” to the Black French, who are certainly not doing as well as Black Americans. In fact, top to bottom, there really aren’t any Black societies that are doing well as Black America, in that, we have good colleges that are historically black, political representation at the highest levels and reasonable levels of academic leadership. Thus while there are certainly segments of our population who aren’t quite honestly performing up to standard, it’s ridiculous to compare a small, select and highly educated group of people who immigrated to our entire population body. And to be totally honest, while I love my African people, if these groups were so great coming from their countries, then they actually wouldn’t have to come America. But they do and they excel, largely because of the sacrifices and efforts that Black Americans have put forward in our history in this country. So once again, while I have a great deal of respect for Africans who come to America and do well, spare me the nonsense of saying how they are supposed to be better than Black Americans. It’s silly and simply NOT TRUE on a whole. Said with LOVE for all my people.


    • Just a quick clarification; Contrary to opinion, it is certainly not the best from our continent that end up in America. The best of our people stay at home, or return after studies elsewhere, usually in Britain. America is not a priority study realm for most of our people on the continent, particularly those linked to the Commonwealth. It is regarded as place of final resort when access to other places, including home institutions, is difficult. The UK, France, Canada, Germany, Spain, Australia, Portugal, China and then the US is the general order. I think that fact should be made more apparent so that excuses for the excellence of those who end up in the US are not manufactured. The issue the writer raises is probably because of social conditioning and psychological preparedness. Education and good certificates is a non-negotiable for most African families, completion is required. We carry not just ourselves but family and community. Failure is not to be considered because the whole is shamed by the failure. Having stated this, comparisons between African and African American is rather odd. Beyond melanin and distantly shared ancestry, there is a greater parity and need to understand the crisis in and of American education only between fellow Americans, those with whom a culture and history, however difficult is shared. We may have similar skin tones with African Americans, but we are, frankly, very different people who have a steep learning curve to try to understand each other. The preoccupation with race and racism in the way it is framed is a peculiarly American one that to be honest, not everybody understands. It is a very alien framing. A very strange one. For most of our people, to judge someone on the basis of skin tone is extremely risible. it is the same as judging a person on the basis of the shape of their ears and feels just as ridiculous. Perhaps that is where the conversation can begin, and should do so first among Americans including the original keepers of the land.


      • Nyathi, I actually said “the unique characteristics of immigrants” is what makes the difference. If you understood that to mean “the best that leave Africa,” you misunderstood me.
        I stand by my point that, “immigrants do better than the people they leave behind,” because they actually do. That is not to say they are inherently better people, I’m simply saying that the process of leaving one’s country and moving to another puts one in a different mindset than the people left behind as well as from the people who live in the new country.
        The reasons why people immigrate very, as well as their rates of success and failure, but what is consistent is what the process does to a person.
        If you find it difficult to take my word for it, do some research. You’ll find that this phenomenon has been observed by leading sociologists.


    • And the upper and middle classes tend to return home to Africa post-haste. And if they can afford it, they go to Oxford, Cambridge and the Sorbonne. They call Harvard, wanna-be-Oxbridge. (just letting you into the actual thinking), and will choose it if they do not get a place in the Universities with roots in the Middle Ages.


  10. The keyword here is “immigrants” rather than “Africans” or “African-Americans.” Upon close examination, it’s clear that nearly all immigrants do better than the indigenous peoples of the countries to whom they immigrate. It’s also quite apparent that the Africans in question perform far better than their own people who they leave behind in Africa. History teaches us that when African-Americans emigrated to Africa and founded the nation of Liberia, they too did far better than their indigenous counterparts. So this phenomenon has everything to do with the unique characteristics of immigrants and very little to do with whether they are African, African American, or any other race or nationality.


    • Not true Warren. It is not the best that leave Africa, nor do those in America ‘do better than’ those they leave behind, most of whom prefer to travel to other countries for their education before returning home. Find other reasons for the disparity. But it is essential to remember that going for education in America comes low on a list that has Britain, China, France, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Belgium at the top. Let that be very, very clear. And most of us, having experienced the US, flee home post study, and flee back home in haste.


  11. Jamel Bradley, you couldn’t be more further from the truth than your response shows. African immigrants that find their way here to the U.S. is NOT all the brightest and best and or from the middle or Upper class families or individuals who are doing well. “For one thing, the overwhelming majority of Africans who come to America are highly educated and generally come from middle to upper class backgrounds, thus to a large degree, they’d succeed anywhere.” THIS STATEMENT IS COMPLETELY FALSE! I would highly encourage you to read up on immigration, it’s different forms and processes. The best place for reference would be USCIS.GOV. And while you’re at it, seek out and speak to several immigrants that you may or may not know personally about their immigration process. I am not denying that you may know a few of the very small percentage that may have been doing well before immigrating, but majority of the people from Africa do NOT immigrate because they can afford it or is well-off as you think. I’m not sure where the ideology of that thought stems from but I would again encourage you to do more research on African immigrants, their background(s) before you make another public statement in regards to this topic. You might gain a whole new perspective and respect for the African immigrant community. And you then will hopefully see why this article is not “dumb”.


  12. Immigrants from African nations come to America with an advantage, they are FREE and they weren’t robbed of their heritage, their language and their culture.They usually come from stable homes of middle class or upper middle class families. They don’t come here impoverished and they weren’t oppressed as were slaves and the descendants of slaves who are here in America.

    In my opinion, teachers tend to treat the immigrants differently as well, not sure if implicit bias plays a part in it or what, but African Americans who live in impoverished neighborhoods tend to be treated differently (not always, but tend being the operative word) as well by the teachers, like there is an expectation that they won’t do as well, especially in the STEM subjects. I remember when my dad and mom went to parent night at the schools, my mom took the elementary schools to discuss my brothers, and my dad went to the high schools to see about me. It was really strange when the teachers kept saying to me “I met your father, what a handsome man he is” and even then I came to the conclusion that they figured that I didn’t have a known father (my parents divorced when I was 13), but you can trust and believe that he was definitely in our lives. He nor my mother tolerated bad grades from us.

    Now I will tell you this, my family is very educated and successful and of course we have been here for over 9 generations. With that said, each generation AFTER slavery has done better than the generation before, because of the sacrifices and the emphasis on education, strong work ethic, and the importance of family.


  13. African kids may have an edge because of being raised in a more indigenous environment than their American counterparts. Many traditions were lost in the diaspora. One example is where in some African societies, babies are potty trained by six months whereas American babies are still wearing diapers at two years of age.


  14. Nyathi, I meant to write, “vary” rather than “very.”

    By the way, among those sociologists I mentioned is Amy Chua of Yale University and author of “World On Fire” a study of the immigration phenomenon of which I alluded. She has a fascinating premise that says many countries are run by one percent of the population—many of whom come from somewhere else.


  15. […] Bernanke’s ‘Wily E. Coyote’ Criticism of Trump’s Deficits Can Makers Save RadioShack? African Immigrants Excel Academically. Why Don’t African Americans? This Is What a Nuclear Bomb Looks Like Kelly Towles: More Than Part-Time Rep. Steve King, House […]


  16. There are a number of education reports which state there is an education gap. There is also greater poverty within the black community. Progress has not been as fast as black people would want it. There are communities where black people are in trouble, and some Hispanic communities also.
    Someone spoke of complying with the police. I watched a boy shot in Chicago several times after he was dead. Another black person was shot with just a phone. It seems there is no issue of compliance there. Think you not that black students have sometimes a broken heart when they have to watch that. Think you not that they encounter difficulties within their school communities?
    These black communities have drugs proliferating in them to a great extent. Sometimes the entire hood seems to be weighed down by a sort of reasoning which is challenging to deal with. Teachers cannot of themselves solve such problems.
    It is easy to they are not doing the right thing to get them out of it. My son became an alcoholic. We had a long time to speak and he told me of the number of times he had been told he should stop drinking. Will power cannot easily get a person out of addiction. It was not until he went to AA that with effort and help that he was able to stop.
    Finland, when it was having educational problems, determined to provide an equitable education for all its students, made some deep changes, one of which was to have medical and psychological services available to all school children. Thus those kids who were having psychological or medical problems would not be left to suffer through their years in school. Kids who were having academic problems were quickly identified and given to the attention of teachers who assisted them through the difficult patch. And the classes are smaller. Finland’s performance improved noticeably.
    In his book ‘The Coming Apart of White America,’ Charles Murray, shows how many of the problems – such as broken marriages, drug addiction – which were once thought to be endemic to black America are now affecting a significant portion of white America. Wilkerson in the book ‘The Spirit Level, shows in graph after graph how unequal societies show more crime, teen pregnancies, drug addiction, than societies where there is equality. Addressing the problems before us, and in the black communities, will take concern for all. Medical and psychological support for all students, all, so students’ problems can be attended quickly. Intervention as it is called, available for all students as soon as they begin to flounder; and reduce class sizes. Such actions will make a profound difference; for all.


  17. […] If it were true, for example, you’d expect to see the same achievement gap from native born Africans immigrating to this country as those who are born in the US. But that is not the case. In fact, we see just the opposite effect – a sizable percentage of African immigrants earn some of the best grades, have some of the highest te…. […]


  18. This might be late but the theory of most African immigrants being middle or upper class is such a bullcrap.
    Like someone commented earlier, will help some of you believing that.
    The minimum educational requirement for a prospective immigrant is high school and none if a family member is filling for you. Most African immigrants comes to the USA with one and only thing in their mind- to suceed at all cost, legally.
    I, like many other african immigrants get here through the help and contribution of family members.
    Education is so indoctrinated into us as “no one want to be a slave to their mates” like our parents usually says when we don’t do good academically.
    We were thought hardship survival from a very young age and we have that “that’s your problem” response to any form of negativity that comes our way. Hope this helps a bit.


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