Silencing Invisibility: Towards a Framework for Black Immigrant Literacies

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Purpose: In this conceptual essay used to introduce the special issue titled, Clarifying the Role of Race in the Literacies of Black Immigrant Youth," I argue for centralizing race in research that examines Englishes and literacies of the largely invisible population of Black immigrant youth in the United States. My rationale for this argument is based largely on the increasingly divisive rhetoric surrounding Black immigrants and Black Americans, exacerbated by current racial tensions and further amplified amidst a politicized landscape and COVID-19. This rhetoric has erupted from often implicit and negative connotations associated with Black immigrants as a "new model minority" when compared with their "underperforming" Black American counterparts and evolved into the use of dichotomous intraracial ideologies that continue to pit one subgroup against the other. Beyond this, race continues to be present as a key part of conversations in the Englishes and literacies of Black American students. And the notion of race, as seen through constructs such as "critical race theory," "racial literacy," "linguistic racism," and "a raciolinguistic perspective," remains central to the conversations about how Black Americans' language and literacy use is understood and evaluated in U.S. schools. Yet, we know little about how Black immigrant literacies and Englishes reflect racial tensions that affect literacy instruction and assessment because data surrounding their academic performance across the U.S., more often than not, remains subsumed within the data of Black students overall. As they are immigrants of color who are subjected to similar forms of linguistic and racial discrimination often faced by Black American youth, and who also often undergo tremendous difficulty in adjusting to the cultural and linguistic differences faced in the U.S., why is race not central to the distinct, varied, and unique Englishes and literacies of Black immigrant youth?

Theoretical Perspectives: To address this gap in the field, I examine affordances from the lenses of diaspora literacy, transnational literacy, and racial literacy, which hold promise for understanding how to foreground race in the literacies of predominantly English-speaking Black immigrant youth. I demonstrate how each of these lenses, as applied to the literacies of the invisible population of Black youth, allows for partial understandings regarding these students' enactment of literacies based on their Englishes and semiotic resources. In turn, I illustrate how these lenses can work together to clarify the role of race in Black immigrant literacies.

Implications: Based on these discussions, I present the framework of Black immigrant literacies to assist researchers, practitioners, and parents who wish to better understand and support Black immigrant youth. I invite researchers who work with populations that include Black immigrant youth to consider how race, when central to research and teaching surrounding the literacies and Englishes of these youth, can provide opportunities for them to thrive beyond the perceptions of them as "academic prodigies" while also facilitating relationships with their Black American peers. I invite teachers to consider ways of viewing Black immigrant literacies that foster a sense of community between these youth and their Black American peers as well as ways of engaging their literacies in classrooms that allow them to demonstrate how they function as language architects beyond performance on literacy assessments. I invite parents to provide spaces beyond school contexts where Black immigrant youth can use their literacies for social adjustment. Through this essay, it is expected that the dominant population can gain further insights into the nuances that exist within the Black population and be cognizant of these nuances when engaging with Black immigrant youth.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Teachers College Record, v. 122, issue 13, art. 23385