1In this book, Tod G. Hamilton merges perspectives on racial stratification and immigration to provide a rigorous portrayal of the diversity of the Black population in the United States, shedding light on the ways immigration is reshaping the country’s monolithic Black–White divide.
2The motivation for Hamilton’s work is grounded in a significant demographic transformation over the past few decades: the expansion of immigration to the United States from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. Not only has this trend altered the composition of the immigrant population in the United States; it has also deeply changed the structure of the Black American population as a whole. In 2017, 10% of persons identifying as Black in the United States were foreign-born. As their numbers have grown, Black immigrants have received growing attention, within and outside academic circles, for their relative socioeconomic success. This portrayal of Black immigrants as a “model minority” has fueled pejorative accounts about the enduring disadvantage of native-born Blacks compared to Whites, which, or so goes the trope, can be traced to their cultural inferiority (a poor work ethic, lack of motivation, lack of skills, etc.).
3By providing a systematic comparison of Black immigrants, native Black Americans, and non-Hispanic Whites, using over a century of census data, Hamilton deconstructs this trope of cultural inferiority and builds an explanatory model for understanding Black immigrant advantage. After painting a demographic picture of Black America and outlining his theoretical framework, Hamilton offers a series of empirical chapters focusing on four outcomes: labor market participation, homeownership, health, and intermarriage. Throughout, he demonstrates how three mechanisms (selective migration, historical context, and a different experience of the labor market) can help us understand the outcomes of Black immigrants.
4First, disparities among Black immigrants and Black natives can be attributed to selective migration, or the pre-migration characteristics of Black immigrants that have contributed to better post-migration outcomes. Selective migration means that migrants tend to differ systematically from non-migrants on observed and unobserved characteristics: they are generally more educated, in better health, and more prone to risk-taking. It is in part because of these traits that Black immigrants outperform native Black Americans on several socioeconomic outcomes.
5Hamilton demonstrates this using an original empirical strategy. Rather than measure the outcomes of Black immigrants against those of the Black American population overall, he focuses on disparities between immigrants and native Black movers within the United States, who are more likely to possess similar traits. Indeed, a central finding of the book is that, like Black immigrants, native Black Americans who have experienced residential mobility have better outcomes than native Black Americans who have not. Hamilton concludes that disparities between Black immigrants and native Black Americans cannot be driven by cultural differences, but are rooted at least partly in these advantageous pre-migration traits.
6Second, by analyzing census data from the early 20th century to the present, Hamilton demonstrates that the historical context in which migration occurred is an important predictor of Black immigrant outcomes. Many Black immigrants migrated after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This legislative change coincided with the implementation of the Civil Rights Act, which ushered in an era of opportunity for minorities by reducing discrimination and establishing affirmative action. Black immigrants who arrived in the second half of the 20th century greatly benefited from this historical moment. Further, these immigrants did not experience the history of legal discrimination and severe structural disadvantage of the pre–civil rights period that compounded and solidified racial inequalities in the United States and which continue to negatively affect African Americans today. Thus, a second major finding of the book is that, before the emergence of civil rights legislation, Black immigrants had similar outcomes compared to native Blacks as a whole. The Black immigrant advantage that has been so widely discussed developed only after the post–civil rights period due to the favorable context in which they migrated. Again, these findings undermine the cultural inferiority explanation of African American disadvantage.
7Third, Hamilton shows that Black immigrants tend to have higher labor market participation, compared not only to native-born Black Americans but also to non-Hispanic Whites. This advantage is not due to the cultural superiority of Black immigrants, Hamilton argues, but to the unique expectations that immigrants have vis-à-vis the U.S. labor market. The massive wage disparities between the countries of origin of Black immigrants and the United States means that the American job market provides immigrants with substantially higher benefits relative to opportunities at home. The profits reaped from the U.S. job market are all the greater given that many immigrants send remittances to their families in the country of origin, where even low U.S. wages allow for strong financial gains. This creates a more favorable view of the labor force among immigrants and a greater motivation to join it, even if it means accepting low-wage jobs that many natives (White or Black) would refuse.
8Hamilton’s findings bear important theoretical and methodological lessons for students of racial stratification and immigration. By systematically comparing Black immigrants to native-born Blacks and Whites, as well as to more comparable subpopulations (such as movers), Hamilton invites us to think more carefully about the choice of the reference group against which inequalities are measured. Further, his work provides important insights into the ways immigration interacts with and alters racial stratification systems. By reshaping the composition of racial groups, immigration complicates accounts of racial inequality. Hamilton reveals substantial within-race heterogeneity by nativity that goes unobserved when aggregate racial categories are used. Should Black immigrants continue to have better socioeconomic outcomes, the enduring disadvantage of African Americans with respect to Whites will be underestimated unless assessments of inequalities disaggregate racial categories by nativity.
9Two blind spots can be discerned in Hamilton’s analysis. Readers may regret Hamilton’s lack of consideration of skin tone as a possible source of disparities between Black natives and immigrants. As a substantial source of within-race heterogeneity, the role of skin tone in the production of inequalities among the self-identified Black population has received growing attention in the racial stratification literature but is absent here. Second, while Hamilton stresses the potential ramifications of immigration for ethnoracial boundaries, issues of racial classification are undertheorized in the book. The author seems to be largely working under the assumption that Black immigrants identify as Black in the census. More research is needed to establish how immigrants self-report their race or how others categorize them and the consequences of these classifications for inequalities.
10Nevertheless, as immigration continues to reshape contemporary social landscapes, Hamilton’s work takes us a step further toward developing methodological approaches and explanatory models that better integrate the double role of race and immigration in the production of social inequalities.