Dmitri M. Bondarenko and Veronica V. Usacheva’s field research in the USA
Third season of field research by members of the Institute for African Studies in the USA, September – October 2015
From September 20 to October 6, 2015, the research into the mutual perceptions of, and relationship between recent migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and African Americans, launched by the Institute for African Studies in 2013, was continued in the cities of St. Louis, MO and New York, NY. The research is supported by the Russian Foundation for Humanities (projects 13-01-18036 and 14-01-00070). The fieldwork was done by the Institute Vice-Director Prof. Dmitri M. Bondarenko and Senior Research Fellow Dr. Veronica V. Usacheva.
St. Louis was selected as a connecting link, in terms of geography, history, and culture, between the US North and South, where fieldwork was conducted in the first and second seasons respectively. In the past, this city in the center of the country was located on the border of two worlds: slave owning South and free North. The work on the Project in different parts of the US has convinced that the cultural border between the North and the South, that formed because of differences in their history, due to the slavery of Blacks first and foremost, persists in this day. It remains an important cultural and socio-political factor in public life, and the “Northerners” and “Southerners” are still well recognizable characters. Besides, St. Louis represented one more settlement type covered by the study – neither a town nor a megacity, but a middle-range city.
In New York, the biggest center of attraction for migrants from Africa and at the same time home for a huge African American community, the repeated (after 2013) research was conducted in selected specific city areas with the aim to deepen understanding of mutual perceptions and relationship between Africans and Black Americans in the situation when they live literally next door to each other. Two neighborhoods were selected, and those were Harlem on Manhattan and Jamaica in Queens.
The set of methods used in the third season was a combination of those used previously and some new ones. Extensive structured interviews were supplemented by informal talks with people met on the streets of Black and non-Black neighborhoods, in different establishments run by African migrants and African Americans, etc. The method of observation was used especially actively while visiting Black neighborhoods in both cities. Serious attention was also paid to the museums, the expositions of which, permanent and temporal, show how African Americans and Africans, their history and culture are represented nowadays, particularly by themselves in the museums created and served by Black activists. Local press, for example, the St. Louis American weekly, a mouthpiece of the city’s African American community, was analyzed.
In total, in three field seasons, of 2013, 2014, and 2015, the project participants (Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Veronica V. Usacheva, and Alexander E. Zhukov) recorded 196 interviews and conversations of different duration and degree of structuring, made notes of observations of many events in life of African Americans and African migrants; the photo archive consists of 806 photos. The research team members believe that the scope and quality of the collected evidence allows to make valid conclusions about the mutual perceptions of, and actual relations between African Americans and sub-Saharan African migrants.
The participants of the research express sincere appreciation to their American colleague Dr. Anika Walke for her inestimable support in its organization and conducting.