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Identity Formation and African Immigrants : A Preliminary Case Study

A Paper Prepared for the Southwestern Social Science Association 90th Annual Meeting Houston, Texas March 31-April 1, 2010 Giovanni Nicholle Dortch, MALS Department of Sociology University of North Texas


To examine the process(es) of identity formation among recent and veteran African Immigrants to the United States To examine how differential push factors influence identity formation for immigrants To examine the feasibility of the research topic for a larger more expansive research project.

As of 2004 there were over 1 million African foreign born in the United States making up 3% of the total foreign born population (Greico, 2004) Half of these immigrants are racially identifiable as black or people of color.

Current Findings
New Black African immigrants differ significantly from the current black population. Also unlike the West Indian and Caribbean Islanders Little sociological research on the diversity of these African immigrants of color has been done. (Waters, MPI, Arthur, Obiakor)

The Importance of Identity

Racial Identity is still an important way of organizing society in the United States Many Immigrants are not familiar with the history and implications of racialized identities upon immigration

Implications of Identity
Despite racial categorization by the US Government, immigrants still form their own identities in multiple ways. American social institutions may simultaneously ignore identity formation (Affirmative Action) and/or reward identity (job attainment/LFP)

Preliminary Case Study Snowball Sample Interview Line by Line Coding Grounded Theory

Case Study

Preliminary feasibility study Case: Female, adult immigrant, 45+ years old, 26 years in the US as of 2009, well educated, parent, extended family immigrated subsequently

Interview conducted in a private office on campus. Approx 40 minutes 15 pages of transcribed data Eight major codes revealed

Identity is

Determined by family of origin Confronts American possibilities/restrict ions Self determined Created by Gender as a key point.

Influenced by American/Western values even prior to immigration Crafted by tensions btw AA and AI Nationalized Idealized as Americanization

How does the process look?

1. Primary identification: messages from family of origin Individual enters the 2. Social Confrontation: African Expectations confront American reality. Consequenc es: What efforts are taken to make an identity?

new/real world/

Cultural negotiation mitigated by:

What efforts have been taken to get to

know Americans?

Culture of assimilation/ new relations (marriage etc) white/black/ African/other

Identity selection

Findings and Future Research

US preoccupation with race is forced upon groups whether they ID with it or not Policy implications for new Blacks Opportunities for dissolving intergroup tensions Can not assume race as primary

Completing additional research would be beneficial Interview+ Grounded Theory methodology is effective for teasing out nuances of this complex multilayered process.

Thank You!
Giovanni Nicholle Dortch, MALS Department of Sociology University of North Texas

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