(Re)Defining Blackness: Race, Ethnicity and the Children of African Immigrants

Over the last four decades, the number of African immigrants living in the United States has soared from 130,000 to 1.7 million- three-fourths of whom arrived after 1990. My dissertation investigates the impact of this new African migration from the perspective of the children of African immigrants. In particular, I examine the processes by which the children of West African immigrants integrate into American society, with a focus on their racial and ethnic identity-work and cultural integration in the context of schools, families, neighborhoods, and transnational social fields. I situate this work within broader changing ethnoracial demographic in the United States and underscore the complexity of racialized assimilation processes among West African immigrant youth. Methodologically, I draw on ethnographic observations and 127 in-depth interviews with the West African immigrant youth, their teachers and their Black American, Afro-Caribbean and Hispanic counterparts in three New York City public high schools.

This research make three contributions to the literature on immigration and race. First, it argues that contrary to predictions of prior research, low-income African immigrant youth selectively acculturate (i.e. culturally assimilate) into American society and maintain strong ethnic identities similar to their middle-class counterparts. Second, by focusing on adolescents, it appreciates the fact that an increasingly non-trivial proportion of Black children growing up today are the children of immigrants who are coming of age in a unique sociohistorical, political and cultural moment that significantly shapes identity. Third, it provides evidence that African immigrants are fundamentally changing the cultural fabric of American society. Ultimately, this project is the starting point for a long-term research goal of understanding second-generation Black immigrant racialization processes and how the children of African immigrants are changing broader meanings of assimilation and Blackness in North America.

Two articles, based on my dissertation, have been published:
Sall, Dialika. 2019. “Selective Acculturation among Low-Income Second-Generation West Africans.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Sall, Dialika. 2019. “Convergent Identities; Divergent Meanings: The Racial and Ethnic Identities of Second-Generation West African Youth.” African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 12(2).

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