The research design and the methodology used for this study are described in this chapter. The participants, including the criteria used to determine the qualifications to participate in the study are reported, along with a description of the sample population and the sampling technique. This chapter also includes the instrumentation used to collect the data and the reporting method. The final section describes the steps taken to protect the human subjects.
This study investigates the following research question: What is the role of acculturation and stress factors among Black African immigrants.
In order to investigate the proceeding question, an exploratory qualitative design was selected. As reported, there is inadequate research that looks at the unique stress factors, and acculturation experiences of black African immigrants. Qualitative design allows openness to discovering new ideas about the phenomena, unveils new insights, and generates new ideas for further research (Kreuger & Neumann, 2006), which makes it most feasible towards this research. A qualitative method is also based on the concept that reality is subjective (Royse, 1999).
There are a number of benefits and drawbacks in employing a qualitative approach. On the favorable side, it gives an in depth and detailed information that may not be covered on scales or questionnaires (Kreuger & Neumann, 2006; Rubin & Rubin, 2005; Robson, 2002). It enables the researcher to capture the breadth as well as the depth of participants’ lives and experiences. An increased external validity is evident in the research because it is studying the real shared experiences of black African immigrants. Unlike quantitative research where validity equals truth, in qualitative research, validity refers to credibility (Angen, 2000). This method tends to be more flexible than a descriptive type of design, therefore, it allows for unexpected results to surface (Royse, 1999). On the other hand, the findings of a qualitative study do not allow for generalizations to be made since sample tends to be small (Kreuger and Neumann; Robson). There is a higher probability of the researcher’s bias becoming a concern (Robson). The process of conducting an interview and categorizing the result in a qualitative design can be very time consuming. Furthermore, (Royse) writes that a qualitative method is generally less respected in academia.
The specific qualitative technique used for this study is an in depth interview using open-ended questions. Breakwell, Hammond, and Fife-Schaw (2002) write that the
Interview is a virtually infinitely flexible tool for research. It can encompass other techniques, and it can be placed alongside other data elicitation procedures. Using such method provides detailed information about the experiences of black African immigrants through case study. It allows the researcher to explore processes that shape and alter the lives of the participants (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). The interview process strives to understand patterns of interaction (Rubin & Rubin). Therefore the researcher in this study seeks to look at the correlation between stress and acculturation, as well as how the interaction of these two elements impacts the individual. Unlike quantitative methods, the interview procedure allows the researcher to gain perspective without predetermining the point of view (Patton, 1983). Similarly, Robson (2002) also indicates that an interview method creates an opportunity for a truer assessment of what the participant thinks and believes. Further advantage besides being able to observe what is being said and how it is said, the researcher gets to observe and interpret vocalization, facial expression, and other bodily gestures. The aforementioned method is also ideal for follow up information on responses.
After the interview, the researcher will then apply a content analysis method to report on the data obtained through the interviews. The process of this procedure entails comparing notes and identifying emerging themes, and making coding (linking patterns and categorizing themes) (Kreuger & Neumann, 2006). Within the content analysis method there are two basic techniques: latent and manifest analysis. The latent analysis classifies the deeper meaning found within the content, whereas the manifest analysis identifies the structure or surface data (Kreuger & Neumann; Royse, 1999). Latent analysis also often works through an inductive process in which an understanding emerges from assorting the content into themes (Royse). This study will concentrate on the latent quality of data to formulate a deeper understanding of the acculturation experiences of black African immigrants, and how they are negatively and positively impacted by it.
The benefit of implementing content analysis to the collected data is it offers a greater comprehension of the phenomena (Kreuger & Neumann, 2006). It can also be economically advantageous in terms of money and time (Royse, 1999). Related to this is that content analysis can be performed without a lot of specialized training and can be re-done without having to obtain any new data (Royse). However, reliability becomes a major concern since two researchers may come up with different themes even when analyzing the same data. Content analysis method allows qualitative data to be transformed into a quantitative form (Kreuger & Neumann)
The subjects for the present study consist of approximately ten black African immigrants from East (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda), West (Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Ivory Coast), Central (Cameroon), and Southern Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe) residing in the United States for fifteen years or less. They had to be born and raised in their own native land. There were seven men and three women, and their ages ranged between mid twenties to late fifties.
A non-probability snowball sampling procedure was used to generate participants. In this type of sampling, the researcher starts with people known to her who fit the criteria, then expands the pool through referrals (Kreuger & Neumann, 2006). The benefit of using snowball sampling is it tends to be a generally faster, cheaper and easier method to conduct than most approaches (Kreuger & Neumann). However Patton (1983) writes that truth telling of the participant might be a concern depending upon the type of relationship. For instance, there may be a tendency for some socially related participants to answer according to how they might want to be viewed by the interviewer as opposed to giving more truthful responses. This can be controlled somewhat by the nature of the topic and assuring participants of the confidentiality nature of the interview
A standardized open-ended interview was developed and utilized for the study. Such type of interview in general tends to be flexible, helps to obtain a wealth of information, encourages rapport with a subject, as well as provides an opportunity for unanticipated responses (Robson, 2002). Unstructured interviews are more vulnerable to a researcher’s bias than a standardized format in which questions are developed beforehand and asked in the same manner for each participant (Patton, 1983). Although questions were asked generally in the same manner, there was some clarification given for some of the participants based on their questions and responses. A standardized format also requires less time compared to unstructured interview (Kreuger & Neumann, 2006).
The researcher developed the interview questions (see Appendix B). The questions are broken into three topic areas. The first segment attempts to explore what it is like to be a black African immigrant in the United States. Questions inquire about the challenges individuals face when moving to the U.S., and how race plays a part in the acculturation process. Related to this was the question of interaction or relationship between Africans and African Americans. The second area focuses on correlation between acculturative stress and its impact on immigrants’ welfare. The last set of questions tries to uncover how low acculturation is able to mediate stress.
The process of obtaining cooperation from participants entailed the researcher approaching people known to her who fit the criteria, and inquiring if they would participate in the research and refer others who may be interested. The researcher provided the known individuals with contact information in case they come across persons who are interested in participating. In the end, the researcher contacted half of the subjects and others called the researcher and expressed an interest. The researcher informed participants that the interview will take 30-40 minutes and that it will be tape-recorded. A time and location were then agreed upon between the researcher and participants.
Upon meeting with a participant, the researcher first asked each participant to read and to sign the informed consent form (see Appendix A). Participant read and signed the form and was asked if he/she had any questions. Afterwards, the tape recorder was started and the researcher asked each one of the questions, which were responded to by the participant. In some cases, the participant asked for clarification of a question. Also, the researcher asked follow up questions on occasion. The researcher took notes related to content throughout each interview. Kreuger and Neumann (2006) recommend that interviews be tape-recorded and that notes be taken. Following the interview, all forms, notes and the tape recordings were securely stored in a locked cabinet and separately stored at the researcher’s home.
Issues encountered in obtaining the data include: the researcher found it very difficult and stressful to find adequate participants especially women, some people cancelled interview appointments, and it was challenging to set up times convenient for both the researcher and the participant.
Following the interviews, all the audiotapes were transcribed. The researcher transcribed all the tapes. A content analysis was then conducted on the written version of the responses. The researcher was looking for common themes among responses. This categorization was useful in summarizing meaningful prospects that would provide preliminary answers to the questions posed. Common themes were then identified and described within the context of the literature and theoretical frameworks reviewed for this study. Once the themes that are representative of the data as a whole emerge, the researcher developed thematic descriptions to capture each emerging theme. Once the themes and thematic descriptions were developed, the researcher returned to the data and identified direct quotes and passages that represented and exemplified each of the themes. Finally, the researcher synthesized the themes into composite descriptions/depictions of the lived experiences reported by the participants in the study (Creswell, 1998; Moustakas, 1994; Patton, 2002).
Protection of Human Subjects
Prior to the start of data collection, a human subject application was submitted and approved by the California State University, Sacramento, Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects from the Division of Social Work. This application was approved with a “minimal” risk category. The application included the interview questions, and the informed consent form used throughout the study. Participants read the consent form and the researcher asked subjects if they had questions. After signing the signature page, participants were given a copy of the information. This explained the voluntary and confidential nature of the interview.
Following each interview, the tapes, informed consent signature pages, and researcher notes were stored separately in a locked cabinet at the researcher’s home. The researcher transcribed all the audiotapes. During the analysis of the written version of the data, the tapes were kept in a secure location. In order to maintain confidentiality, all content analysis was conducted using fictious names and no other identifying information. The only persons to have contact with the data are the researcher, and the researcher’s thesis advisor. Upon completion and approval of the project (June 2010), all the data will be destroyed.
This chapter described the procedures utilized for this study. It offered a description of a qualitative, in depth, standardized, open-ended interview research design. In addition, the chapter contained segments on instrumentation, research participants, sampling design, data gathering methods, data analysis, and protection of human subjects. In the next chapter, the results of the data are analyzed and presented.
Interviews were conducted with ten participants who indicated an interest and volunteered to participate in this research. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the following research questions: (1) what are the challenges and struggles black African immigrants face when migrating to the United States? (2) What is the role of low acculturation in mitigating acculturative stress? The purpose for exploring these questions was to acquire a deeper understanding of the unique experiences of black African immigrants as well as point out protective factors and coping strategies. The participants were asked a set of seventeen questions (See Appendix B) related to their experiences. The main themes emerged from these interviews entail: (1) cultural adjustments; (2) racial adjustments; and (3) how low acculturation alleviates acculturative stress. This chapter will focus on each theme and highlight quotes from the interviews when discussing the themes. All study participants were given fictitious names to protect their identity.
Reconciliation of cultural differences between the natal country and the host country is one of the main acculturative challenges experienced by acculturating individuals and groups (Lieber et al., 2001). Disparities in value systems appear to be common challenging problems across all participants. Dissonance between the two cultures can be a source of distress for acculturating individuals as they adapt to life in a host country (Farver et al., 2002). Intensity of acculturative stress varies depending on the cultural similarities and differences that exist between the natal and the host country. For instance, all participants have grown up and have been socialized in collective settings where the following values tend to be privileged: cooperation, respect for and deference towards elders, participation in shared progress and responsibility, reputation of the group, interdependence, and cultivation of human relations. In the U.S. immigrants are confronted and have to learn to survive in an individualistic environment where competition, independence, individual achievements, personal growth and fulfillment, self reliance, and accumulation of financial capitol deem importance. This new setting surely contradicts with African immigrants’ essence, identity, and how they perceive the world. The more the two cultures contradict, the greater the intensity of acculturative stress is for immigrants (Nwadiora & McAdoo, 1996). Areas in which all participants identified disparities between African and American values pertaining to a lack of communality include in family units, in neighborhoods, and in the community at large. First, most of the participants came from living with family units that often included extended family members (grandparents and cousins) to having to live alone or with a roommate. Already, there is a reduction and loss in the number of people that provided a foundation and a cushion for the individuals. Coming from a full and noisy house with seven siblings, grandparents and cousins, Paul (Guinea Bissau) found the quietness of the apartment he shared with his brother daunting.
Second, in African communities, neighbors play a crucial role and come second to the family in terms of their significance. A strong bond and interaction exist among neighbors as they are part of each other’s daily lives. Neighbors rely on one another for hard times as well as to celebrate good times. In the U.S. all participants became shocked at the lack of communication and relationship between neighbors. They found it strange that neighbors failed to know anything about one another. Bob (Ivory Coast) explains, “Everybody knows all and everything about their neighbor back home.” Tim (Rwanda), two months after he arrived in the U.S., his neighbor had a party. He went to his neighbor’s house, introduced himself, and began to greet people. In Africa, one does not need to be invited to attend his/her neighbors’ party, as they play a major role in assisting with the organization of the party. His neighbor was shocked at Tim’s presence and asked who had invited him. Thelma (Zimbabwe) still faces a difficult time accepting the inability to simply drop a visit to a neighbor’s house. Julia feels saddened for her children because they cannot go outside and play with the neighborhood children. She said that in Cameroon, a spontaneous interaction takes place with neighborhood children regardless of whether they know one another or not. Thelma also professed that in order for her children to go outside and play, she needs to go out to watch them as well whereas in Africa, everybody in the neighborhood watches the children, and a parent does not necessary have to be present. The lack of dependency on neighbors elicited great sense of isolation, loneliness, loss, and homesickness for all participants.
Third, participants spoke of the distance and isolation that exists between people in a given community. They spoke about their experiences with greeting people on the street and not receiving responses in return, which they found very peculiar. Instead, they received stares as if their action was unacceptable. Steve (Tanzania) thought people were unfriendly. It was later explained to him by a woman who noticed his newness and confusion that people in American just mind their own business. In Africa, it is ordinary for people to greet one another on the street, and strike a conversation with anyone. Tom (Senegal) explained that people in America are only concerned about their business and fail to interfere even when hurtful things are being done. Tim says, “Essentially you are alone, nobody knows you and you don’t know anybody.” Grace (Kenya) and Bob attributed the absence of interaction and connection between people as nobody caring about them. It reinforced the fact that they are no longer part of a community, which made them feel extremely lonely, and homesick. Tom says, “The hardest thing to digest was losing a community.” Those who already had a family like Tibo (Ghana) did not feel the impact as much. He had also previously worked with Americans in Ghana and was aware of the individualistic life style in the U.S.
A further profound cultural value conflict black African immigrants face emerges from the way quality of life is measured. African cultures prioritize cultivation of human capitol as oppose to financial capitol. The emphasis placed on money and materials as opposed to human relations, social values, family, and community only reinforces the cultural difference. Tim says, “American culture, value is money and is rich that way. Africa is poor in material but rich in family and social life. The whole family, community is there for you. It’s a priority.” Tom pointed out that life seems to be centered on the accumulation of money instead of cultivating human capitol in America. He says, “Money is priority here. It’s good to have money but if you don’t have people, you are not going to make it. People will always be there for you.’ The majority of the participants described the life style in the U.S. as being fast pasted, stressful, and getting easily caught up or lost in a work routine as well as being bombarded with bills. Tibo mentioned that in Africa, it is possible to eat and live a stress free life with little money. Here however, it is easy to panic when money becomes inadequate, because bills never stop coming. Astounded with this particular stressful life style, Grace talked about her initial reaction. She says, “I said to myself, Is this the American dream? I want to go home. My friends think I have the best life; yet I have three jobs on top of being a full time student.” Participants stated that it is difficult to find joy, have a social network to belong to or fall back on, and enjoy life. The quality of life simply tends to be richer in Africa even in the absence of sufficient money. Parham (2002) writes that sever cultural adjustment difficulties can occur in African-descent individuals when they live in opposition to their nature or natural essence (values, personalities, ways of being, and etc.).
Another acculturative challenge experienced by black African immigrants is discrimination. All participants identified their unexpected encounter with racism as a major source of conflict. The shift of coming from a place that uses tribal classification to identify a person to a country where their color skin becomes the lens in which they are defined and judged is mountainous. Black African immigrants face hostile encounters on three levels: as an immigrant (someone who is an outsider and who speaks differently), as an African, (origin), and as a black person (race), which is often described as a triple minority (Constantine et al., 2005). The U.S. has a long history of projecting hostility to individuals who appear to be outside of the ‘norm’. Empirical studies of perceived stereotypes, discrimination, and social distance have traditionally tapped dominant majority views of immigrant and ethnic minorities (Allport, 1958; Warner & Strole, 1945). To begin with, accent signifies one’s ‘otherness’ from the norm. Because they did not speak English or because they had an accent, participants indicated their experiences of people looking down on them, and making them feel embarrassed. Paul spoke of instances where he would go to the store and people respond negatively as soon as he opens his mouth. Participants also shared their experiences of being made fun of and being a target of jokes. Grace says, “Some people don’t get pass the accents: it’s frustrating.”
Julia who understands English but speaks with an accent also expressed her frustration with receptionists who insist on giving her an interpreter at the hospital where she takes her son for his regular check-ups. She accepted an interpreter once and learned that he translates incorrectly. She commented that the receptionist never even give her a chance to speak. Jackson (Zambia) where English is the official language stated that Americans expect him to speak like them even though he already speaks English fluently. Thelma says, “They (Americans) understand you, but they want you to speak the way they speak.” A woman approached Steven (Tanzania, another English speaking country) and offered to help him lose his accent. He asked her if she has trouble understanding him in which she responded that she understood him perfectly. He then inquired her as to why it would be necessary for him to lose his accent.
Every participant in the study has encountered negative and degrading stereotypes pertaining to Africa from Americans, which many find patronizing. Participants were shaken at the juxtaposition of the U.S. being the most advanced country and the lack of knowledge among its citizens. They expressed their frustration with Americans being very ethnocentric and close-minded. People lacked knowledge and awareness about the rest of the world. In Africa, students get a world education: they learn about Europe, Asia and Latin America. Participants described the school system in the U.S. as “broken” and very exclusive. In the study Constantine et al. (2005) conducted examining the cultural adjustment experiences of African international college students, his participants expressed their concern with the educational system in the United States being Eurocentric or oriented toward White cultural values. They also indicated their alarm in many Americans lacking awareness of global issues outside of U.S. domestic concerns. Frustrated and angry with the stereotypes she encountered, Grace often asked why she even came to the U.S. Some of the typical stereotypes about Africa and Africans include, do you have cell phones and cars? Do you live on trees? Do you play with tigers and lions? How did you get here? Are your parents kings and queens? Many people also think of Africa as being one country.
Bob shared his wearisome experience with a dentist he visited. She noted to him that he must see pirates all the time, and asked why he hates Americans. He politely explained he was not from Somalia. When he told her he is from Ivory Coast, she had no idea where it was. She proceeded to ask if people in Ivory Coast use tooth brush. Even though he took the time to educate her and dismantle myths she carried, she handed him a box of toothbrushes when he got up to leave (he had mentioned to her that he was returning to Ivory Coast for vacation). Bob walked out of the office feeling very angry. When Thelma mentions her house in Africa, people act surprise and inquire what type of a house she owns. She commented that Americans have no idea that many Africans are actually better off than them, owning beautiful houses without the burden of a mortgage payment. Julia says, “Some are very genuinely curious and have no knowledge when they ask questions, others, their question has a connotation of looking down upon you. They are very surprised to see us behaving like other human beings.”
In addition to the negative stereotypical comments, being African is also connoted with ignorance and inferiority. For example, Jackson who is in a professional development fellowship program at the University of California, Davis for a year says, “Any African thing is not of standard.” He always receives comments and questions that implicitly critique his belonging in the program. Tom being the only black student in his master’s program, his Asian and Caucasian classmates were surprised about his knowledge of world history such as Chinese and Vietnam history. They (Asian classmates) would often tell their friends about the black guy in their class who knows everything. Additionally, some of his classmates heavenly relied on calculators to calculate mathematical problems. When Tom showed them how to solve the problems without using a calculator, Tom says, “They ask how an African can do this and where did you learn this? They start to give you respect. Before that, you are nobody and you know nothing.” Grace who is fluent in English and French is often questioned by people who seem surprised of her knowledge of those languages. Bob takes engineering courses and his classmates are shocked at the fact that someone who lacks mastery of the language (English) and has an accent can know more than they do.
Besides the prejudice and the stereotype threats, another form of hostility is the actual act of discrimination, which can be an overwhelmingly infuriating experience for most Africans. Because black African immigrants lack any racial socialization, they do not have a tangible understanding of racism until they first handedly experience it in the U.S. Fisher and Shaw (1994) write that those who have not lived with racial exposure, lack the means (racial socialization) to prepare for racial hostile encounters. Tom says, “It’s hard for us to understand what’s racial action. Where we come from we are all blacks, so we are not prepared to face it.” Some immigrants actually fail to recognize it instantly when they are confronted with discrimination for the first time. For example, during Tom’s first year in America, he worked at a gas station. When people acted in a particular way, he failed to realize the racial connotation. He says, “It takes a while to realize people act this way because I am black.” While Bob was walking home from work in the evening, a police officer stopped him. He questioned him about where he is coming from and what he was doing, he asked him if he owned a knife, searched him, and finally asked for his identification card. After checking Bob’s identification card, he let him go. Bob says, “I got home and talked to my uncle, I learned it was because of my color. I didn’t think about race for the first three month, I didn’t know that there are racist people, I thought white and black people in America, they live together and understand each other. I didn’t expect discrimination; I thought that was during Martin Luther king’s time.” For Thelma, the U.S. represented democracy. She thought that Americans had moved beyond the racial line. She came to find out Americans have yet to advance in this particular area.
Phinney and Onwughalu (1996) also point out that because black African immigrants have an optimal image of the United States and the potential benefits its offers, having discrimination as a barrier to economic mobility and social adjustment can be a shockingly gruesome discovery. For example Thelma described her expectation of the U.S. as “The land of honey and milk where nobody suffers.” Four participants reported being denied promotion due to their race. Tim with great frustration and anger, expressed how his employer refused him a promotion even though he has worked for nine years while employees with three years of experience have been able to move up. He says, “It’s always a struggle, we fight to get ahead.” Similarly, Steven (Tanzania) was propelled to resign from his priesthood due to racial discrimination. Daily confrontations with racial mistreatments also hinder their social adjustment. Being followed inside stores, being denied entrance to clubs, being neglected or ignored of services, racial profiling, being wrongly accused, women holding on to their purses or calling out to their children in the passing of a participant are all the common incidents participants endure on a regular basis. Bob says, “I never imagined what happens here, people treat you like crap as if you have no value. It hurts a lot, it affects you emotionally, and it makes it hard to adjust here and get used to the life style.”
Moreover, black African immigrants are often startled by the prejudice they encounter in the hands of African Americans due to their triple minority status, a major concern that emerged across all participants. They come with the notion that they will automatically connect and be accepted within the African American community in the U.S. due to the commonalities they share. Unfortunately, this expectation has failed to come true. All participants testified that great tensions exist between the two groups. Some of the reasons participants mentioned entail “African Americans believe that we (Africans) think we are better than them, and that we overshadow them,” “Africans resent African Americans’ lack of knowledge regarding Africa,” “Africans resent African Americans’ effort to fixedly distinguish themselves from Africans, and resent their failure to acknowledge their ancestry,” “African Americans possess jealousy because they cannot trace their ancestry,” as well as “African Americans perpetuate similar stereotypes and prejudices that whites hold against Africans.” Tim says, “It hurts a lot, I don’t have African American friends. It hurts because I feel they are my people but they keep distant from us. It’s kind of sad, they should approach us, know a little bit history about the continent. I don’t know what we have done to them but we are always separate.” Bob questions why it is much easier to greet and interact with people of the African Diaspora such as Jamaicans and Haitians except with African Americans.
Tom describes, “Coming to the U.S., I thought it would be easy to make African American friends, this wasn’t the case.” He and Thelma described incidents where they would greet African Americans but a very few responded. Most of them got into a defensive mode as to question the motive of their greetings. Therefore for Tom and Thelma, they found it easier to make friends with Caucasians than African Americans. On one occasion, Tom was introduced to an African American woman at a party, but the woman kept calling him “Africa”. When he approached her, the first thing she said was, “why do you hate us (African Americans)?” He inquired about where she got that idea from and she said her mother. Tom could not figure out why African Americans fall short in seeking out resources to learn about African people. He later recognized that they already carry negative preconceived ideas which feed into the prejudice. He took the time to explain and educate her. When Bob declined to buy a product from an African American street vendor, the vendor shoutingly said to Bob “You Africans sold us to the Americans, you criminals!”, which traumatized Bob. Tim, Thelma, and Steven explained they did not have any African American friends. Steven said he never bonded with African Americans because they seemed unfriendly.
Tibo recalled incidents where African Americans called him “Kunta Kinte” ( the central character of the novel, Roots, who was enslaved from Africa and sold to the U.S). He also pointed out that it is easier to approach and interact with men than women. Grace validated this fact by explaining that though she gets along just fine with men, interactions with African American women appears negative. She says, “they have this -she thinks she is better than us attitude.” Thelma shared her perplexed experience with an African American woman who insistently and adamantly concentrated on distinguishing African Americans from Africans. Not everyone has bear unpleasant experiences with African Americans. Julia’s only interaction with African Americans is with those who actively participate in African clubs which she depicted as being positive and pleasing. Paul expressed being in the middle and hearing stories from both sides (Africans and African Americans). He explained that his talent and passion for basketball allowed him to play with African Americans and form friendships. He says, “It was a match of respect. When you have a talent, they will respect you as a player, then as a person. You are equal even if you don’t speak the language.”
Basketball broke the barrier for Paul and prevented potential negative experiences. When asked if his relationship would be the same had it not been for basketball, he responds, “If I didn’t play basketball or sucked at it on the court, I would not have gained the level of respect and would have become a joke.” After he formed friendships with them, his African American friends have told Paul “jokingly” that his skills made him lucky in enabling them to “kick it with him” Tom also feels that one (African) needs to have something to offer in order to be friends with African Americans. For example, during his Masters program, he met and became good friends/roommates with two Senegalese men who were popular basketball players on campus. Many African Americans who ignored his greetings in the past suddenly became interested and wanted to be his friend. Though many of the participants were frustrated and hurt with African American’s lack of knowledge about Africa, as well as with the lack of bonding between them, they recognize that African Americans are part of the brainwash perpetuated by the media. All participants agree that what creates and fuels this ignorance, stereotype and prejudice about Africa and its people is the media. All of them expressed how disappointing and demeaning it is to witness the media intentionally choosing to portray their origin and culture in a single story, one inundated with stories of military coups, hunger, disease, and poverty. In exploring the relationship between stereotypes and the media, Petersson (2006) writes that the media’s depiction of non-European immigrants as an economical and social burden (or as individuals needing to be taken care of by benevolent protectors in the host society), and as exotic human beings makes immigrants vulnerable for harassment from the larger public.
Low Acculturation as a Protective Factor against Acculturative Stress
The experiences of cultural conflicts and discrimination inflict negative affects (anger, frustration, disappointment, shame, sadness, loneliness) on the well beings of Black African immigrants. However, participants utilize their own resources to diffuse the pain of acculturative stress. Low acculturation, adherence to cultural practices and values, helps to insulate black African immigrants from stressful experiences. For instance, to eradicate loneliness, Tom used food and his passion for soccer to create a community around him. When he lived in the dorms during his early school years, he would be the only one left in the building during the weekend. He started cooking and organizing soccer tournament. After a while, he became popular and his place became the “hang out” area. He says, “The only way you can survive is to create a community wherever you go.” Steven would also cook and invite African friends which became an outlet to talk, release stress, and find solutions to their common problems. Other participants lived with other African immigrants and provided support for one another. Having someone who understands what they are going through and to be able to talk about shared experiences as well as to talk about strategies to overcome challenges is a form of therapy. Steven says, “Birds of the same feather fly together”.
Social support is a key component of low acculturation that participants use to distress. In examining the college transition experience of minority immigrant students, Eunyoung (2009) discovered that through social networks, students were able to relate to others like themselves, build ethnic bonds and cultivate their ethnic identity, and mutually exchange help to acquire the patterns of behavior that enhances academic achievement. For participants, social network brings back the culture they were separated from and makes it alive, it makes them feel home, and their communal spirits get re-enacted. It helps them elude feeling lonely and lost. Social support further acts as a resource base for providing information. Julia commented on the fruitfulness of social support in helping her and her family from being lost in the busy and rigid routine life style of America. She drives with her family to Las Vegas, California to engage with the Cameroon community. Having parents around is also another form of social support that serves as a coping strategy. Paul praises his parents (who live abroad) for keeping him grounded and away from diving into destructive ways to deal with stress. For Grace, her parents talked to her about discrimination when she arrived in the U.S, they explained to her that it is part of life, and to always keep her head up and be proud of her roots. Therefore, she refuses to dwell on discriminative stress.
Conserving faith plays a crucial role in offsetting stress as well. Tom says, “We don’t and can’t control everything so having faith helps you digest all the challenges.” Listening to native music, celebrating holidays, being active in African communities, staying connected with families and friends in the native land through phone calls, emails, personal visits are all common ways participants employ to retain culture, to rejuvenate, and to avoid being lost. For instance, calling her family in Zimbabwe and listening to a Zimbabwean radio station everyday de-stresses and sooths Thelma’s mind and spirit. She says, “It makes me feel like I am back in my community.” The importance of low acculturation is that not only is it a shield against the toxic of acculturative stress but it “speaks to who you are, you are non-existent without it” (Grace). Julia explains that maintaining values helps immigrants to stay grounded, humble, and to solve problems. Tim says, “Running away from culture, you will be lost. Assimilating would be going against nature: nature is so diverse and we are a reflection of that.” Therefore all participants commented on the imperativeness of low acculturation in order to keep their sanity and lead meaningful lives. For all participants, low acculturation restores their confidence, pride, and resilience in the face of stressful obstacles. Cuellar (1997), and Cuellar & Roberts (1984), and Heilemann et al. (2002) argue that low acculturation has not only been associated with adherence to the cultural values and behaviors of one’s home culture, but they have been found to protect the mental health and stress outcomes of individuals when they experience negative events. The argument of these aforementioned authors was clearly affirmed by participants of this study.
Padilla (1995) posits that discriminatory experiences in fact enhance low acculturation which in turn acts as a shield against racial encounters. For instance, participants testified that enduring stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination strengthened their pride and desire to retain their culture. Tibo, Grace, Paul, and Jackson talked about feeling powerful because they spoke multiple languages than the people who made fun of their accent or language skills. Participants also felt confident and proud for demonstrating broader world knowledge. Tom expressed his strong pride as well as his desire to teach Americans about Africa. Participants described that they are prouder than ever to be an African as a result of their status as a triple minority.
In this chapter, the data from the study was analyzed and discussed. Chapter five is a description of the conclusions and recommendations. The limitations of this study and the implications for social work practice and policy are also discussed.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This chapter summarizes the conclusions extracted from his study. This chapter will include a discussion of the findings pertaining to what it means to be a black African immigrant in the United States (cultural and racial adjustments) as well as the moderating effects of low acculturation on acculturative stress. In addition, this chapter will discuss future recommendations, explain the limitations of the study, and outline the implications for social work policy and practice.
Although the nature and degree of adjustment difficulties experienced by immigrants in general have been shown to vary as a function of many different factors (degree of English language proficiency, degree of social acceptance in the host country, disparities in cultural differences, and amount of time spent in the U.S., and etc.), few prior studies have focused specifically on the experience of African immigrants (Kamaya, 2001). Kamaya re-emphasis the need for further studies of African immigrants that include respondents from various parts of Africa to investigate adjustment issues, and aspects of racism that keep many African immigrants invisible. She deems that studies that examine these variables qualitatively with individual interviews are needed to provide a rather depth, richness, and complexity. As such, the intent of this study was to examine particular cultural and racial adjustment issues, their relationship to stress (impact on well-being) as well as the impact of low acculturation as a protective factor in a sample of black African immigrants.
Prior investigations such as Constantine et al. (2004), and Nebedurn-Ezeh (1997) have documented that African immigrants face unique stressors and concerns related to their adjustment to the U.S. culture. The finding of this research supported the assumption that black African Immigrants fall prey to various stress factors due to their cultural and racial background, which can be detrimental to their welfare (emotional, mental, and physical health). Participants in this study reported a range of acculturation problems upon coming to the U.S. Of particular note were the facts that all of the interviewees indicated mismatch of cultural values between the native and host country as well as prejudicial and discriminatory treatments. The respondents addressed cultural conflicts in reference to the impersonality of the American society. All respondent sated feeling alienated from American society. The sense of alienation was attributed to the collision of their traditional African values with those of American where the respondents traditionally were more communal oriented. In America, society is oriented to the individual. Nwadiora (2005) writes that in the African community, one has an obligation to live up to the community’s expectation. All participants reported feeling homesick, isolated, and lonely as a result.
Participants also addressed the issue of daily racial degrading, including stereotypes and discrimination which can impede social adjustment and economic mobility. This racial discrimination is a new phenomenon for most of the respondents with the exception of those who lived in Europe prior to migrating to the U.S. They expressed their bewilderment at the depth of racism that devalues African humanity. African immigrants have grown up in contexts in which their racial or cultural groups represent the numerical majority (Bagley & Young, 1998). Therefore, experiencing racial discrimination may be a relatively new phenomenon (Adeleke, 1998; Mori, 2000; Winkelman, 1994). Furthermore, African immigrants have certain expectations and assumptions about what their lives will be like when they move to the U.S., and they may experience disappointment, anger, resentment, depression, and cultural shock when their experiences or assumptions are unsupported (Mori; Puritt, 1978). This only exacerbated their acculturative stress.
The results of this research are also consistent with prior investigation and literature noting the benefits of low acculturation in offering immigrants a culturally based protective factor against stressful events and enhancing their well-beings (Alba, 2005). Preserving cultural practices and values by any means (social support/network, faith, language, holiday, food, and etc.) helps black African immigrants cope with acculturative stress factors (discrimination and cultural conflicts). The findings prove the importance of African immigrants’ maintaining social connections with individuals who can validate their sense of self and ways of being. All participants reported that these connections reflect their cultural values and provide them a sense of communal belonging (Grills, 2000). Furthermore, social support networks offer critical ways of coping with acculturative stress.
Morris (2001) suggests in his study that professionals who work with African
Americans be culturally competent diagnosticians with African American clients.
However, Morris (2001) admits neither of these tasks is easy, and suggests that these
tasks require ongoing supervision, literature searches, workshops, and personal growth.
These tasks are not professionally overwhelming; all of these tasks contribute to skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are more congruent with being a culturally competent
therapist, diagnostician, service provider and evaluator (Morris). Keeping in mind the challenges that black African immigrant face, the scarcity of research, and the ultimate goal of meaningfully serving them, this researcher agrees with Morris. In addition to on- going supervision, literature searches, workshops, and personal growth, social workers need to go further. Professionals should enter African communities they are attempting to serve, learn about them, discover the support systems that are already in place, and interweave their own lived experiences, both professional and personal, with the communities’ reality. With this new understanding of the immigrants’ experiences, social workers and helping professionals alike will be much better equipped to serve African immigrants effectively.
Moreover Berger (2004) states that helping professionals/service providers need
to ask themselves the following questions: 1) How can these stories of immigrants help develop informed interventions?; 2) What should the nature of services be to best address their needs?; and 3) How can the responses of the participants inform service development and delivery? Helping professionals should work towards preventing depression, emotional stress, and the many losses that coincide with acculturation experiences. It should always be recognized that African immigrants are not a homogenous cohort. Their resettlement needs differ and all of them cannot be treated in the same way. The researcher hopes that this study will be applied by social workers and other service providers.
This exploratory finding should be considered in light of several potential limitations. First due to the sample size (ten participants), generalizability of the findings to all African immigrants is not possible. Second, since this was a qualitative study, it might be difficult to replicate. Third, face-to-face process of collecting data may have resulted in eliciting a bias response. Fourth, the study is limited to the extent that it is based on one set of researcher’s interpretation of one set of data pertaining to the acculturation experiences of black African immigrants. Although the researcher attempted to account for biases and expectations in the context of analyzing the data, it is possible that the researcher’s perception uniquely influenced some aspects of the research such as the formulation of research questions, which in turn affected the data acquired (Cresswell, 2003). Fifth, the findings might also be limited because the researcher analyzed the data by combining all the different country subgroups into one larger group of African immigrants. Although there are individual differences associated with racial adjustment difficulties, it is vital to note that black African immigrants do share some fundamental similarities (Essandoh, 1995). However, the results are still deemed reliable and usable.
Implications for Social Work Policy and Practice
As the United States continues to experience an enormous influx of African refugees and immigrants, it generates a number of challenges for the social work profession. It is the mission of the social work profession to protect and enhance the well being of all persons especially of minority groups (NASW, 2009). In order to achieve this code of ethics, social workers must first gain understanding of the psychological and sociocultural experiences of black African immigrants through the acculturation process. Once they gain this knowledge, social workers will be better equipped to assist and advocate for this particular population. It is the hope of this researcher that information provided in this study will offer valuable information when confronted with this challenging responsibility.
On a micro level of practice, social works and other helping professions can utilize this type of study to increase their knowledge and awareness about the cultural and racial backgrounds of this population as well as the challenges they face. Most importantly, social workers should be aware of the value placed on interdependent relationships and connections by many African immigrants so that they avoid erroneously pathologizing these immigrants’ strong reliance on families/friends/community members for support. It is also imperative that social service programs and interventions be culturally competent, and engrain approaches compatible with the immigrants’ values.
On the meso level of practice, social workers can utilize the importance of African cultural value of family and community interdependence, and integrate it to their intervention plan. African immigrants who lose their connection to communality as a result of migrating to the U.S can benefit tremendously from this type of approach. Furthermore, social workers can engage in outreach efforts to dismantle stigmas around seeking mental/emotional health services. They can further educate African immigrants about various forms of discrimination and oppression they might experience as members of their racial group along with ways to address this type of racism when encountered. Holding workshops or educational programs about Africa and its people in communities, and eliciting media support can help dismantle stereotypes as well.
On the macro level of practice, social workers should strive to engage in the crafting of policies so that the needs and concerns of cultural minority groups are addressed. They should advocate for policies that incorporate non-Eurocentric theoretical models and interventions. Other ways social workers can advocate for their clients on this level is to lobby politicians regarding improved treatments and services for minority immigrants, and additional financial resources to create more trainings and programs that enrich cultural competency as well as expand educational and outreach programs.
The purpose of this study was to explore the cultural and racial challenge black African immigrants face as they attempt to make a new life in the United States, and how low acculturation alleviates acculturative stress. The results of this study underscore the need for increased understanding of black African immigrants during their acculturation process. It is the researcher’s contention that more research studies be devoted in the future that further examines the qualitative domains identified in this study. In particular, cultural adjustment issues, discriminatory experiences, and mental health issues and access to social services. Future research should include a broader sample of respondents from all African countries. These approaches can increase the practitioner’s understanding of and ability to advocate for the black African immigrant population. They can also illuminate critical information about how practitioners (social workers, counselors and etc.) could better intervene to address cultural adjustment difficulties in this population. Research of this nature will inform researchers, practitioners, and policy makers of the knowledge base of the prevalence of discriminatory experience and their impact on the well being of African immigrants. Kershaw (1992) argues that the black experience is worthy of researching and can enrich and educate others about human beings; can change the negative images of black folks through emancipator research. This type of research is a great importance in order to inform fields such as social work, and increase effective programs and interventions with this growing population.
It would also be valuable that future researchers explore the extent to which approaches and interventions applied in training programs address the cultural needs of African immigrants (Parham & Parham, 2002). Additionally, further research on the examination of the efficacy of culture specific coping behaviors among African immigrants especially as they relate to African centered world views and principles may inform social workers and the likes about the types of interventions that would be most effective for this overlooked population. Moreover, it has been argued that biculturalism (adherence to both the home and the host society’s culture) has psychological advantages, versus only low or high acculturation levels (Padilla, 1995) In the words of one participant, “It’s wealthy to have both cultures: it’s good to take what’s good from both.” Perhaps the next steps in this line of research are to investigate the advantages of biculturalism among African immigrants in addition to the benefits of low acculturation. Due to the dearth of literature devoted to African immigrants, this researcher hopes that this study will bridge that gap.
Consent to Participate as a Research Subject
You are being asked to participate in research that will be conducted by Lelina Beru, a Master’s student in social work at the division of social work, California State University, Sacramento. The study will explore to understand stress factors and acculturation experiences of black African Immigrants in the United States.