Becoming Black: African Immigrant Integration in the United States


Dr. Amanda Robinson, Department of Political Science
Rank at time of award: Assistant Professor



Immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa constitute the fastest growing group of immigrants in the United States today, yet we know less about their processes of assimilation and integration than other groups of immigrants. Research on black immigrants from the Caribbean suggests that the immigration experience of African immigrants will look quite different from many previous groups of immigrants, largely because assimilation for black immigrants risks exposure to the many forms of discrimination and inequalities faced by native-born black Americans. Focusing on the relatively understudied African immigrant population, we seek to address the following questions: Do African immigrants seek out or resist integration into the existing African American minority? What explains variation in integration among African immigrants? How does such integration affect the demographic, political, and health outcomes of these immigrants?
We approach these questions through a multi-method study of the Somali population of Columbus. We examine the integration experiences and identify patterns among Somali residents of Columbus in relation to the following theoretically-motivated dimensions: exposure to American culture (first vs. second generation, length of residence in the US, age of immigration, pre-immigration exposure to American culture), socioeconomic status and human capital (education level, SES in country of origin, SES in the US, urban vs. rural in country of origin), and physical and cultural distinctions from American populations (physical appearance, clothing, names). We propose a pilot project that includes both focus group discussions and citizen surveys. The pilot data will provide initial evidence about the sources of variation in immigrant assimilation, as well as allow us to experiment with different recruitment strategies and survey models. In the long term, we plan to build a panel of Somali immigrants in Columbus that will allow us to survey the same individuals over time, track changes in assimilation, and field targeted surveys in response to current events.


African Americans have higher rates of morbidity and mortality than white Americans. While black immigrants to the US initially have health outcomes similar to white Americans, this health advantage decreases with time in the US and over generations, which many attribute to black immigrant integration into African American society. By focusing on variation in the degree of integration and assimilation among African immigrants this research will contribute to our understanding of how processes of assimilation affect the health outcomes of first and second generation African immigrants, and may help elucidate the mechanisms through which race is correlated with health outcomes in the US more broadly. More broadly, this research will provide key insight into the nature and implications of America's changing racial landscape.

Publications resulting from this seed grant

Editor-Reviewed Articles

Ethnic Visibility. 2017. CP: Newsletter of the Comparative Politics Organized Section of the American Political Science Association 27(2): 79–89.