Living in the Grey: Racial Sense-Making of Second Generation African Immigrants

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This study explored messages of racial identity received by second generation African immigrants in order to better under their racial sense-making experiences. As a result of the growth in the Black immigrant population in the United States, which has grown to nearly 10% of the overall Black population (Pew Research Center, 2017), research has shown that Black immigrants experience and understand their racial identities differently than their African American counterparts (Jackson, 2010; Mwangi & Fries-Britt, 2015). Despite the scholarly attention given to Black immigrants, very little research exists on their second generation immigrant children, and how they make sense of their racial and ethnic identities in a U.S context. Given the impact of racial identity on academic experiences, social engagement, and psychological well-being (Chavous & Byrd, 2009; Cokley & Chapman, 2008; Harper, 2009), the continued growth and representation of this population in higher education warrants further inquiry.

Guided by a reconceptualized model of the Learning Race in a U.S. context framework (Fries-Britt, Mwangi, Peralta, 2014), this research was guided by two research questions: (1) What messages do second generation African immigrants receive about their racial identities? (2) How do these messages inform their understandings of their own race and race generally?

Employing a narrative inquiry methodology, this study examined how three, second generation African immigrants have made sense of their racial identities. Three salient themes emerged from the participant narratives that demonstrated how each of their understandings of race and racial identity were defined by environments bound by space and time. The findings of this study have implications for research and student affairs practice by providing a nuanced exploration of the racial identity constructions of this segment of the ever growing Black immigrant population.