Discrimination History, Backlash Fear, and Ethnic Identity among Arab Americans: Post-9/11 Snapshots

By Nassar-McMillan, Sylvia C.; Lambert, Richard G. et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Discrimination History, Backlash Fear, and Ethnic Identity among Arab Americans: Post-9/11 Snapshots


Nassar-McMillan, Sylvia C., Lambert, Richard G., Hakim-Larson, Julie, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


The authors examined discrimination history, backlash fear, and ethnic identity of Arab Americans nationally at 3 times, beginning shortly after September 11, 2001. Relations between variables were moderate, and discrimination history and backlash fear were statistically significant predictors of ethnic identity. Implications for acculturation and ethnic identity are discussed.

Los autores examinaron la historia de la discriminacion, el miedo a las reacciones violentas, y la identidad etnica de individuos Americanos de origen Arabe a nivel nacional en 3 momentos distintos, comenzando poco tiempo despues del 11 de Septiembre de 2001. Las relaciones entre las variables fueron moderadas, y la historia de la discriminacion y el miedo a las reacciones violentas pronosticaron con una fiabilidad estadisticamente significativa el nivel de identidad etnica. Se discuten las implicaciones para la aculturacion y la identidad etnica.

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Acculturation characterizes a shift from country of origin to the new host country in terms of values, beliefs, and attitudes (Berry, 1980) and is among he most salient issues for immigrants as well as for later generations (e.g., Kandel & Massey, 2002; Kuo & Roysircar, 2004). It denotes an affiliation with the new culture while forgoing or integrating the past into the new value structure.

Acculturation strategies may be linked to immigration waves (Abudabbeh, 1996; Ammar, 2000). Thus, counselors must be particularly attuned to the client's immigration wave cohort when assessing psychosocial histories. For example, earliest U.S. Arab immigrants were predominantly Christian, uneducated, and poor, immigrating largely for economic reasons, whereas later waves included more Muslims, those of higher educational levels, and wartime refugees (e.g., Abudabbeh, 1996). First-wave Arab immigrants assimilated quickly, whereas second-wave families remained committed to ancestral roots and less to U.S. lifestyle and values. A third wave sought professional goals while maintaining homeland cultures; a more recent group of refugees who have fled religious or political persecution have tended to uphold ethnic traditions and values (Hakim-Larson & Nassar-McMillan, 2008; Nassar-McMillan, 2011). It is important to note that although the later waves comprised predominantly Muslims, the majority of individuals in the United States self-defining as Arab American are non-Muslim, and many of these Arab Americans represent second and third generations in the United States. The few studies that have examined acculturation within the Arab American community prior to September 11, 2001 (9/11) identified a number of salient variables for Arab Americans (e.g., Nassar-McMillan & Hakim-Larson, 2003; Paine, 1986), including discrimination, country of origin, religion, reason for immigration, gender, language (see also Stockton, 1994), and racial-religious-ethnic identification (see also Jackson & Nassar-McMillan, 2006). Studies on other ethnic groups have yielded additional variables such as length of stay and residency status in United States (Sodowsky & Plake, 1992), generation level, and nationality of origin (Sodowsky, Lai, & Plake, 1991).

immigration and ethnic identity

The construct of ethnic identity may be characterized as strong identification and pride with the country of origin rather than with the new host culture (e.g., Phinney, 1996). A consistent definition is elusive because of racial mixing, birthplace, language, culture, and religion (Trimble & Dickson, 2005). Although independent, the constructs of acculturation and ethnic identity both represent ways of reconciling values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors associated with contrasting cultures.

Arab American history is embedded within a troubled relationship between Arab and Western societies that encompasses cultural-religious gaps, military conflicts, anti-U. …

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