The Threat of Downward Assimilation Among Young African Immigrants in U.S. Schools

The Threat of Downward Assimilation Among Young African Immigrants in U.S. Schools

Immaculee Harushimana (Lehman College (CUNY), USA) and Janet Awokoya (California Lutheran University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9348-5.ch018


This chapter presents research implications geared toward preventing the downward assimilation trend prevailing among young African immigrants in US public schools. Secondary data from three qualitative studies of integration and adaptation processes of African-born immigrant youth in urban school settings helped identify signs of downward assimilation, especially among males. Salient signs of this trend include low academic achievement, gang inclination, and defiance towards authority. Four major theories—segmented assimilation, socio-ecological theory, intersectionality, and critical race theory—served as framework for the analysis of the risk factors that may lead young African immigrants to follow the downward assimilation path. The analysis reveals the need for intervention measures at the federal, state, and school levels to reduce the vulnerability of non-predominant minority youth in US school settings and the moral responsibility of school authorities to ensure their welfare. Recommended preventive measures include (1) educating immigrant families and school communities; (2) encouraging collaboration and dialogue between African community organizations, school administration, and policymakers purported at creating a favorable school climate for the marginalized African immigrant youth; (3) increasing intervention measures, such as school-community mediation and political representation.
Chapter Preview


The price of immigration is too damn high!

Families in desperation opt to leave behind

Loved ones, secure jobs, and their dignity

In pursuit of an American dream out of reach. (Immaculee Harushimana)

Despite the Trump administration’s nationalist agenda and anti-immigration stance, the prediction by demographers (Kotkin, 2010) and immigration studies scholars (Massey, 2008) that by 2050 the United States of America may become a “majority-minority” country requires deep thought and the development of sound, practical policies. A shift from the US being a predominately White nation to being one where ethnic minorities will become the numerical majority implies a major shift in the nation’s politics, economy, and reputation. Racially, the US population has become markedly diverse as a result of the post-1965 new immigration wave (Massey, 1995). Though not mentioned in Massey’s discussion of the post-1965 new immigration demographics, it is important to highlight the significant surge in African migration noted in the 1980’s (Gordon, 1998; Takougang, 2003). A special feature of the new immigration population is that the majority of them come from non-western nations and consist predominantly of poor, economic and political refugees, some with little or limited education and finances (Dodoo, 1997; Gordon & Gordon, 1992; Noguera, 2004). If the descendants of this new wave of immigrants are expected to become US leaders of tomorrow, as demographer predictions indicate, it is critical that research should begin to focus on how adequately or inadequately this new generation is being nurtured and supported to assume leadership roles of this great nation. Critical reviews of the school adaptation processes of “new immigrant” youths, unfortunately, do not project a positive picture (Awokoya & Harushimana, 2013; Harushimana, 2013; Lukes, 2015; Mthetwa-Sommers & Kisiara, 2015; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). The conditions under which these children learn, especially those attending public urban schools, are infelicitous. Some are either bullied (Mthethwa-Sommers, 2015; Harushimana, 2013) or underserved and overlooked (Agyepong, 2013; Ruiz-de-Velasco & Fix, 2000); others are either “shut out” or “pushed out” (Lukes, 2015). As the US population becomes more and more diverse, and cultural globalization (Held & McGrew, 1999) spreads around the world, the odds that contemporary immigrants can follow the straight-line model of assimilation, also known as vertical or classical assimilation, are considerably low. This unforeseen trend needs to be acknowledged and prevented.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Economic Refugee: An economic refugee is a person who leaves their home, in search of better job prospects and higher living standards.

Majority-Minority Area: Also called minority-majority area is a United States state or jurisdiction whose population is composed of less than 50% non-Hispanic whites.

Political Refugee: Refers to any person who is unwilling or unable to stay in the country of their nationality due to political persecution.

Upward Assimilation: Refers to children of immigrants managing to acquire the college, and other advanced degrees needed to move into the professional/managerial elite.

Segmented Assimilation: A theory that suggests that different immigrant groups assimilate into different segments of society. These immigrants have a relatively easy time adjusting to life in their new home.

Forced Migrants: Refers to refugees and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts within their country of origin) as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects.

Non-Voluntary Migrants: Migrants who do not migrate by choice.

Linguistic Disadvantage: A person suffers linguistic disadvantage when they have inadequate opportunities for communication, because within their linguistic environment they are only able to communicate without mediation amongst a relatively (or absolutely) small number of people.

Model Minority: Model minority is a demographic group (whether based on ethnicity, race, or religion) whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average.

Horizontal Assimilation: Refers to first generation adult and 1.5 generation young adult immigrants who choose to embrace symbolic ethnicity by adopting ethnic label through the inclusion of particular cultural elements such as language, customs, cuisine, and dress—identities that are transmutable and not intrinsic.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: