Adida Robinson 2023

From Projecting Power



"The likelihood of being misidentified as a member of a marginalized segment of the host population disincentivizes assimilation, while holding constant the national identity, migration status, and religious identity of the immigrant group" (Adida and Robinson 297). The author argues that different immigrants face different likelihoods of being racially lumped with members of the marginalized host community, and therefore face different incentives to reify their ethnic identities as protection from race-based discrimination. They look for factors that cause Black immigrants to resist assimilation. The themes of this study reinforce the intertwined importance of cultural identity and cultural change.


The journal documents studies of Black immigrants selectively claiming the identity of US-born African Americans to protect against the racial discrimination of groups who have assimilated into American culture and the history of racism. This article follows the posed differences between Black immigrants and US-born African Americans, inferencing that there are incentives for one to separate oneself to avoid race-based discrimination. This study follows the assimilation of Black immigrants and analyzes the reasoning behind their decisions.



The study uses 3 approaches to examine their argument:

  • Qualitative Data
    • A qualitative interview data from 1st and 2nd generation immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa to demonstrate that not all African immigrants are equally likely to be mistaken for African Americans. This highlights the complexities of Black immigrants' experiences. They found that Somali Bantus perceived themselves as facing race based discrimination.
  • Experimental Evidence
    • Conducted a lab to identify the demographic correlates of African immigrants being mistaken for African Americans. They found that Black immigrants from the Horn of Africa are less likely to be mistaken as African Americans than immigrants from different regions in Africa.
  • Focus Group Discussions
    • A focus group discussions and original survey data from Somali immigrants, between ethnic Somali and Bantus who have distinct features comparing the likelihood of being mistaken for African American. They found Bantus are more likely to be mistaken for African Americans than Somalis.



The researchers ultimately found that the Somali Bantu migrants were more likely to be mistaken as African Americans, which caused them to resist assimilation. It showed in them "preferring ethnic names, or wearing national or ethnic-signaling attire, using their native languages in public, valuing ingroup over outgroup marriages, and choosing to live in particular neighborhoods — behaviors referred to elsewhere as “ethnic embeddedness” (Waters et al., 2010) — all signal an identity separate from African Americans" (Adida and Robinson 302).

Additionally, the researchers found that that ethnic Somalis were often mistaken for many other identities that expanded beyond Africa, such as being mistaken for Middle Eastern and Indian or mixed-race. This provided the researchers with the insight that ethnic Somalis have a wider range of potential identification classification assumptions in the U.S., as opposed to the ethnic Bantus, who do not share similar experiences. This provides crucial insight on the impact of stereotypes to migrants and their retaliation, or lack of, to assimilation.


The use of ethnicity as a 'buffer' against racial discrimination is very common among marginalized migrants. The researchers cited other studies on African and Asian migrants that found similar findings--migrants claimed their ethnicities over their perceived race in the US in order to distinguish themselves from marginalized groups in the US. While this is a tool that benefits migrants attempting to navigate the American racial class structure, it ultimately rests on the ultimate marginalization of African Americans.