Muslim-American kids who integrate their identities less likely to experience discrimination

August 21, 2018
Contact: Morgan Sherburne

ANN ARBOR—Muslim-American kids who perceive higher integration between their Muslim and American identities are more likely to socialize with non-Muslim-Americans, according to a survey by University of Michigan researchers.

The survey showed that if Muslim-American kids reported less integration of their identities—that is, they perceived that they cannot identify as Muslim and American—they were more likely to avoid the majority group, especially if they experience discrimination based on their religious identity.

On the other hand, the kids who reported high integration between their Muslim and American identities, were less likely to avoid the majority group even if they had experienced discrimination.

“Our goal was to investigate how Muslim-Americans, and immigrants in general, are thinking about their multiple identities given the increased stigmatization of their minority identity as is the case with Muslim-American immigrants,” said Muniba Saleem, lead author of the study and a faculty associate of the Institute for Social Research. “We wanted to look at youth because adolescent youth are in the midst of trying to understand who they are and how to negotiate and identify with the various social groups they belong to.”

For the study, Saleem and her co-authors surveyed a group of 163 Muslim Arab American adolescents ages 13 to 19. A little more than half of the participants were born in the United States, and the other 43 percent lived in the U.S. an average of 10.5 years.

The survey asked the participants to rate their agreement with statements such as “I have personally been discriminated against because of my religion,” “Others have avoided social contact with me because of my religion,” “I feel Muslim-American” and “I don’t feel trapped between the Muslim and American cultures.”

In general, youth who experienced discrimination were more likely to avoid contact with majority members. However, this effect only existed for those who perceived low integration between their Muslim and American identities. Among participants who perceived high integration between their Muslim and American identities, discrimination did not lead to avoidance of majority members.

The researchers say this identity integration may buffer some of the known detrimental effects of discrimination—and hope that integration can be a tool Muslim-Americans can use to help protect themselves against discrimination.

“Given that Muslim-Americans are encountering pervasive discrimination, what can we do to help them cope in this kind of climate,” said Saleem, also an assistant professor of communications studies and an adjunct assistant professor of psychology. “We think it is important to find strategies that promote rather than polarize Muslim and American identities. These strategies can make individuals feel that they are important members of both groups and in turn make them more adaptive, even in threatening and hostile intergroup situations.”

The study was published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. Saleem and co-authors Rowell Huesmann and Eric Dubow—both research professors at the Research Center for Group Dynamics at ISR—conducted the study, as well as Fiona Lee, associate dean of diversity, equity, inclusion and professional development, and the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology.


More information: