07 SES 02 A, Youth Voices on Belonging and Exclusion
In the media, Somalia is often depicted as a country facing many challenges i.e. famine, civil strife, piracy and recently, terrorism. This image influences how most Europeans perceive refugees and immigrants from Somalia. Within the field of education, the common discourse about Somali students is one associated with being at risk, having special needs and being difficult to educate (Bigelow, 2008, 2010). There has been an urgent concern about meeting Somali immigrant and refugee students’ needs, as relatively large numbers of Somali students continue to receive supplemental language services such as ELL and especial education programs in their schools. Meanwhile, there is a lack of critical studies examining how Somali students experience the same institutional structures that are set to help them. Research shows that Somali youth are racialized by school staff, and Somali elders in their community (Bigelow, 2010). By examining at how Somali students experience and make sense of racialization, this study addresses this gap.
Coming from East Africa, Somalis are black and predominantly identify as Muslims (Elmi, 2010). Hence, Somali immigrants and refugees are considered visible ethnics (Kusow, 2007). Research among Somalis indicated that Somali youth are racialized based on their race and religion (Bigelow, 2010). Thus, in order to understand how Somali youth experience and make sense of racialization, this study seeks to explore the everyday nature of experiences of being racialized. For instance, we draw from postmodern theories that link racialization and racialized identities to students’ perception and interpretations of their schooling experiences. Meanwhile, to elaborate on phenomenology of racailized identities, we review theories of embodiment that speak to the subjective and intersubjective nature of experience (Merlaue-Ponty, 1968; Gadamer, 2003; Alcoff, 2006).
The notion of racialization in this study is understood as one that is based on social condition and experience. In this view, the social condition is one that recognizes the fluid nature of race as a racial category. According to Omi and Winant’s (1994) racial formation theory “race is an unstable complex of social meanings, constantly being transformed by political struggle” (p. 55). Hence, racial categories are created, transformed, inhabited and destroyed by socio-historical process (Omi & Winant, 1994). Race matters in our everyday interaction with institutions, and with others, as well as how we experience the world. Fassin (2011) explained that racialization is embodied, in other words, it is a process that is accumulated through bodily experiences of being discriminated against because of one’s race (see Alcoff, 2006). In order to understand how religion becomes racialized, we extend on Omi and Winant’s (1994) conception of racial formation theory. This is relevant in the post 9/11 context, where Muslim youth reported that school to be the place that they were most discriminated against (Sirin & Fine, 2008).
To explore how racialization of Somali youth takes shape, we draw on part of a data set collected during a large multinational study of Somali immigrant student experiences in schools. Data were collected in 6 schools in 3 countries (Sweden, The Netherlands, and United Kingdom). We interviewed 75 students, 40 parents, and 45 school teachers and staff over a 3 weeks period. Data included focus groups, individual interviews, classroom observations, field notes, and community immersion experiences.
This phenomenological study connects narrative accounts of lived experience to the racialized identity negotiations of Somali immigrants and refugee students. We employed ethnographic approach in collecting a variety of data through the use of ethnographic tools (e.g. observations, focus groups, formal and informal interviews, participant observations, field notes, community immersion experiences). The type of data collected helps present a more holistic account of the ways in which immigrant Somali youth constructed meanings around their school experience. Data for this discussion is part of a larger multinational research project that collected data in 6 different school in 3 countries (Sweden, The Netherlands, and United Kingdom). Researchers will report on findings from all three contries data set that includes focus group interview with Somali students and parents, classroom observations, individual interview with teachers and school staff, and community immersion experiences (e.g., dinner event hosted by Somali mothers at their home). In phenomenological research, the purpose of data analysis is to find the shared meaning, or themes, of the experiential descriptions (Barrit, L., Beekman, T., Bleeker, H., & Mulderij, K., 1984; van Manen, 2007). In this study data analysis occurred in two folds. Primary data, which was data collected from interviewing Somali immigrants and refugee youth, was analyzed using phenomenology. Whereas, secondary data, which was data, collected from informal conversations with teachers, school administrators, non-Somali students, as well as field notes generated from observations, were utilized to augment understanding of primary data. In other words, data from observation was used to better understand the contexts in which the study was taking place. For instance, field text (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) data was brought up during interview with students to seek clarity. Four main themes, and several subtheme variations were recovered from the data. While the main themes spoke to the commonality of student experiences, the subthemes illuminated the specifics of a particular occurrence. This was particularly true for female students’ experience with wearing the headscarf. And finally, in order to ensure reliability and accuracy of the accounts reported by the students, we conducted a follow-up interview for member checking (Merriam, 1988).
Preliminary findings show that racialization was mediated through the other. Every student in this study shared compelling stories about their experiences of being Somali immigrant and refugee in schools. In these stories being Somali was inseparable from being Muslim. Hence the nexus between race, and religion provide the foundations of racialization due to their visibility as identity markers (Bigelow, 2008, 2010). However, our findings suggest that besides race and religion, there were multiple elements such as gender, language, accent, and immigrant status that lead to Somali youth’s racialization. Students’ stories indicated that these elements became all visible at some point and not visible at other times. While race and religion are two important factors that shape Somali youth’s experiences in school and in wider society, yet there is a need to recognize that the notion of visibility is a relative one. This means that other bodily expressions such as language, accent, or immigrant status can also be used to essentialize identity positions of black and Muslim immigrant youth like the Somalis. This research has a deep implication for understanding Somali (and other African Muslim) refugee and immigrant youth in European urban school contexts. Racialization of race, and religion not only lead to the marginalization of Somali youth in school, but it also influenced how Somali students’ perceived themselves. This was particularly true for religion, where Somali youth often hid their Muslim identity due to fear of being marginalized. Findings in this study show that school climate is instrumental in constructing racialized identities of Somali immigrant and refugee youth.
References Ajrouch, K. J., & Kusow, A. M. (2007). Racial and religious contexts: Situational identities among Lebanese and Somali Muslim immigrants. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(1), 72-94. Alcoff, L. M. (2006). Visible identities: Race, gender, and the self. Oxford University Press. Barrit, L., Beekman, T., Bleeker, H., & Mulderij, K. (1984). Analyzing phenomenological descriptions, Phenomenology and Pedagogy 2(1), 1-17. Bigelow, M. (2008). Somali adolescents' negotiation of religious and racial bias in and out of school. Theory into Practice, 47(1), 27-34. Bigelow, M. H. (2010). Mogadishu on the Mississippi: Language, racialized identity, and education in a new land (Vol. 60). John Wiley & Sons. Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Elmi, A. A. (2010). Understanding the Somalia conflagration: Identity, political Islam and peacebuilding. Pluto Press. Fassin, D. (2011) “Racialization: How to do races with bodies” In: A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment. Frances Mascia-Lees ed., Malden, MA: Gadamer, H. G., (1960/1975/2003). Truth and method. (J. Weinsheimer & D.G. Marshall, Trans.). New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. Greenwalt, K. A., & Holohan, K. J. (2011). Performing the nation: Pedagogical embodiment as civic text. Phenomenology & Practice, 5(1). Ibrahim, A. E. K. M. (1999). Becoming black: Rap and hip‐hop, race, gender, identity, and the politics of ESL learning. TESOL quarterly, 33(3), 349-369. Joshi, K. (2006). New roots in America's sacred ground: Religion, race, and ethnicity in Indian America. Rutgers University Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible: followed by working notes. Northwestern University Press. Moustakis, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. Omi, M. (1994). Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge. Polkinghorne, D. E. (1989). Phenomenological research methods. In R. S. Valle & S. Halling (Eds.), Existential-Phenomenological Perspectives in Psychology (pp. 41-60). New York: Plenum. Rong, X. L., & Fitchett, P. (2008). Socialization and identity transformation of Black immigrant youth in the United States. Theory into Practice, 47(1), 35-42. Sirin, S. R., & Fine, M. (2008). Muslim American youth: Understanding hyphenated identities through multiple methods. NYU Press. van Manen, M., (2007). Researching lived experience: Human Science for an action sensitive pedagogy (2nd Ed.). The Althouse Press. Zine, J. (Ed.). (2012). Islam in the Hinterlands: Muslim Cultural Politics in Canada. UBC Press.
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