The 2000 U.S. Census reports that 1.2 million inhabitants of the United States identify themselves as having Arab ancestry. Yet the Arab American Institute, A U.S. Census Information Center, estimates that approximately two-thirds of Americans with Arab ancestry do not self-identify as such, either because they do not want to be identified as Arabs or because they do not see why it is important to identify as Arabs in the census. Negative depictions and stereotypes of Arabs as terrorists often lead Arab children to internalize anti-Arab attitudes or become ashamed of their Arab origins. Others may react harshly to what they perceive as unfair American attitudes towards Arabs, and gravitate towards more radical and violent ideologies. How do Arab children cope with prejudice? What role does school play in shaping the identity of Arab, and particularly Arab Muslim, children?
To answer these questions, Pia Rebello Britto and her team will study ethnic identity formation in young Arab Muslim children residing in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and assess the effects of the current socio-political environment on the development of the children’s identity. The focus will be on schools, which serve as the first American institutions with which many immigrant families interact, a key influence on ethnic identity, and an important factor in children’s coping with racial/ethnic discrimination. Britto and her team will interview 250 Muslim Arab children aged 7 to 12, asking them about their own identity, their relationships with non-Arabs and non-Muslims, and the approach they take when coping with discrimination. Results of the research will be presented at conferences an in a series of papers.