Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9828-9380

Date of Award

5-8-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Eric R. Wright

Second Advisor

Donald C. Reitzes

Third Advisor

Kathryn A. Kozaitis

Abstract

Black Immigrants who come from Black majority nations must face a unique assimilation to the United States’ racial hierarchy, which places them at the bottom as a racial minority. While theoretical models address the double-consciousness of being a Black American, racial identity models fail to address the identity negotiations of this “invisible immigrant” (Bryce-Laborte 1972) minority group. Black Immigrants experience a deterioration in mental health as they increase their exposure to American society. This trend continues with each subsequent generation, causing second and third generations to display significantly poorer health than Non-Black immigrants.

Haitian Immigrants, who are considered one of the largest groups of Black immigrants in the United States, are more vulnerable to this deterioration, and have faced a stigmatized identity in America. Current research fails to capture the unique experience of Haitian Immigrants and their identity negotiation as it relates to their mental well-being. Through in-depth interviews with first- and second-generation Haitian Immigrant identities in metro-Atlanta, this exploratory study, using a symbolic interactionist lens, seeks to understand the identity developments, conflicts, perspectives, and presentations in response to the looking glass experiences of discrimination and negative media exposure.

Findings from this study indicate that Haitian immigrants tend to adopt a bi-cultural approach to their identity, and despite childhood bullying, discrimination, and negative media portrayals throughout their life, they continue to struggle with mild symptoms of psychological distress, and possibly mental illness. Furthermore, the participants in this study display a series of protective measures or coping skills such as a avoidance, distrust, and references to ancestry that mediate the impact of society’s treatment of minorities on their mental wellness. This initial ethnography serves to increase cultural awareness with mental health professionals, to contribute to the limited research on Haitian immigrants residing in Atlanta, and to shed light on the unique racial identity formation of Black immigrants, with the hopes to galvanize future studies, designed to expand upon other immigrants from Black-majority societies.

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