Ethnic Identity Formation of Arab Muslim Children in Contemporary U.S. Society

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  • Topic: Arab people, Islam, Arab
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  • Published : April 9, 2012
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IN CONTEXT

Schuyler W. Henderson, M.D. Assistant Editor

Who Am I? Ethnic Identity Formation of Arab Muslim Children in Contemporary U.S. Society PIA REBELLO BRITTO, PH.D.

Identity formation is a lifelong developmental process. It is multidimensional, consisting of diverse aspects such as sex, occupation, education, cultural background, family structure, and race and ultimately emerges from an interaction between the self and the context.1,2 Ethnic identity formation, a process of developing an understanding of one`s origins with respect to a particular reference group, begins in childhood3,4 and often consolidates in adolescence.2 Ethnic identity is a central aspect of social development for most non-European immigrants5,6 and has been linked to psychological adjustment and the overall well-being of immigrant children and adolescents.7 The ecological context (i.e., the local social, political, and cultural environments) is a key influence on ethnic identity,8 and discord among these environments may be a conflictual milieu for the formation of ethnic identity. Growing up Muslim and Arab in the United States in this postYSeptember 11, 2001 era is complex, not just with respect to the different aspects of identity,9 but also Accepted March 27, 2008. This article was reviewed under and accepted by Deputy Editor Ellen Leibenluft, M.D. In Context is a venue for scholarly contributions from experts on scientific, social, political, and cultural issues pertinent to children`s mental health. In Context presents topics that do not immediately fall under the purview of scientific research of clinical practice but that nevertheless affect the lives and mental health of children. Its goal is to education clinicians and researchers, to encourage discussion, and to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. Dr. Britto is with the Child Study Center, Yale University. The author thanks the Russell Sage Foundation for its financial support and the BMan Ana^ research team Mary Schwab-Stone, N. Shemrah Fallon, Amina el-Annan, and Mona Amer for their participation in the study of Arab Muslim children. Portions of this article are adapted from Britto PR, Amer M. An exploration of cultural identity patterns and the family context among Arab Muslim young adults in America. Appl Dev Sci. 2007;11:137Y150. Correspondence to Dr. Pia Rebello Britto, Yale Child Study Center, 230 South Frontage Road, New Haven, CT 06520; e-mail: pia.britto@yale.edu. 0890-8567/08/4708-0853Ó2008 by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e3181799fa6

because of the current political and social context, which tends to promote wariness toward Arab Muslims in the Western world.10 Based on an analysis of the interaction between the ecological context and the development of identity, it has been hypothesized that the psychological well-being of Arab Muslim children and adolescents is potentially at risk.11 As Arab Muslim children develop their ethnic identity, they are attempting to make sense of their own place within these already complex social constructs, but unfortunately we lack a comprehensive body of knowledge and a sufficient understanding of the processes and issues that these children face during the course of identity formation. The aim of this article is to introduce the nascent, albeit fascinating, body of multidisciplinary research examining issues linked with ethnic identity development of Arab Muslim children and to recommend areas of research to address the existing gaps, with the goal of understanding and promoting the healthy development of the next generation of Arab Muslim children growing up in the United States. By way of introduction, the first section of the article provides a brief historical overview of Arab Muslim immigration to the United States, but does not include a discussion of the role of Islam in other cultures, such as the African American or other Asian immigrant cultures. There may be areas...
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