Civic implications of discrimination among immigrant adolescents in the USA

Parissa Jahromi Ballard, Tenelle Porter, & William Damon
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In our increasingly globalized world, it is of vital interest to understand civic development among immigrant adolescents. The present study investigates civic engagement among immigrant adolescents in the USA, with particular focus on the relation between civic engagement and experiences with discrimination. Adolescents (N = 1193) were surveyed about their behavioral civic engagement (e.g., volunteerism, protesting, expressing support for social causes, and contacting elected officials), attitudinal civic engagement (e.g., the belief that the USA is generally fair and equal, attachment to the USA) and experiences with discrimination. Positive attitudes about US society were related to involvement in volunteerism among immigrants who reported experiencing racial discrimination. But positive attitudes about US society were generally unrelated and in some cases negatively related to involvement in change oriented, expressive, and political civic activities. Immigrants who had not experienced racial discrimination reported more positive attitudes about society compared to those who had experienced discrimination. However, those who had not experienced racial discrimination participated less in expressive and change-oriented civic activities compared to those who had experienced racial discrimination. No group differences emerged on volunteerism or classic political involvement. Experiencing racial discrimination can motivate certain types of behavioral civic engagement yet also may lead to attitudinal disengagement from society among immigrant adolescents. Findings are discussed in light of how experiencing discrimination might predict different developmental pathways for civic behaviors and civic attitudes.

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