Immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa constitute the fastest growing group of immigrants in the United States today, yet we know little about their integration experience. Research on Black immigrants from the Caribbean suggests that the experience of African immigrants will look quite different from that of many previous groups, largely because assimilation for Black immigrants means exposing oneself to the many forms of discrimination and inequalities faced by native-born Black Americans. This paper argues that immigrant visibility might – counterintuitively – facilitate integration into a marginalized host community, because immigrants who are visible as such can protect themselves from race-based discrimination more easily while those more likely to pass as Black Americans face an incentive to actively resist assimilation into a marginalized community. Relying first on semi-structured interviews with more than 30 African immigrant students at the Ohio State University, focus groups with 80 members of the Somali community in Columbus, and a lab experiment measuring immigrant visibility across African immigrants, we test our theoretical intuitions and our understanding and operationalization of immigrant visibility. We then field an original survey of more than 500 Somali immigrants in Columbus, Ohio, to test the effects of immigrant visibility among an ethnically-diverse group of Somali immigrants. Our results are threefold: first, ethnic Somalis – who are more visible as immigrants than their ethnic Bantu counterparts – are more integrated in the US, and this is not a function of more time spent in the country; second, these more visible immigrants are less resistant to identification with Black Americans; and third, Somali immigrants see little conflict between their Muslim and their Black identities. Our research has implications for identity construction, immigrant integration, and coalition politics under America’s changing demographics.
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