My research focuses on social support for African immigrants in Canada, particularly newcomer parents and youth. The studies have been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Prairie Metropolis Centre, Canadian Heritage and Alberta Centre for Child, Family, and Community Research, and have been conducted in collaboration with Sudanese, Somali and Zimbabwean communities. My colleagues and I recently published an article detailing our findings entitled “Social support needs of Sudanese and Zimbabwean refugee new parents in Canada”.
Recently we completed a project on the supports required to enhance access to postsecondary education for male African immigrant youth in southwestern Ontario. This project examined the role of cultural capital, acculturation and masculinity in male African immigrant and refugee youths' pursuit of postsecondary education in Canada. An in-depth analysis of cultural capital, acculturation and African definitions of masculinity were conducted after interviews and focus groups with 38 participants who were either attending university/college or had completed postsecondary education, and 30 participants who had not proceeded to postsecondary education after high school. The objective was to unpack the nature of "Blackness," specifically the cultural capital and masculinity of male African youth in Canada and unravelled new insights into the challenges faced by young male immigrants in schools.
An interesting finding of our work was how male African youth experience becoming “Black.” The participants did not identify as Black before settling in Canada, but once here they were no longer regarded as proud Ghanaians, Nigerians, Sudanese, Zimbabweans or even Africans but just “Black.” “Being a male African youth in Canada means being just another Black male,” revealed one youth. This definition had an impact on how teachers, school guidance counsellors and other authorities stereotyped them as troublemakers and underachievers in school environments that promote Eurocentric cultural capital at the expense of other ethnic cultural capitals. Through the experiences of systemic discrimination and racism, the youth were however determined to convince teachers and school officials of the positive African ethnic values/ethnic cultural capital that was key to their resilience and success in academic performance and achievement other than sports.
The stereotype of Black youth as vulnerable to at-risk behaviour marginalizes and disadvantages them in a society that ignores their resilience and agency. High school counsellors ignored the career path that the students wanted to follow. Instead, their advice was based on stereotypes about what they thought was best for the "Black" student instead of helping students to work towards school subjects that were relevant to a career path of their choice.
This study was limited to male youth from English-speaking African countries in southwestern Ontario. The next stage of our research is to conduct a pan-Canadian study that will include female African immigrant youth in all provinces and youth who came to Canada from French-speaking African countries. These studies provide important insights for African immigrant communities, African immigrant students, high school administrators and postsecondary institutions. Teachers, school guidance staff, school administrators, education policy makers, service providers, community organizations, settlement agencies, and politicians are important groups that need to know the results of this work. I hope that this project also adds new knowledge and perspectives on the settlement and integration of African immigrant youth in Canada.
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