By: Emily Weigold (Bugle Team)
The results of the American election at the climax of an eventful campaign period caused great controversy, spreading alarm around the globe in response to Donald Trump’s extreme views on immigration. However, it is important to consider the meaning behind his discourse and how this could affect the lives of immigrants within American communities with regard to their psychological wellbeing.
Those migrating to America from other parts of the world are faced with a new culture that is completely alien to them; the ways in which they adjust their cultural identity in response to this differ. This process of adjustment is known as acculturation (Redfield et al. 1936).
Berry (1997) outlines multiple strategies of acculturation. This includes a distinction between processes of integration: in which an individual maintains their own cultural identity, but also becomes part of the host culture; and assimilation: where an individual becomes part of the host culture, and rejects their own cultural identity.
Under Obama’s presidency, ideals of integration were often discussed, “It’s not about changing who you are, it’s about adding a new chapter to your journey… and to our journey as a nation of immigrants” he urged would-be American citizens (Stand Stronger US, 2015). However, in a 2015 Republican debate, the now President-elect, Donald Trump, clearly laid out his beliefs, “We have to have assimilation–to have a country, we have to have assimilation. I’m not the first one to say this”.
Indeed, Trump is not the first to have conveyed this ideal of assimilation, with the expectation that individuals who come to America will embrace American values, customs and attitudes, alongside learning English, possibly at the cost of losing their own cultural identity. This view has been historically popular in the US, with the early representation of a ‘Melting Pot America’: of cultures ‘melting’ together into one, and individuals giving up former identities.
Disconcertingly, research suggests that promoting assimilation may have negative consequences on psychological wellbeing for some individuals.
Brug and Verkuyten (2007) have suggested that assimilation undermines, and threatens the value of a minority group’s identity. Further research suggests that this group threat can deeply affect individuals’ self-esteem, a factor directly related to lower ratings of life satisfaction and the presentation of depressive symptoms (Crocker and Wolfe, 2001).
Threats to group identity have been shown to make individuals turn inward within their minority groups to seek inclusion as a method of enhancing their wellbeing (Leary & Baumeister, 2000). Therefore, in promoting assimilation for the sake of group cohesion and equality across the nation, this could, in fact, lead to greater segregation of immigrants from native-born US citizens, and further separation of communities in America.
With the uncertainty that Trump’s election brings to America, it is vital to unpick his political rhetoric in light of social theories, and utilise psychological research to predict the possible negative impacts on individual wellbeing. Trump’s aims include building walls between nations, but the values he brings to the White House may create divisions within communities.
Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied psychology, 46(1), 5-34.
Brug, P., & Verkuyten, M. (2007). Dealing with cultural diversity: The endorsement of societal models among ethnic minority and majority youth in the Netherlands. Youth & Society.
Crocker, J., & Wolfe, C. T. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth. Psychological review, 108(3), 593.
Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. Advances in experimental social psychology, 32, 1-62.
Redfield, R., Linton, R., & Herskovits, M. J. (1936). Memorandum for the study of acculturation. American anthropologist, 38(1), 149-152.
Stand Stronger US. (2015, 7th September). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tii6TcZ3f7M.