Sri Lankan Americans’ views on U.S. racial issues are influenced by pre-migrant ethnic prejudice and identity
(1) Ocean Lakes High School, Mathematics and Science Academy, Virginia Beach, Virginia, (2) Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia
The population of South Asian immigrants is growing in the United States (U.S.), and with it, their involvement in U.S. racial issues are becoming increasingly important to recognize and understand. Additionally, subpopulations of these immigrants will have unique experiences from their home countries that likely influence their views on U.S. race relations. In this study, we examined how Sri Lankan Americans (SLAs) view racial issues in the U.S. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was an area of interest because of its similarities to racial and ethnic struggles in Sri Lanka. Our main hypothesis is that SLAs, as a minority in the U.S., are supportive of the BLM movement and its political goal, challenging the common notion that SLAs are anti-Black. In this research, we surveyed 310 SLA participants living in the U.S. on four focal areas: racial issues in the U.S. and Sri Lanka, SLAs’ civic engagement in the U.S., ethnic identity, and how SLAs perceive themselves as model minorities. Our study found that a majority of SLAs believe the U.S. has systemic racism, favor BLM, and favor affirmative action. We also found that Tamil SLAs have more favorable views of BLM and affirmative action than Sinhalese SLAs. SLAs have very low civic engagement and a strong sense of ethnic identity, seeing themselves as a model minority. Furthermore, Tamil and Sinhalese SLAs’ views on racial issues in the U.S. are significantly influenced by past experiences in ethnic conflict.
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