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1/3/17 - "Race, Immigrant Incorporation, and Responses to the Ebola Crisis in Black Immigrant Communities in Dallas" by Kevin Thomas

Race, Immigrant Incorporation, and Responses to the Ebola Crisis in Black Immigrant Communities in Dallas

by

Kevin Thomas is an Associate Professor of Sociology, Demography, and African Studies.  He received an ARC research grant in Fall 2015 for his project entitled "Race, Immigrant Incorporation, and Responses to the Ebola Threat in Black Immigrant Communities in Dallas".

Background

The main objective of this study was to examine the implications of the Ebola crisis in Dallas in 2014 for the incorporation of African immigrants. To address this objective, the study focused on achieving three specific aims. The first was to investigate how the community contexts of African immigrants in Dallas were transformed by the identification of Thomas Eric Duncan, an immigrant from Liberia, as the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the US. The second was to examine how the African immigrant community in Dallas responded to the perceived Ebola threat, and the third was to examine African immigrants’ interaction with the US health system in the aftermath of the crisis.

Activities

Phase 1 of the research project was conducted in Dallas during a three week period between May and June of 2016. The main activities completed during this phase focused on the collection of diverse types of qualitative data from various sources.

Key informant interviews were conducted with community leaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. Among other things, the interviews were used to collect retrospective information about the experiences of African immigrants and the responses of African organizations to the 2014 Ebola crisis. Two sets of key informants were interviewed. The first represented a wide range of immigrant ethnic/national organizations such as the Association of Sierra Leoneans in Texas, Liberian Community Association, Krio Descendants Union, and the Federation of Mandingo Liberian Association in the US, as well as immigrant institutions such as the African Chamber of Commerce in Dallas, and the New Life Fellowship church in Euless, which is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.  The second set of informants were leaders of selected public institutions (e.g., Dallas County Health and Human Services) and private immigrant-serving institutions (i.e., Catholic Charities of Dallas, Vickery Meadow Youth Foundation). These institutions routinely interact with and provide services to African immigrants in Dallas and were selected for the role they played the local response to the Ebola crisis in 2014.

Apart from key informant interviews, qualitative information was collected using participant observation in selected settings associated with African immigrant organizations. Specifically, participant observation was conducted in unique contexts such as a traditional meeting of Mandingo leaders, a meeting of the African Chamber of Commerce in Dallas, a service at a Liberian immigrant church, and other social gatherings sponsored by African immigrant organizations. Participant observation was further conducted at the Ivy Apartment complex, which provides low-income housing to refugees and other immigrants and was the principal location of Thomas Eric Duncan and his hosts during the Ebola crisis in Dallas.

Summary of key findings

-          African immigrants lived in a thriving community before the start of the Ebola crisis. Ethnic and cultural organizations played a central role in the life of this community and provided channels for collectively harnessing resources and providing mutual support during periods of crisis.

-          The first response of African immigrants to the Ebola crisis predated the arrival of Thomas Eric Duncan in the US. After the start of the Ebola in West Africa, immigrant organizations initiated several small-scale efforts to provide support for family members, friends, and institutions in the countries that were affected by the crisis. The diagnosis of Thomas Eric Duncan and his subsequent death from Ebola provided an opportunity for a greater mobilization of resources by African organizations to support the efforts to combat the disease in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

-          The diagnosis and subsequent death of Thomas Duncan however resulted in significant public backlash against African immigrants in the Dallas-area because they were perceived as threats to public health. However, these immigrants took various types of private and public action to combat the stigma of Ebola. For example, despite the stigmatization of Liberians by Dallas residents and other Africans, the larger African immigrant community was supportive in providing resources to combat the public backlash and support the most affected members in their communities.

-          Respondents provided mixed reports on the role of race in fueling the public backlash against Africans in Dallas during the Ebola crisis. In terms of access to health, many African immigrants, especially those from low socioeconomic groups, reported that they experienced barriers of access to care, including the perception of racial bias in the health care system.