Muslim Americans struggle with identity, feel more distrust towards U.S. government after negative media coverage

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Negative media portrayals cause Muslim Americans to identify less as American and feel more distrust towards the U.S. government, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan.

The evidence shows that at least in some instances, this negative light can be more intense for Muslims than an incident where they experience personal discrimination.

The research team examined how young Muslim Americans identify with their American and Muslim identities and how they change over time. They wanted to see how discrimination and exposure to negative media coverage of Muslims affected this.

For the study, the authors crafted a questionnaire that required recollection of instances of being personally discriminated against, perceptions of news coverage of Muslims, how strongly they identify as being American and Muslim, and their overall trust in the government. There were 237 participants in all, most identifying as Arab or South Asian. Their answers were recorded before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

They found that discrimination didn’t affect how the respondents identified themselves. Negative media coverage caused the respondents to weaken their identification as Muslims and weakened their trust in the government. Neither negative media coverage nor personal discrimination weakened their identification as Muslims.

“One reason for this could be due to the increased media coverage of negative remarks made by several U.S. presidential candidates during the 2016 election,” said study lead author Muniba Saleem, assistant professor of communication studies and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, in a statement. “This can increase the salience of media in people’s minds as well as increase perceptions of group discrimination.”

The study is published in the Journal of Communication.

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