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Fernandez/English 11
Racial Identity Development
The Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom
Five Stages (Applies to People of Color)
Pre-encounter: The person of color has absorbed many of the beliefs and values of the dominant White
culture, including the notion that “White is right” and “Black is wrong.” Although the internalization of
negative Black Stereotypes may be outside of his or her conscious awareness, the individual seeks to
assimilate and be accepted by Whites, and actively or passively distances him/herself from other
persons of own race. This de-emphasis on one’s racial-group membership may allow the individual to
think that race has not been or will not be a relevant factor in one’s own achievement.
Encounter: Movement into this phase is typically precipitated by an event or series of events that
forces the individual to acknowledge the impact of racism in one’s life. For example, instances of social
rejection by White friends or colleagues (or reading new personally relevant information about racism)
may lead the individual to the conclusion that many Whites will not view him or her as an equal. Faced
with the reality that he or she cannot truly be White, the individual is forced to focus on his or her
identity as a member of a group targeted by racism.
Immersion/Emersion: This stage is characterized by the simultaneous desire to surround oneself with
visible symbols of one’s racial identity and an active avoidance of symbols of Whiteness. Individuals in
this stage actively seek out opportunities to explore aspects of their own history and culture with the
support of peers from their own racial background. Typically, White-focused anger dissipates during
this phase because so much of the person’s energy is directed toward his or her own group and self
exploration. The result of this exploration is an emerging security in a newly defined and affirmed sense
of self.
Internalization: In this stage, secure in one’s own sense of racial identity, there is less need to assert the
“Blacker than thou” or similar attitudes often characteristic of the prior stage. Pro-one’s race attitudes
become more expansive, open and less defensive. The internalized individual is willing to establish
meaningful relationships with whites who acknowledge and are respectful of his or her self-definition.
The individual is also ready to build coalitions with members of other oppressed groups.
Internalization-Commitment: Those in this last stage have found ways to translate their personal sense
of race into a plan of action or general sense of commitment to the concerns of their race as a group.
This is sustained over time. Their race becomes the point of departure for discovering the universe of
ideas, cultures and experiences beyond their own race, in place of mistaking their race as the universe
itself. The process of Internalization allows the individual, anchored in a positive sense of racial
identity, both to perceive and transcend race proactively.
Note: Often a person moves from one stage to the next, only to revisit an earlier as the result of new
encounter experiences. However, the later experience of the stage may be different from the original
Source: Cross (1971, 1978, 1991) from Talking about Race, Learning about Racism:
Fernandez/English 11
Fernandez/English 11
Some Racial Information by Age:
Stephen Quintana interviewed 500 Latino, African-American, Korean, Mexican, Brazilian,
Guatemalan and Columbian children in Texas, Arizona, Chicago, Wisconsin and Latin America.
Briefly, his research shows
Ages 3-6: Children think about racial differences in purely physical terms and may bleieve that
racial status could change with surgery or if skin color was altered by staying in the sun too
long. Example: I can wash my skin color off.
Ages 6-10: Children understand ethnic background is a function of ancestry that influences not
only how people look but also the food they eat, the language they speak and the activities
they enjoy. Kids at this age have a literal understanding of ethnicity. Example: being MexicanAmerican meant speaking Spanish and eating Mexican food.
Ages 10-14: Children realize that ethnicity can be linked to social class. Sixth-graders grasp how
political resources are allocated in neighborhoods and how affirmative action affects minorities.
Often interracial and inter-ethnic friendships developed in elementary school end as social
groups become more racially segregated.
Adolescence: Many teenagers express pride in their heritage and a sense of belonging to a
group as their view of ethnicity and race matures.