Theories of Ethnic and Racial Identity Development

Minority identity development theory refers to African-Americans and interprets their self-formation and self-determination. This theory was developed by Cross (1971), Atkinson, Morten and Sue (1983). The minority identity development theory suggests that cultural identity problems faced by many African-Americans and adolescents are exacerbated by social difficulties in their first few years of birth.

In genial, theory consists of 5 stages: pre-encounter, encounter, immersion, emersion and internalization. As a pre-encounter, African-American experiences social and cultural difficulties communicating with other races. As encounters, many African-American have experienced racial discrimination and in some situation marginalization in schools.

Possibly, in the longer term, multicultural education conducted in American schools lessens these difficulties and make it easier for African-American children and adults to be proud of their bicultural identity (Appiah and Anthony 2001).

The immersion stage is marked by interest and admiration of cultural uniqueness and values followed by the family and racial group. In recognition of American increased international relations and cultural links with countries in the African region, a cultural policy has recently been put in place.

At last there is a cultural strategy that endorses the value of acquiring and maintaining competencies in the black identity and culture. This approach serves to make racial differences a valued option of cross-cultural adaptation and increase African-American motivation to learn and accept their cultural values (Fredrickson, 2001).

The emersion stage is marked by increased need for self-determination and self-fulfillment. Many African-Americans unavoidably experience varying degrees of acculturative stress. Though, the large numbers of recent ethnic populations who have arrived in times of economic recession face particular problems.

Those regarded as elites in their local communities because of their qualifications and successes are faced with multiple losses in the initial period of rebuilding their careers in white society (Merriam et al 2007). For many African-American families the challenges of cultural adaptation have been compounded by bad employment prospects during the whole life.

For some African-Americans negative experiences, such as cultural conflict, perceptions of discrimination, separation from friends, unemployment and underemployment, and cross-cultural differences in the workplace, are likely to lead to a great deal of marital and personal stress (Gilroy, 1993).

The internalization stage is marked a new level of consciousness and self-awareness. The African-American accepts his racial identity and becomes proud of his/her ancestry and race. A concluding emerging issue relates to the provision of culturally appropriate marriage and health services.

At this stage, the African-American community’s needs for provision and health services remain largely unknown to the mainstream society. Considerable attention has been given by the media to the special issues and problems arising out of the African-American’s racial identity phenomenon. Despite their diverse socio-economic backgrounds, African-American families generally retain many of their cultural beliefs (Torres et al 2003).

Though, many African-American parents find it difficult to insist that their offspring also maintain the African-American culture and identity. Achieving safety and prosperity may be the only fundamental African-American family value that has not been weakened in America, because western societies also value personal growth and development.

Though, the traditional emphasis on the importance of the cultural identity has been undermined by western values of individualism. Racial identity development is a complex process marked by changes in self-consciousness and awareness, new perception of the world and self, the community and friends, communication with peer and colleagues.


Appiah, K. Anthony. (2001). “Liberalism, Individuality, an Identity.” Critical Inquiry 27:2 (Winter): 305–32.

Fredrickson, George M. (2001). The Black Image in the White Mind. New York: Harper & Row.

Gilroy, Paul. (1993). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Torres, V., Howard-Hamilton, M. F., & Cooper, D. L. (2003). Identity development of diverse populations: Implications for teaching and administration in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 29(6), 1–78.

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