The Role of Ethnic Identity and Self-Construal in Coping among African American and Caucasian American Seventh Graders: An Exploratory Analysis of Within-Group Variance

Article excerpt

The present study explored the relationship of ethnicity and ethnic identity to coping strategy use. Most coping research to date has focused on Caucasian American adults. Few studies have examined the role of race or ethnicity in coping, and even fewer have examined these factors in children and adolescents (Phinney & Chavira, 1995). In a review of the adolescent coping literature conducted by Rosella (1994), nearly half the studies cited failed even to report information on the racial composition of their samples. Among those studies that did report race or ethnicity, non-White groups were found to be underrepresented. The failure to report such data or include diverse participants may have indicated a lack of awareness on the part of many researchers regarding the role of race and ethnicity in psychological behavior and mental health or, perhaps more alarmingly, an assumption that the psychological and behavioral profiles of Caucasian Americans are universal. Recognizing the dearth of multiracial studies, the National Institutes of Health (1994) now requires the inclusion of ethnic minorities in all studies.

In addition to the dearth of research addressing ethnicity and coping, there are two primary drawbacks in previous investigations in this area. First, most multiethnic coping research has used one- or two-item self-report measures to determine ethnicity. However, ethnicity is a complex construct that cannot be assessed meaningfully using one-or two-item measures; preferable is the assessment of ethnicity along multiple, continuous dimensions (Phinney, 1996). Second, previous research typically relied on only a single situation when assessing coping strategies. As Lazarus and Folkman (1984) found, however, coping is a process that changes according to the demands of the situation. Therefore, a cross-situational approach could be more effective at capturing the nature of coping efforts directed at different aspects of a person's life. The present study examined the coping strategies of both Caucasian American and African American youth using a multiethnic, cross-situational design. Such research may suggest a l ink between individual behavior and the influences of ethnicity (Diaz-Guerrero, 1979).

Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

Definitions of race and ethnicity have been hotly contested by psychological researchers and theorists. In 1978, the Federal Office of Management and Budget specified the categorization of race and ethnicity through a directive that was meant to standardize data collection among U.S. government agencies (Jenkins & Parron, 1995). Nevertheless, such standardization has been difficult for researchers because the criteria used to define racial or ethnic group membership have varied among groups, both within the scientific and legal communities and within the general population. The term race has assumed its primary meaning within the context of Black-White relations in the U.S. and abroad, typically between European nations and their former colonial subjects (Harrison, 1995). The term ethnicity, on the other hand, has emerged primarily within the social sciences to encompass and equalize the multiplicity of peoples originating from differing national and cultural backgrounds (Harrison, 1998) Thus, ethnicity encom passes race, yet, paradoxically, underdetermines it.

Historically, the term race has referenced largely physiognomic distinctions between people, with the concomitant assumption that social or psychological differences are rooted in biological differences (Guthrie, 1998). The term ethnicity, on the other hand, which achieved ascendancy within the field of anthropology (Montagu, 1942; Harrison, 1995, 1998), has implicitly referenced culture from the outset. The recognition that lines of cultural difference often overlap closely with lines of physiognomic difference has, perhaps, been responsible for the frequent, albeit erroneous, conflation and interchange of the terms ethnicity and race. …