The Relationship between Racism and Racial Identity for White Americans: A Profile Analysis

By Carter, Robert T.; Helms, Janet E. et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, January 2004 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Racism and Racial Identity for White Americans: A Profile Analysis


Carter, Robert T., Helms, Janet E., Juby, Heather L., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


This investigation examined how racial identity profiles, using J. E. Helms's (1996) profile scoring procedure, were related to racist attitudes. One finding showed that participants with an undifferentiated or flat profile scored significantly higher in racist attitudes than participants with other racial identity profiles. Implications for counseling practice and research are discussed.

Esta investigacion examina como los perfiles de identidad racial se relacionan con las actitudes racistas, utilizando el procedimiento de evaluar perfiles de J. E. Helms (1996). Un resultado encontro que los participantes con un perfil piano o no-diferenciado obtuvieron mejores resultados en las actitudes raciales que los participantes con etros perfiles de identidad racial. Se evalean tambien las consecuencias para la practica de consejeria y las investigaciones.

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Research on White racial attitudes has found that the expression of overt White racism has generally been on the decline in the last three decades (Duckitt, 1992; Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Kovel, 1970). Some researchers have contended that racist beliefs have not actually disappeared but have simply taken on a subtler, more covert form (Jones, 1997). Thus, research seems to indicate that Whites can no longer be considered simply racist or not racist. Perhaps there are varying types of racial attitudes for White Americans.

Many theories of racism propose types or subtypes of racists (Duckitt, 1992; Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Kovel, 1970). What the various types of racists share is that each is defined by Whites's outgroup socioracial prejudices (usually) against Blacks. The significance of the idea of racist types is in the proposition that within-group attitudinal and behavioral differences exist within the White socioracial group. That is, Whites are not assumed to be equivalently racist. If racism is a major mental health problem for its adherents as some authors have argued (Dobbins & Skillings, 2000; Pettigrew, 1981), then identification of subtypes might be useful for determining who requires constructive mental health interventions, as well as what kind of interventions are required. Nevertheless, although many of the relevant racism theories suggest that White racism subtypes develop in response to internalized racial socialization (Dennis, 1981), the virtually exclusive focus on the consequences of such socialization (i.e., how Whites respond to others) rather than the nature of the internalized socialization (e.g., White racial identity development) has made it difficult to identify clinically meaningful subtypes of White socialization. The present study attempts to address the gap in the literature regarding White socialization by examining subtypes of racist attitudes, using racial identity profiles.

Since the introduction of Helms's (1984) White racial identity theory and the development of a measure to assess White racial identity (Helms & Carter, 1990), a number of books and articles devoted to the experience of Whiteness and how Whiteness influences psychological functioning and social beliefs and behaviors have appeared in the literature. When social science research has dealt with Whites's racial experience (e.g., Fine, Weis, Powell, & Wong, 1997; Frankenburg, 1997; McIntosh, 1998; McIntyre, 1997), it has more often than not focused on Whites's attitudes toward other racial groups with less attention given to Whites's psychological orientation to their own racial group.

Helms (1984) asserted that Whites potentially develop each of five statuses (formerly called stages) by which they interpret and respond to racial cues (also see Helms, 1996). Helms and Carter (1990) developed the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS) to assess the racial identity schemas (formerly called attitudes). The schemas are as follows: (a) Contact, involving denial of the meaningfulness of race in one's life and in society in general; (b) Disintegration, characterized by confusion about the social rules of White socialization; (c) Reintegration, defined by a belief in the innate superiority of White people and oneself as a member of the White group; (d) Pseudo-Independence, characterized by an intellectualized awareness of the privileges of being a member of the White group; and (e) Autonomy, defined by a nonracist identification with the White group.

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