White Racial Identity Statuses as Predictors of White Privilege Awareness

By Hays, Danica G.; Chang, Catherine Y. et al. | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

White Racial Identity Statuses as Predictors of White Privilege Awareness


Hays, Danica G., Chang, Catherine Y., Havice, Pamela, Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development


This study explored the relationship between White privilege awareness and White racial identity development for 197 counseling trainees. Results indicated that 3 of J. E. Helms's (1984, 1990, 1995) White racial identity statuses (i.e., Contact, Reintegration, and Immersion/Emersian) significantly predicted White privilege awareness. Implications for counselor development and research are discussed.

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The population of the United States is becoming increasingly heterogeneous with respect to race and ethnicity (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Given that the majority of professional counselors are White and may be underprepared to serve minority clientele (Arredondo, 1999; Pack-Brown, 1999), this demographic transition highlights the importance of multicultural competence training for counseling trainees. Moreover, most professional counselors may have little or no personal or professional experiences with racial and ethnic minorities (Ancis, 2004; Chang, Hays, & Shoffner, 2003; Constantine, 2002; Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). Counselor cultural self-awareness, particularly White privilege awareness, and its relationship to White racial identity development is a growing concern of educators and researchers (e.g., Ancis & Szymanski, 2001; Hays & Chang, 2003; Hays, Chang, & Dean, 2004).

White privilege awareness is an important construct to process in counselor preparation because of the strong relationship between White counselors' attitudes toward their privilege and the therapeutic process (Hays & Chang, 2003; Hays, Dean, & Chang, 2007). Counselors who examine their racial privilege and the active role it plays in the therapeutic relationship are less likely to rely on racial stereotypes and impose their own ethnocentric values. They are also more likely to view problems of minority clientele from a systemic perspective, to seek more personal knowledge from the client, and to recognize and reduce the influence of racial power dynamics in the therapeutic relationship (Neville, Worthington, & Spanierman, 2001). The invisible nature of White privilege could seriously obstruct the therapeutic process, damaging the client's sense of well-being (Manuppelli, 2000). Failing to address power imbalances both in the therapeutic relationship and as they affect the client's life experiences may lead to avoidance and detachment in professional practice (Vodde, 2001). Therefore, it is important to assess and facilitate counselors' self-awareness of White privilege to increase their multicultural competency. An increased focus on defining and dismantling White privilege, with a continued appreciation for diversity, may ameliorate current dynamics in professional counseling education and practice. This focus may also enhance counseling trainees' racial identity development.

Past research has indicated a relationship between multicultural competence and racial identity development (see Carter, 1997; Jones & Carter, 1996; Thompson & Neville, 1999) and White privilege awareness (see Constantine, 2002; Constantine, Juby, & Liang, 2001). However, there is no counseling research to date that has explored the interface of White privilege awareness and White racial identity development. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to build on existing literature by exploring the relationship between White privilege awareness and racial identity development, given the minimal research in this area.

RACIAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT AND WHITE PRIVILEGE AWARENESS

Race is a socially constructed classification system based on physical characteristics that has historically served as a tool to explain human diversity, justify exploitation, and advance privileged groups' interests (Cameron & Wycoff, 1998). Racial identity development is the psychological orientation toward racial group membership that guides how counselors view their own race and other racial groups (Carter, 1997).

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