An Exercise in Ethnic Identity Awareness

By McNeill, Brian W. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, October 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

An Exercise in Ethnic Identity Awareness


McNeill, Brian W., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


Ethnic identity encompasses self-concept and self-identification, a sense of belonging, and positive and negative attitudes toward one's ethnic group. The author describes an exercise that introduces and facilitates awareness of the concept of ethnic identity by illustrating, with real-life experiences and examples, the multidimensionality of ethnic identity.

The concept of ethnic identity has been defined by Tajfel (1981) as "that part of an individual's self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership" (p. 255). Other definitions emphasize the cultural aspects of ethnic identity that include language, behavior, values, and knowledge of ethnic group history (Phinney, 1990). Thus, ethnic identity is a broad, multidimensional construct that, according to Phinney (1990), encompasses self-identification, a sense of belonging, positive and negative attitudes toward one's ethnic group, and ethnic involvement or social participation and cultural practices. Ethnic identity development has also been proposed to follow a set of proposed stages (e.g., Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1983; Cross, 1978; Phinney, 1989) in which individuals progress through a series of levels, from unexamined ethnic identity or preference for the dominant culture through a period of exploration or seeking to understand the meaning of ethnicity for oneself to a level of high commitment to one's ethnic group. Although ethnic identity seems to be a meaningful issue for most members of racial/ethnic minorities, empirical evidence suggests that this concept lacks salience for assimilated White Americans (Phinney, 1989). Therefore, various models of ethnic identity have been proposed for different ethnic groups, emphasizing certain components of identity over other components. For example, knowledge or use of the Spanish language tends to be a defining characteristic in the ethnic identity of Chicano/Latino populations, whereas political activity is more associated with African Americans (Phinney, 1990).

A positive sense of ethnic identity has generally been linked to high levels of self-esteem, self-concept, and psychological adjustment (Phinney, 1990, 1991). In addition, studies in the field of counseling have demonstrated that preferences for counselor characteristics (e.g., Helms & Carter, 1991) and attitudes toward conventional counseling services (e.g., Price & McNeill, 1992) vary according to level of ethnic identity. Consequently, it seems that the understanding of ethnic identity is a central component in the assessment of psychological functioning in racial/ ethnic minority groups. Furthermore, as Atkinson and Thompson (1992) pointed out, important within-group differences, such as ethnic identity or level of acculturation, need to be accounted for in future cross-cultural counseling research.

The purpose of the exercise that I present in this article is to introduce and facilitate awareness of the concept of ethnic identity by illustrating the complexity and multidimensionality of ethnic identity through real-life experiences and examples. As a part of a graduate-level course, Counseling Diverse Populations, that I teach, this exercise establishes a foundation for later in-depth examination of theoretical models of and empirical research on ethnic identity. Emphasis is on the influence of this important within-group variable on the psychological functioning of ethnic minority populations, methods of assessment, and preferences for counselor characteristics and interventions. Students enrolled in the course are generally in their second year of master's- or doctoral-level study and have completed prerequisite course work in basic counseling theories, assessment, and intervention. They are also enrolled in their second semester of supervised practicum. Because the graduate programs at Washington State University infuse issues of diversity into all courses, students have had previous introductory exposure to the influence of sociocultural variables on the counseling process.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

An Exercise in Ethnic Identity Awareness
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?