The Relationship between Racial Identity Cluster Profiles and Psychological Distress among African American College Students

Article excerpt

One hundred eighty-two African American college students completed the Racial Identity Attitudes Scale. Results from the multivariate categorization scheme revealed 5 types of empirically derived racial identity attitude profiles: "dissonance internalization" (34%), "committed internalization" (30%), "engaged internalization" (21%), "undifferentiated racial identity" (8%), and "dormant racial identity" (7%). The profiles significantly differed on Brief Symptom Inventory subscale scores.

In the past two decades, there has been increased attention given to the racial identity development of African Americans. An area that has received increasing attention in the literature has been Helms's racial identity theory and the corresponding Racial Identity Attitudes Scale (RIAS; Helms & Parham, 1990) Building on Cross's (1971, 1978) model of Nigrescence, Helms has conceptualized African American identity development as a dynamic maturation process through which African Americans understand themselves in the context of a race-based society by moving from internalization of negative racial messages to adoption of a positive racial group orientation (Helms & Parham, 1990; Helms & Piper, 1994). This process includes one's interpretation of racial information and also one's attitudes, cognitions, and behaviors toward one's own racial group, other racial groups, and the dominant racial group (i.e., White; Carter, 1996). The RIAS is designed to assess African Americans' racial identity schemata and measures the following theoretically derived statuses: (a) Conformity (formerly known as Pre-Encounter), which involves the internalization of negative societal racial stereotypes and the idealization of Whites; (b) Dissonance (formerly known as Encounter), which is characterized by racial confusion and involves increased awareness of racism; (c) Immersion/Emersion, which involves the idealization of Blackness while denigrating Whiteness; and (d) Internalization, which is the integration of a positive Black identity.

A growing body of literature has provided support for Helms's theoretical assertion that greater internalization of a positive racial identity is related to better adjustment. Generally, studies have found that anti-Black/pro-White (Conformity) or anti-White/pro-Black (Immersion/Emersion) or both attitudes are associated with lower levels of psychological well-being (Carter, 1991; Parham & Helms, 1985a, 1985b; Pyant & Yanico, 1991; Wilson & Constantine, 1999) For example, Neville, Heppner, and Wang (1997) found that higher Immersion/Emersion attitudes were associated with greater perceived stressors and less effective problem-solving appraisal. Conversely, studies have also found that higher levels of a positive Black identity (Internalization) are associated with greater psychological health (e.g., Wilson & Constantine, 1999). For example, Martin and Nagayama-Hall (1992) found that Internalization attitudes were related to increased internal locus of control, and Jackson and Neville (1998) found that increased comfort with one's racial identity (Internalization) was related to greater perceived hope in setting and achieving goals. Although most studies have produced results in the expected direction, it is important to mention that a few published studies have found little or no relationship between racial identity attitude schemata and adjustment variables. Carter, DeSole, Sicalides, Glass, and Tyler's (1997) research is a recent example; they found that RIAS was not significantly related to psychosocial competencies.

Helms (1995, 1996) argued that African Americans have attitudes, cognitions, and behaviors from each of the racial identity statuses. However, few studies have attempted to examine African Americans' composite racial identity schemata or the underlying dimensions of their racial identity patterns. Carter (1996) was the only published study that we were able to locate that used a cluster analysis to examine the level, pattern, and shape of RIAS scores among an African American sample. …