Exploring the Relationships between Racial/Cultural Identity and Ego Identity among African Americans and Mexican Americans

Article excerpt

Relationships between collective identity and ego identity were examined among 299 African American and Mexican American university students. Participants completed scales measuring racial or cultural identity and ego identity. Regression analyses indicated that ego identity was significantly related to racial identity for African Americans and cultural identity for Mexican Americans.

Recently, collective identity models have been proposed that describe the quality of identification with one's presumed social or demographic groups (e.g., racial or cultural identity). These models propose that individuals do not react identically to conditions of discrimination and exploitation, but develop different schema or strategies for interpreting such experiences (Helms, 1990, 1995). A core aspect of these collective identity models is that individuals experience conflict regarding their collective identities that may result in a variety of identity resolutions (Miville & Helms, 1996). Many studies have investigated how collective identities are significantly related to various aspects of personality, such as self-actualization and psychological functioning (e.g., Carter, 1990; Helms, 1990; Parham & Helms, 1985a, 1985b). For example, African Americans with a positive racial identity may have higher self-esteem and feelings of inner security than those who have a more conflicted or distorted racial identity (Parham & Helms, 1985a, 1985b). In contrast, African Americans whose identity is dominated by a European American frame of reference may have lower self-esteem and think, act, and behave in ways that devalue their racial identity (Parham & Helms, 1985a, 1985b).

Turner (1987) proposed that collective identities represent one level of abstraction of the self-concept, one's overall organization of knowledge regarding oneself (Schlenker, 1985). According to Turner, other levels or aspects of the self-concept include (a) identity based on membership in the human race and (b) identity based on oneself as a unique individual, or personal identity (Turner, 1987). Personal identity in the present article will refer to identity traditionally conceptualized by Erikson (1968) and Marcia (1980) as those identifications pertaining to oneself as a unique individual living in the larger society (also known as ego identity). Turner further speculated that these different levels may be interrelated (e.g., personal identity may be related to collective identity), although he did not provide empirical support for this notion.

Several theorists and mental health practitioners (e.g., Casas, Wagenheim, Banchero, & Mendoza-Romero, 1994; Helms, 1985; Miville & Helms, 1996; Tajfel, 1981; Tajfel & Turner, 1986; Vasquez, 1984) have proposed that collective identities are a significant component of one's self-concept, especially for members of nondominant or subjugated demographic groups. Because of the history of sociopolitical subordination that people of color may have experienced and the ensuing psychological work in which they may engage to create a more positive racial or cultural identity, racial or cultural identity may become a psychologically central or ,salient part of the self-concepts of this group of people (Miville & Helms, 1996). Thus, how an individual identifies as a racial or cultural being, particularly if he or she has to work at feeling positively about their racial or cultural characteristics, may significantly influence how they identify as a unique individual (regarding, for example, personal values and beliefs, political ideology, and perhaps career choice; Marcia, 1980).

Identity at the personal level generally has been conceptualized as a dynamic integration of childhood identifications focusing on the self as a unique individual in the larger society that allows one to interact with others and at the same time maintain an internal sense of continuity (Erikson, 1968; Marcia, 1966). …