Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Ethnic Identity Development of African Americans: Experiences in Search of a Paradigm

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Ethnic Identity Development of African Americans: Experiences in Search of a Paradigm

Article excerpt

Introduction

A significant, and compelling, part of the argument that Thursgood Marshall used in the landmark case of Brown Vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, was that the segregated school system had damaged and was continuing to damage African American children by inflicting them with a negative self-concept (Cross, 1991). By the time of the Brown case, "Negro self-hatred," as the negative self-concept was called, was firmly established in the scientific literature (Kardiner & Ovesey, 1951; Myrdal, 1944). Through his expert witness, Kenneth Clark, himself a believer in the Negro self-hatred paradigm, Marshall argued that as Black culture offered no redeeming qualities, Black children needed integrated schools to, among other things, deliver them from their self-hatred by putting them in the company of Whites.

As the world now knows, Marshall's cogent argument that segregated schools limited Negro children to interaction with only other Negroes, and, consequently provided them with no opportunity to improve their self--concept or improve their identity as Black people persuaded the Court. Given the high profile of the Brown decision, the Negro self-hatred paradigm saw increased acceptance in the scientific literature and became the theme of some professional conferences (Kvaraceus, Gibson, Patterson, Seasholes, & Grambs, 1965). A presenter at one such conference, "The Relationship of Education to Self-concept in Negro Children and Youth" in 1963 summarized the prevailing position of these academics regarding the Negro self-hatred concept. In the leading paper for the conference, "The Self-concept: Basis for Reeducation of Negro Youth," Jean Grambs wrote, "It is clear that the life experiences of the Negro child are not such as to aid him in developing a positive sense of himself or of his place in his world" (1965, p. 21).

As Cross (1991) explains in great detail, although the Negro self-hatred paradigm gained enormous popularity in the scientific community, it was based on years of repeated flawed research. Margaret Beale Spencer (1982) offered an alternative explanation for what other researchers had called the Negro self-hatred paradigm. The half century since this famous Supreme Court case has seen an increasing interest in ethnicity and ethnic identity among researchers in psychology (Helms, 1993, 2007; Parham & Williams, 1993; Tatum, 2004) and education (Banks, 1994; Chavous et al., 2003; Gay, 1985).

Teacher educators have become interested in the role of the school in the identity development of students, specifically as it relates to teacher roles and curricula. Ladson-Billings' (1995) investigation revealed that a central task of successful teachers of African American children is helping students to be culturally competent. In Culturally responsive teaching, Gay (2000) informs teacher educators that using examples from African American students' cultural heritage will help them succeed academically. Banks (1994) believes that nurturing students' ethnic identifications positions them for healthy national identification and citizenship. He writes, "An individual can attain a healthy and reflective national identification only when he or she has acquired a healthy and reflective ethnic identification" (Banks, 1994, p. 58). Geneva Gay (1985) believes that ethnic identity development, as a critical developmental process in African Americans, should not be left to happenstance. She writes, "Positive ethnic identification for most American racial minorities does not happen automatically; nor does it happen for all individuals. When it does happen, it is learned and is, therefore, susceptible to instructional intervention in schools" (Gay, 1985, p. 49). Gay has also written that ethnicity is one of the attributes of students that must be "carefully understood, and the insights gleaned from this understanding should be the driving force for the redesign of education for cultural diversity" (Gay, 2000, p. …

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