Academic journal article College Student Journal

Self Identification among African American and Caucasian College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Self Identification among African American and Caucasian College Students

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine self identification among African American and Caucasian American college students. To assess self-identification, students were administered a 28-item forced-choice identity questionnaire consisting of eight domains of self-identification: gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, political ideals, nationality, family, and occupation. Results indicated that African Americans identified more with their race and with religion than did Caucasian American students. Caucasian Americans identified more significantly with their political ideals than did African Americans. Results also showed that there was no significant difference between the two ethnic groups in how they identified with nationality. There were also no significant difference between men and women on how they self-identified with gender.

Introduction

Ethnic identity is a complex construct reflecting various aspects of identification with, and membership in, an ethnic group (Cuellar, Nyberg, Maldonado, & Roberts, 1997). More specifically, ethnic identity involves self-identification as a group member, attitudes and evaluations in relation to one's group, attitudes about oneself as a group member, extent of ethnic knowledge and commitment, and ethnic behaviors and practices (Phinney, 1991). Ethnic identity can change over time and vary across individuals. Moreover, it can be conceptualized on a continuum from low to high.

People of color in the United States have been generally considered members of a devalued group (Jones, 1997). Tajfel (1978) predicted that groups held in low regard by society would internalize these negative attitudes and would be adversely affected. However, the research on African Americans has not borne out his prediction. In a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies of self esteem, researchers found that African Americans have consistently reported self-esteem that is as high as or higher than Caucasian Americans (Twenge & Crocker, 2002). Given consistent findings on the relationship between self-esteem and minority group membership, researchers began to explore ethnic identity as a mediating factor. Ethnic identity development may be a form of Tajfel's "social creativity" strategy because in the process of developing positive ethnic identity, individuals redefine what it means to be a member of their ethnic group and no longer allow society to define it for them. Thus, it is critical to focus on the development of ethnic identity, especially for people of color in the United States. Research indicates that higher levels of ethnic identity are associated with more positive attitudes towards one's own group, which in turn are associated with more positive attitudes toward members of other ethnic groups (Phinney, Ferguson & Tate, 1997). African American children secure a healthy racial identity during late adolescence and early adulthood, through a process of exploring their cultural background and rejecting stereotypes (Helms, 1994). Research indicates that racial identity is salient for African American youth. A study comparing high school and college students for three American ethnic groups and a White sample found that the African American youth showed a significantly stronger affirmation of their group identity than Asian American or White youth, although they did not differ from Latinos (Phinney et al., 1994). Based on this study, and evidence that a history of oppression may lead an ethnic group to identify with their group, we expect African American college students to identify strongly with their ethnic and racial heritage. Although ethnic identity is critical to the development of the self, and offers a great deal of understanding and explanation for this aspect of identity development, there are other ways in which adolescence self identify and the composition of those area often equates to an individual's overall identity. Research indicates that individual define themselves using various dimensions (gender, age, ethnic identity, religion) and that how they define themselves at the time depends on the salience of that dimension within a given situation or challenge. …

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