Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

The Importance of Race and Ethnicity: An Exploration of New Zealand Pakeha, Maori, Samoan and Chinese Adolescent Identity

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

The Importance of Race and Ethnicity: An Exploration of New Zealand Pakeha, Maori, Samoan and Chinese Adolescent Identity

Article excerpt

Racial-ethnic identity (REI), or the significance and meaning of race and ethnicity to one's self-concept (Sellers, Smith, Shelton, Rowley, & Chavous, 1998), represents a crucial component of adolescent development especially for indigenous and minority adolescents (Cross & Cross, 2008). Most research on the importance of race and ethnicity to identity has been conducted with adult African American populations (e.g., Sellers et al., 1998), however a growing body of work investigates how these constructs apply to diverse groups of adolescents (e.g., Houkamau & Sibley, 2010), although non-American populations, in particular, remain understudied. The present mixed method study explores REI among New Zealand Pakeha (New Zealanders of European/ British ancestry, hereafter referred to as Pakeha), Maori (Indigenous), Samoan and Chinese adolescents. Participants were asked to assess five aspects of REI and to elaborate on the nuances behind these self-assessments providing a qualitative window into the perceptions and challenges of REI among a diverse group of respondents.

Use of the term "racial-ethnic identity"

Historically, race has been employed as a biological classification of humans on the basis of genetic makeup, manifest in physical traits transmitted through reproduction (e.g. eye shape and skin colour). Even though the biological meaning of race has largely been discredited, the term 'race' is still used as a label to classify people on the basis of phenotype and to guide the formation of attitudes and stereotypes about groups. The idea of race as a biological dividing line between people is still commonly held and powerful in its consequences. Thus, it is society that attaches significance to race, orders people according to race, and that, in the process of creating and maintaining racial order, makes race a powerful signifier of social status.

Ethnicity, on the other hand, has traditionally been defined in terms of characteristics such as common language, culture, and national origin (Quintana, 2007). Ethnicity can also refer to ethnic affiliation, or the "cultural practices and outlooks of a given community of people that set them apart from others" (Giddens, 1997, p. 210). The variable nature of ethnicity has been captured well by Nagel (1994) who makes the point that ethnic identity is "what you think your ethnicity is, versus what they think your ethnicity is" (p. 154). This point is important because the adolescents in this study perceived their racial-ethnic identity to be a composite of their own view of self as well as the views held by others.

There is great variability in how these two social constructs are operationalized, with much complexity and definitional overlap (Cokley, 2007). Researchers have argued that regardless of the theoretical differentiations, racial and ethnic elements interact with individuals' lived experiences and should not be artificially isolated from one another and propose the use of the hybrid term 'racial-ethnic' to acknowledge the socially constructed and interlaced nature of both terms (Cross & Cross, 2008).

Moreover, many adolescents from minority ethnic and indigenous groups in New Zealand, such as Samoans, Chinese and Maori, do, literally, wear their identity on their faces every day. As a consequence, this means that they must negotiate responses to, or build internal barriers against, the multiple race-based stereotypes associated with their group that flavour everyday interactions. In New Zealand, these stereotypes are often contradictory and include references, for example, to Samoans being religious, but ultimately violent; Chinese as hardworking, but insular and; Maori as culturally rich, but morally bankrupt (Cribb, 1997; Ip & Pang, 2005; Wall, 2008). It seems conceivable that members of these groups might conceive of themselves as both ethnic and racial beings, shaped by personal notions relative to their cultural beliefs, values, and behaviours, but also shaped by externally imposed notions of racially determined deficit. …

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