Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Identity Conflict in African Americans during Late Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Double Consciousness, Multicultural, and Africentric Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Identity Conflict in African Americans during Late Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Double Consciousness, Multicultural, and Africentric Perspectives

Article excerpt

A fundamental aspect of identity for people of African ancestry is ethnic, racial or cultural identity. Although these constructs are distinct, they overlap in defining identity for African Americans. Ethnic, racial or cultural identity have in common the fact that they reflect a set of cognitions representing beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of positive identification with people of African ancestry (Whaley, 2003).

Research on ethnic identity and racial identity reveal considerable overlap between the corresponding constructs in African American adolescents (Lee & Ahn, 2013; Stanley, 2014; Worrell & Gardner-Kitt, 2006). Similarly, cultural identity measured in terms of the African worldview is also correlated with racial identity in Black young adults (Bailey, Chung, Williams, Singh, & Terrell, 2011; Simmons, Worrell, & Berry, 2008; Vandiver, Cross, Worrell, & Fhagen-Smith, 2002). Worrell and Gardner-Kitt (2006) suggested that successful negotiation of identity formation for African Americans is difficult, because it depends upon reestablishing an identity that was lost due to adverse social and historical experiences.

For African American adolescents, racial identity is part of broader developmental milestone of identity formation (Erikson, 1968). The process of racial identity development tends to be successful (Gomes & Mabry, 1991), but it may be problematic for some Black adolescents (Robinson, 2000). The challenges of growing up in a society that negatively stereotypes and discriminates against Black youth and devalues their culture are major sources of their psychological problems (Umana-Taylor, 2016). According to Azibo, Robinson, and Jones (2011), exposure to the pervasive Eurocentric perspective in the broader society negatively impacts racial identity functioning. As such, research on racial identity remains prominent among areas of study in the social and developmental sciences, especially Black psychology (Cokley, Awosogba, & Taylor, 2014). Theory and research on racial identity in African Americans is derived from three perspectives: double consciousness, multicultural, and Africentric. The purpose of the current study is to examine the basic assumptions of the double consciousness, multicultural, and Africentric approaches to African American identity using a sample of late adolescent and young adult Black respondents to the National Survey of American Life (NSAL). Thus, this article will review each perspective and, subsequently, test competing hypotheses derived from them.

Double Consciousness Perspective

One of the earliest discussions of racial identity among African Americans was introduced at the turn of the 20th century by W.E.B. Dubois (1903/2003) in his classic book, The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois identified "double consciousness" as the core feature of identity among African Americans. Specifically, he proposed that being both "Negro" (or Black) and American (or White) created an ongoing internal conflict within Black Americans.

Du Bois explained: "It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others ... One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark Body ..."(p. 9).

From Dubois's perspective of double consciousness, striking some type of balance between the Black and White components of the self is necessary for the resolution of this identity conflict. However, the onus for change is not on the Black individual but on American society. "The problem lies not in dysfunctional African American personalities but in the message, delivered to African Americans by a predominantly European American society, that African Americans must choose between White or Black--a choice they cannot win" (Gaines & Reed, 1995, p. 102). Thus the double consciousness perspective implies that American component of the Black identity is what drives the conflict. …

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