Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Racial Identity from an African American Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Racial Identity from an African American Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract: Mortality and morbidity rates for African Americans remain high. Many of the contributing factors to these deaths may be associated with lifestyle. Research has shown that racial identity influences the lifestyles of African Americans. Racial identity includes the adoption of personal behaviors and identification with a group of people with similar characteristics. Clarifying the notion of racial identity may lead to a better understanding of how racial identity influences health behaviors. The purpose of this study was to explore racial identity from a qualitative perspective. A focus group of African Americans residing in a metropolitan (n=12) city of the United States was used or data collection. Seventy-five percent of the sample were female (n=16) with a mean age of 43 years (s.d.=7.26) and a range of 36 to 54 years of age. After analyses of the data, three themes emerged These themes were "Racial Identity When Growing Up," "Becoming Aware of Racial Differences," and "Present Racial Identity." Sub-themes of each were explored in detail.

Key Words: Racial Identity; African Americans

African American morbidity and mortality rates remain high. Although there has been a slight decline over the past few years, African Americans die at significantly higher rates from diabetes and heart disease. In many cases, these disorders can be minimized with healthier living or implementing a health- promoting lifestyle. Many researchers have noted that health behaviors of African Americans of all ages are impacted by cultural beliefs which includes racial identity (Belgrave, Brome, & Hampton, 2000; Burlew, Neely, Johnson & Hucks, 2000; Nghe & Mahalik, 2001 Knowing an individual's racial identity perception may lead to a better understanding of psychological and physical behaviors of African Americans. One of the most cited theories in racial identity research of African Americans is Cross's (1991) theory of Nigrescence. Most of these studies are quantitative. To better capture the nature of racial identity and confirm the relevance of this theory, a qualitative research approach is appropriate. According to Phinney (1996) persons within an ethnic group should not be assumed to be alike. The degree that individuals identify with their ascribed ethnic group varies. The best way to measure racial identity is via interviews, but interviewing subjects is expensive and time consuming (Phinney, 1996). Although the racial identity of African Americans has been discussed and measured for many decades, no qualitative studies were found in the literature. The purpose of this study was to explore racial identity of African Americans from a qualitative perspective.


Racial identity is defined as the degree to which a person feels connected to or shares commonalties with an ethnic-racial group (Helms, 1990). Contrary to previous thought, racial identity is a multidimensional construct (Cross, 1991; Phinney, 1996; Parham, 1989). Racial identity is noted to be shaped by oppressive and racist experiences in AfricanAmerican lives (Cross, 1991). Helms (1989) noted both positive and negative experiences might influence racial identity. Parham agrees that negative, social, and environmental factors may influence the development of racial identity; however, even with positive socio-environment and encouragement, people may still develop negative racial identities (White & Parham, 1990).

Several of the racial identity stages as proposed by Cross (1991) have been studied quantitatively Negative relationships between preencounter racial identity stage and self-esteem have been established (Munford, 1994; Parham & Helms, 1985; Pyant & Yanico, 1991). Gender differences also have been noted with men reporting higher preencounter scores. Negative relationships between the encounter stage and socioeconomic status and self-esteem also have been reported (Munford, 1994). Parham and Helms (1985) reported positive relationships between encounter and self-esteem. …

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