The Understanding of Race and the Construction of African American Identity

By Thompson, Vetta L. Sanders; Akbar, Maysa | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Understanding of Race and the Construction of African American Identity


Thompson, Vetta L. Sanders, Akbar, Maysa, The Western Journal of Black Studies


The Understanding of Race and the Construction of African American Identity

Greenwald (1988) notes that identity development is a process by which an individual establishes a relationship with a reference group. Once this process is complete it has the potential to influence attitudes and behaviors through adoption of group values and goals. Thus, it is important to understand the relationship between external social factors and interactions, and personal understandings that inform the identity.

Social identity theory suggests that group identity development is a cognitive process that uses social categories to define self (Turner, 1982). Categories can be based on nationality, skin color, common history and oppression, and ancestry. Individuals vary in the degree to which they identify with a group. Consequently, variance exists in the commitment to roles and behaviors associated with that identity. In this study we address the influence that racial categorization strategy has on racial identity salience and attitudes.

Identity salience is a term that refers to the influence of a particular identity on behavior as a result of its properties as a cognitive schema (Stryker & Serpe, 1994). Social identities are based on the emotional significance and importance of group memberships for self-definition and their relevance to world view (Stryker, 1980). Salience affects when and how individuals access and use an identity, e.g. in integrated settings, on the job, in child rearing (Stryker & Stratham, 1985). The association between racial identity salience and African American identity attitudes was demonstrated in research conducted by Thompson Sanders (1999).

Racial group identity is only one of several possible social identities. Not all African Americans place the same importance on racial identity (Cross, Strauss, & Fhaghan-Smith, 1999). The historical realities of African American existence and individual efforts to cope and adjust result in numerous possibilities for African American identity (White & Burke, 1987), many of which have not been fully explored.

The history of African Americans in this country has been characterized as one of sustained oppression and discrimination (Robertson, 1988; Hudson, 1994). While slavery was initially justified on the basis of the need for cheap labor, a racist ideology developed to support the subjugation of people of African descent (Robertson, 1988). Individuals of African descent were characterized as subhuman, irresponsible, lazy, and stupid. They were deprived of basic human rights, including the right of self-determination. The reality of violent enforcement of slave status, and primary and secondary gains possible through submission, made internalization of this ideology a viable option for some slaves. Thus, self-labeling was hardly an option and acceptance of derogatory terminology was almost a certainty.

The emancipation of slaves brought only a brief period of relative freedom before people of African descent were again relegated to a system of oppression enforced by deprivation of political and human rights (Hudson, 1994). Rights were denied by law, a system of social norms, and terror tactics that included lynching. African American political and social efforts were thus directed toward political and social equality. There were only brief periods prior to the 1960s that directed community efforts toward African American self-image and pride (Robertson, 1988), thus inhibiting discussions of group definition and identity focused on positive culture and image.

Researchers have recognized that the study of African American identity has been incomplete (Smith, 1989; Hilliard, 1985; Ponterotto, 1989; Cross et al., 1999). We have not fully addressed the complexity, multidimensionality, or factors affecting identification. Most efforts to address the inadequacies in the literature have focused on studying a broader range of phenomena related to racial identity (Sellers, Rowley, Chavous, Shelton & Smith, 1998; Thompson Sanders, 1995, 1999; Cross et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Understanding of Race and the Construction of African American Identity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.