White Racial Identity and White Racial Consciousness: Similarities, Differences, and Recommendations. (Articles)

By Leach, Mark M.; Behrens, John T. et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, April 2002 | Go to article overview

White Racial Identity and White Racial Consciousness: Similarities, Differences, and Recommendations. (Articles)


Leach, Mark M., Behrens, John T., LaFleur, N. Kenneth, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


To dispel apparent confusion, White racial identity and White racial consciousness are described and contrasted in terms of theoretical conceptualization and measures used. It is recommended that priority be given to the validation of existing or new measurement instruments to provide a sound basis for future findings.

Para disipar la confusion aparente, la identidad racial Blanca, y el conocimiento racial Blanco, se describen y son contrastados en terminos de sus conceptos teoricos y las medidas empleadas. Se recomienda dar prioridad a la validacion de instrumentos existentes o nuevos para proporcionar una base solida para los descubrimientos futuros.

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The racial outlook of both people of color and White people is considered by many specializing in the multicultural area to be potentially valuable, not only for practice (Helms, 1984) but also for research and training (Atkinson & Thompson, 1992; Sabnani, Ponterotto, & Borodovsky, 1991). However, differences in the approaches of White racial identity (Helms, 1990, 1995) and White racial consciousness (Rowe, Behrens, & Leach, 1995) have led to inevitable confusion. Because of the current interest and importance of this topic and the lack of discussion about the distinctive aspects of each model, we describe the conceptualization and measurement of each model and discuss the implications of these issues for future research, training, and practice.

white racial identity

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Helms (1984) first called attention to the significance of White racial attitudes and presented a cognitive developmental model, much like those of Piaget and Kohlberg, which assumed that White people go through a five-stage process of developing racial consciousness. Citing suggestive findings from the literature, Helms then speculated how each stage of racial consciousness might produce behavioral predispositions that affect counseling outcome in both White counseling dyads and in Black-White dyads.

Helms's work in 1984 stimulated interest in the racial outlook of Whites, and other researchers (Ponterotto, 1988; Sabnani et al., 1991; Sue & Sue, 1990) soon offered a variety of conceptual models. However, Helms again made a major contribution with the publication of Black and White Racial Identity: Theory, Research, and Practice in 1990, the most comprehensive treatment of the topic at the time. The appealing features of the model of White racial identity and the availability of a measure of White racial attitudes (Helms & Carter, 1990) resulted in Helms's approach to obtaining the status of the principal theory concerning White racial outlook.

Several modifications of Helms's 1984 formulation were evident in her 1990 conceptualization. In the former, Helms spoke of racial attitudes and related these to racial consciousness. In 1990, attitudes were seen as a reflection of the racial part of one's identity. The descriptions of the various stages of White racial identity development were further elaborated, and a new stage, Immersion-Emersion (in which a person seeks out information about what it means to be White), was added. In addition, the stages of racial identity development were divided into two groups (Phases 1 and 2): The Contact, Disintegration, and Reintegration stages made up Phase 1, Abandonment of Racism; and Pseudoindependent, Immersion-Emersion, and Autonomy made up Phase 2, Defining a Nonracist White Identity.

Helms (1995) subsequently presented an updated racial identity theory with developmental processes for both people of color and White people. The major emphasis was on elaborating the structure of the theory and clarifying the intended conception of the term stage while renaming it status. Helms refined the content of the White racial identity development statuses by describing what are termed information processing strategies associated with each:

 
   (a) Contact--denial, obliviousness, or avoidance of anxiety-evoking racial 
   information; (b) Disintegration--disorientation, confusion and suppression 
   of information; (c) Reintegration--distortion of information in an 
   own-group-enhancing manner; (d) Pseudoindependence--reshaping racial 
   stimuli to fit one's own "liberal" societal framework; (e) 
   Immersion-Emersion--reeducating and searching for internally defined racial 
   standards; (f) Autonomy--flexible analyses and responses to racial 
   material. … 

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White Racial Identity and White Racial Consciousness: Similarities, Differences, and Recommendations. (Articles)
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