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Racial and Cultural Minority Identity Development

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    Racial and Cultural Minority Identity
          Therapeutic Implications

Racial awakening

Ethnocentric monoculturalism









Marginal person

Asian American





Ethnic awareness


White identification

Causal stage

Cognitive stage

Consequence stage

Working-through stage



Successful resolution stage

Oppressive relationship


R/CID model



Resistance and immersion

Integrative awareness


Awakening to social political consciousness

Redirection to Asian American consciousness


This chapter begins with the story of a Japanese American woman whose previous belief system

concerning Euro-Americans and Asian Americans is being challenged by her social reality. Her

denial that she is Asian American is beginning to crumble. The internal struggle to cast off the

cultural conditioning of her past and her attempts to define her ethnic identity are both painful

and conflicting. This example is used to introduce a chapter that focuses on understanding

racial/cultural identity development and its relationship to therapeutic practices.

Racial and Cultural Identity Development Models

Development models have been effective in demonstrating that Asian Americans, African

Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, and American Indians have a distinct cultural heritage

and will move through different stages when forming a racial/cultural identity. However, a

number of therapeutic problems have arisen due to the erroneous belief that all individuals within

these minority groups are the same. Therapists may often respond to the culturally different

client in a very stereotypic manner and fail to recognize within-group or individual differences.

The strength of racial/cultural identity models lies in their potential diagnostic value and their

acknowledgment of sociopolitical influences in shaping minority identity.

Black Identity Development Models

Black identity models are among the earliest minority identity models as well as the most highly

developed. Cross’s model (1991, 1995) of psychological nigrescence delineates a four-stage

process in which Blacks in the United States move from a White frame of reference to a positive

Black frame of reference: preencounter, encounter, immerson-emersion, and internalization.

Asian American Identity Development Models

Asian American identity development models have not advanced as far as Black racial identity

models. Kitano (1982) proposed a type model to account for Japanese American role behaviors

with respect to Japanese and American cultures: positive-positive, negative-positive, positive-

negative, and negative-negative. A few of the problems with earlier models are: (a) they fail to

provide a clear rationale for how an individual develops one ethnic identity type over another, (b)

the early proposals seem too simplistic to account for the complexity of racial identity

development, and (c) these models were too population-specific in that they described only one

Asian American ethnic group. In an effort to tackle these problems, theorists have begun to

move toward the development of stage/process models of Asian American identity development

(Kim, 1981; Lee, 1991; Sodowski, Kwan, & Pannu, 1995). Kim (1981) used a qualitative

narrative approach with third-generation Japanese American women to posit a progressive and

sequential five-stage model of Asian American identity development consisting of: ethnic

awareness, White identification, awakening to social-political consciousness, redirection to

Asian American consciousness, and incorporation.

Latino/Hispanic American Identity Development Models

Although a number of ethnic identity development models have been formulated to account for

Hispanic identity (Bernal & Knight, 1993; Casas & Pytluk, 1995; Szapocznik et al., 1982), the

one most similar to those of African Americans and Asian Americans is proposed by Ruiz

(1990). Ruiz’s model makes several underlying assumptions: (a) it uses a culture-specific

explanation of identity for Chicano, Mexican American, and Latino clients; (b) the marginal

status of Latinos is highly correlated with maladjustment; (c) negative experiences of forced

assimilation are considered destructive to an individual; (d) having pride in one’s cultural

heritage and ethnic identity are positively correlated with mental health; and (e) pride in one’s

ethnicity affords the Hispanic greater freedom to choose. These beliefs underlie the five-stage

model: causal stage, cognitive stage, consequence stage, working-through stage, and successful

resolution stage. The Ruiz model has a subjective reality that many of the empirically based

ones lack. It has the added advantage of suggesting intervention focus and direction for each of

the stages.

Racial/Cultural Identity Development Model (R/CID)

As previous models have been studied and integrated into clinical observations, Atkinson,

Morten, and Sue (1998) proposed a five-stage Minority Identity Development Model (MID) in

an attempt to identify common features that cut across the population-specific proposals. It was

later renamed the Racial/Cultural Identity Development Model (R/CID), which defines five

stages of development: conformity, dissonance, resistance and immersion, introspection, and

integrative awareness. Its developers believe that an understanding of cultural identity

development should sensitize counselors to the role that oppression plays in a minority

individual’s development. The model will aid therapists in recognizing differences between

members of the same minority group with respect to their cultural identity. It may also serve as a

useful assessment and diagnostic tool for therapists to gain a greater understanding of their

culturally diverse clients. Furthermore, it allows helping professionals to recognize the changing

and developmental nature of cultural identity among clients.

       Conformity Stage. The conformity stage represents perhaps the most damning indictment

of White racism. Because it has such a profound negative impact upon minority groups, more

time is spent discussing it. In the chapter, a case approach illustrates the sociopsychological

dynamics of the conformity process. People at the conformity stage possess the following

characteristics: (a) self-depreciating attitudes and beliefs, (b) group-depreciating attitudes and

beliefs toward members of the same minority group, (c) discrimination toward members of

different minorities, and (d) group-appreciating attitudes and beliefs toward members of the

dominant group.

       Dissonance Stage. No matter how much an individual attempts to deny his or her own

racial/cultural heritage, he or she will encounter information or experiences that are inconsistent

with beliefs, attitudes, and values held by the dominant culture. However, movement into the

dissonance stage is a gradual process. The dissonance stage is characterized by: (a) conflict

between self-depreciating and self-appreciating attitudes and beliefs, (b) conflict between group-

depreciating and group-appreciating attitudes and beliefs toward members of the same minority,

(c) conflict between dominant-held views of minority hierarchy and feelings of shared

experience, and (d) conflict between group-appreciating and group-depreciating attitudes toward

members of the dominant group.

       Resistance and Immersion Stage. In the resistance and immersion stage the culturally

different individual tends to completely endorse minority-held views and to reject the dominant

values of society and culture. The desire to eliminate oppression of the individual’s minority

group becomes an important motivation of the individual’s behavior. During this stage, the three

most active types of affective feelings are guilt, shame, and anger. Individuals in this stage may

experience: (a) self-appreciating attitudes and beliefs, (b) group-appreciating attitudes and beliefs

toward members of the same minority group, (c) conflict between feelings of empathy for other

minority group experiences and feelings of culturocentrism, and (d) group-depreciating attitudes

and beliefs toward members of the dominant group.

       Introspection Stage. Several factors seem to work in unison to move the individual from

the resistance and immersion stage into the introspection stage. Individuals in this stage begin to

discover that the level of intensity of feelings is psychologically draining and does not permit

them to devote crucial energies to understanding themselves or to their own racial/cultural group.

In addition, the minority individual experiences feelings of discontent and discomfort with

resistance and immersion stage group views that may be quite rigid. The introspection stage is

characterized by concern about: (a) the basis of self-appreciating attitudes and beliefs, (b) the

unequivocal nature of group appreciation toward members of the same minority, (c) ethnocentric

bias for judging others, and (d) the basis of group depreciation toward members of the dominant


         Integrative Awareness Stage. Minority persons in this stage have developed an inner

sense of security and now own and appreciate unique aspects of their culture as well as those of

the mainstream culture. The minority person has a strong commitment and desire to eliminate all

forms of oppression. Persons in the integrative awareness stage have: (a) self-appreciating

attitudes and beliefs, (b) group-appreciating attitudes and beliefs toward members of the same

minority group, (c) group-appreciating attitudes toward members of a different minority, and (d)

attitudes and beliefs of selective appreciation toward members of the dominant culture.


         Coard, S. I., Breland, A.M., & Raskin, P. (2002). Perceptions of and preferences

for skin color, Black racial identity, and self-esteem among African Americans. Journal

of Applied Social Psychology, 31(11), 2256–2274.

         Constantine, M. G., Richardson, T. Q., Benjamin, E. M., & Wilson, J. W. (1998).

An overview of Black racial identity theories: Limitations and considerations for future

theoretical conceptualizations. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 7(2), 95–99.

       Gillem, A. R., Cohn, L. R., & Thorne, C. (2001). Black identity in biracial

Black/White people: A comparison of Jacqueline who refuses to be exclusively Black

and Adolphus who wishes he were. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology,

7(2), 182–196.

       Miville, M. L., Koonce, D., Darlington, P., & Whitlock, B. (2000). Exploring the

relationships between racial/cultural identity and ego identity among African Americans

and Mexican Americans. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 28(4),


       Moreland, C., & Leach, M. M. (2001). The relationship between Black racial

identity and moral development. Journal of Black Psychology, 27(3), 255–271.

       Nghe, L. T., & Mahalik, J. R. (2000). Examining racial identity statuses as

predictors of psychological defenses in African American college students. Journal of

Counseling Psychology, 48(1), 10–16.

       Pope-Davis, D. B., Liu, W. M., Ledesma-Jones, S., & Nevitt, J. (2000). African

American acculturation and Black racial identity: A preliminary investigation. Journal of

Multicultural Counseling & Development, 28(2), 98–112.

       Worrell, F. C., Cross, W. E., & Vandiver, B. J. (2001). Nigrescence theory:

Current status and challenges for the future. Journal of Multicultural Counseling &

Development, 29(3), 201–213.


1. The racial/cultural identity development models are based primarily on people of

   color. How would these models fit other diverse groups (gay men and lesbian

   women, women, people with disabilities)? What about White ethnic groups?

2. There appears to be a progression from less desirable to more desirable characteristics

   as one proceeds through the R/CID stages. In what ways could an individual be

   mentally healthy at earlier identity development stages?

3. Are individuals who identify with the dominant society necessarily rejecting their

   own cultural identity? Why or why not? What do you think of an ethnic minority

   person who believes that success in this society is decided primarily by effort?

4. How might identity development be similar or different for individuals living

   primarily in a White or ethnic community?

5. What are possible gender differences in terms of identity development?

6. How does information on racial identity affect you as a White individual or as a

   person of color in an advising position ?


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