Racial identity development – key to building relationships of understanding

Racial identity development is a key factor to relationship building and equality.

Race is a word that is used to describe racial groups such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Whites. In the study of race and race relations researchers have developed a theory called racial development. The book New Perspectives on Racial Identity Development – A Theoretical and Practical Anthology, edited by Charmaine L. Wijeyesinghe and Bailey W. Jackson III, along with several other books and researchers/authors provide a growing body of literature on racial identity development.

Tolerance is a word used often in media to promote equality. Tolerance can’t be fully embraced without the knowledge, history and development of race identification. The development theory helps to understand the range of views, concepts and emotions that people experience over time about their racial identity.

Racial development has been described as a dynamic developmental process that occurs over time. Racial development is about personal growth. Racial identity is personal development that matures over time and is affected by personal, inter-personal, institutional and cultural environments. In the book New Perspectives on Racial Identity, several racial identities are discussed. No matter what race you identify the most with, all are important to understand when trying to develop racial equality and tolerance. In the first chapter titled “Black Identity,” development is discussed.

The book describes and charts out that Black Identity Development has five stages of development/growth. These stages are:

  1. Naïve: The absence of social consciousness or identity.
  2. Acceptance: Suggesting the acceptance of the prevailing White/ majority description and perceived worth of Black people, Black culture or experience.
  3. Resistance: The rejection of the prevailing majority culture’s definition and valuing of Black people and culture.
  4. Redefinition: The renaming, reaffirming and reclaiming one sense of Blackness, Black culture and racial identity.
  5. Internalization: The integration of a redefined racial identification into all aspects in one’s self-concept or identity.

The book states that it is important to understand that the transition from one stage to another can be, and often is a challenging, even traumatic process. Knowing this and reading more about each stage and gaining insight leads to being able to understand and discuss racial topics and issues more appropriately and dignified. Author, Steven Covey in his books about habit development for professionals, states that when in a confrontation or disagreement, we should first seek to understand before trying to be understood. Research and education is the key to gaining an understanding about our neighbors, friends and family. Michigan State University Extension offers many programs and events on the topic of diversity and relationship building. There is always more to a story than what one sees or reads from the media. Do more than gain tolerance, gain knowledge and understanding.

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