The process by which people develop their racial or ethnic identity varies
from race to race. According to William E. Cross Jr. (1971), a leading theorist and researcher in the
field of ethnic identity development, specifically Black identity development, suggested
a five-stage theory of acquisition of Black identification; (1) pre-encounter, (2)
encounter, (3) immersion/emersion, (4) internalization, and (5) internalization-commitment.
At pre-encounter stage, Black people acquire many beliefs and values of the dominant
White culture, including the notion that “white is right” and “black is wrong”
then they are forced by event (usually series of events) to acknowledge the
impact of racism in one’s life and the reality that one cannot truly be white. The third stage, immersion-emersion,
Black people actively seek out opportunities to explore aspects of their
own history and culture with support of others who share the same background. This
is the result of desire to surround themselves with symbols of their racial identity.
Black people are likely to
secure their own sense of racial or ethnic identity at the forth stage, internalization.
At last, black Americans find ways to translate their personal sense of
blackness into a plan of action or a general sense of commitment to concerns of
Blacks as a group, which is
sustained over time (Cross, 1971).
On the other hand, White
people establish their racial or ethnic identity through different process. Helm
(1990) argued White racial identity model, which contains six stages; (1)
contact, (2) disintegration, (3) reintegration, (4) pseudo-independence, (5)
immersion/emersion, and (6) autonomy. In the first stage of contact, there is
no conscious demonstration of racism since White people recognize racial
difference but do not find it salient may feel that racism is propagated by the
discussion and acknowledgement of race as an issue. The next stage is disintegration,
new experience challenges their prior conception of the world and White people are
often plagued by feelings of guilt and shame. These negative emotions can be
modified when White people determine to channel them in a positive way.
However, White people may move into the next stage, reintegration, when those
emotions continue to dominate. In reintegration stage, White people may feel
that although Whites do have privileges, it is probably because they deserve
them and in are in some way superior to minority groups. If the person is able
to combat these feelings, they maybe able to move on to the pseudo-independence
stage. The pseudo-independence stage is the first stage of positive racial
identification since White people look to people of color in order to confront
and uncover racism. They approve of these efforts and comfort the person as
these efforts validate this person’s desire to be non-racist. Although this is
positive White racial identity, the person does not have a sense of how they can
be both White and non-racist together. People tend to make a genuine attempt to
connect to their own White identity and to be anti-racist in immersion/emersion
stage. Finally, the last stage is reached when an individual has a clear
understanding of and positive connection to their White racial identity while
also actively pursuing social justice.