Dr. William Cross Jr. is a leading theorist and researcher in the psychology and identity development of people of color. His book, “Shade of Black”, is considered a classic in the field of racial identity. This framework identifies a continuum that leads Black Americans to form a positive racial identity.
Pre-encounter: The individual absorbs many of beliefs and values of the dominant white culture, including the notion that “white is right” and “Black is wrong”. They often de-emphasize their own racial group membership and seek to assimilate and be accepted by whites. Stereotypes, omissions, and distortions, combined with an image of white superiority, to some degree socialize Black children to value the role models, lifestyles, and images of beauty of white culture over those of their own cultural group. The individual may actively or passively distance themselves from other Blacks.
Encounter: This stage begins in adolescence (middle school or high school) when a teen or young adult is forced by an event or series of events to acknowledge the impact of racism in their life. For example, being followed around by security guards at the mall, or viewing media images of police brutality against Black men and women. As a result of this, the individual may reach the conclusion that many whites will not view them as an equal and to the reality that one cannot truly be white. The individual begins to focus on identity as a member of a group targeted by racism.
Immersion/Emersion: During this transitional point in the model, the individual simultaneously desires to surround themselves with visible symbols of their own racial identity and actively avoid symbols of whiteness. The individual begins to actively seek out opportunities to explore aspects their own history and culture with support of members from their own racial background.
Internalization: Secure in their own sense of racial identity, the individual becomes willing to establish meaningful relationships with whites who acknowledge and are respective of their own self-definition. The individual is now ready to begin coalitions with members of other oppressed groups.
Internalization-Commitment: During this fifth stage, anchored in their positive sense of racial identity, individuals have found ways to translate their own 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, W. E., Jr. (1991). Shades of Black: Diversity in African-American identity. Temple University Press.
Cross, W. E., Jr. (1995). “The psychology of Nigrescence: Revising the Cross model,” in J.G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casa, L.S. Suzuki, & C.M. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling (pp. 93-122). Sage Publications.
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How is a Black Womans' identity formation different Black male identifying individuals? Do the same stages apply? What about other or non gendered identities?
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