Understanding Race

Especially as an African-American, a racial identity is not always something we are born with. Dark skin, a broad nose, and nappy hair alone do not automatically connect one with the history and pride of black culture. Those with such a self view and world view often undergo a process of realizing where your value is in the world context.[5701] [5698]

"Race", as many have come to understand the word, is a myth. As difficult as it is for some people to believe, there is no statistical significance to the phenotypic differences between racial groups. In fact, more variation exists within racial groups than between groups.


This suggests that race is only of the mind. The differences we see in behavior, and the dispositions we come to expect from a particular racial group, are no more than aspects of culture. In fact, as a social construct, race only exists as cultural groups, and should be valued as such.

One may ask "How is it possible to act a color?" With an understanding of race as a form of culture, it is easier to understand how it is possible to behave as if part of a cultural group labeled by a color.

The problem is that many behaviors and assumed norms of a particular group may not always be positive. stereotypes, true or untrue, shape expectations of racial groups, but they don't tell the whole story. Every person of every race is, after all, an individual.


As with any culture, black culture has a value system. Two values central to black culture are Authenticity and Relationship.

Authenticity refers to behaving as your true self. For example using proper conversation etiquette, a non threatening tone or attitude may be appreciated as responsible from a traditional Euro-centric prospective. On the other hand, such a response without expressing the true emotion may be interpreted as inauthentic or even dishonest from a black cultural prospective.

Relationship is valued in a similar way. Relationship suggests a shared identity in black culture. For many African Americans, the use of the "N" word suggests a shared cultural and or historical identity. However, when used by someone who is not a member of the racial group, the "N" word points the cultural differences, at the same time suggesting that blacks are lesser; or it may suggest an inauthentic cultural identity.

Black Identity Development Model

Dr. William E. Cross, JR., professor at Princeton University, and researcher of Racial-Cultural Identity Development and African-American Psychology, published his model of black identity development in his 1972 article "Stages in the Development of Black Identity."[5809]

In this article, the process of cultivating a black identity is sorted into five stages: Preencounter, Encounter, Immersion/Emerson, Internalization, and Internalization-Commitment.[5700]

According to the Model, the Preencounter phase is characterized by the endorsement of a "white is right" and "black is wrong" outlook. Most often endorsed by an instance of discrimination, during the Encounter phase, the person realizes that he or she cannot satisfy a white ideal. Subsequently, the person develops a want to surround him/herself with literature and material relevant to learning about black culture, and affirming to a black racial identity. During the Internalization phase the person can connect with blacks and non-blacks who respect his/her black racial identity. During the Internalization-Commitment stage the person becomes comfortable with his/herself, and finds healthy ways of expressing racial identity.[5699]