“Who Am I?” Race, Ethnicity and Identity Author: Hazel Rose Markus (Professor of Social Psychology at Stanford University and Director of Stanford’s Research Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity)
I. Developing an Identity:• A person’s identity depends on her own view of herself, but it also depends on others’ view of her.• Descartes’ “I think; therefore, I am” modified by “You think; therefore, I am.”
a. Identities Are Where the Self Meets Society• Identities are only partly a matter of individual choice (362).• Developing an identity requires selectivity and allows for considerable creativity, and to a large extent this depends on you (362).• Our identities are, in part, given to us by others. (I am a sister, wife, and mother).• Age, gender, race and ethnicity also affect my experience in the world and thus my identity.• Identity is simultaneously an individual and collective project; a mix of personal characteristics and social roles.
b. Identities Are Dynamic• Who you are at any given moment depends on where you happen to be and who else is in that place with you (364).• People move around from place to place, and even when they stay in one place, the context around them changes. Consequently, identities are always in flux (365).
c. Identities Are Unique• Our social roles do not determine our identities, nor do our individual characteristics and choices define us completely. Identity is complex, dynamic and unique.• “If a social category matters in a given community, and if a person claims an association with this category, or if other associate her with this category, that category will have some impact on her behavior” (366).
II. The Behavioral Significance of Identity•We see reality subjectively. Our identityinfluences how we see the world.•Our identity also affects how we behave. Raceand ethnicity do not determine ourperspective or our behavior, but they arerelevant, interacting with other factors toaffect our perspective and behavior.
a. Race and Ethnicity As a Source of Identity“Whenever someone participates in a group orcommunity or society, the factors that areimportant in how the nation, states, cities,neighborhoods, families, and schools areorganized will have some influence on who she is,whether she notices them, and whether shethinks a particular factor is important to her. If acategory—whether it is race, gender, ethnicity, orreligion—is associated with the distribution ofpower, resources, status, respect, knowledge, orother cultural capital in a particular context, thecategory will matter for identity.” (368-369)
b. Defining Race and Ethnicity• The idea that race and ethnicity determine “inherent qualities that are present and unchangeable inside a person from birth” is a “significant misconception” (370).• The concept of race has not always been with us: it has developed over time.
b. Defining Race and Ethnicity (continued)• Race has meant something different than ethnicity historically.• The concept of race was used hierarchically. Characteristics of racial groups have historically been defined by others. Historically, race has been presented as a biological reality.• Ethnicity has been understood to be about cultural practices that do not imply hierarchy and people in ethnic groups have often been willing to claim the characteristics associated with the group.
c. When and How Race and Ethnicity MatterCurrently, in American society, one finds a great deal of anxiety around racial and ethnic identities. Many imagine that these social distinctions can only be the basis of division and conflict, and that our individual and societal goal should be to get beyond these boundaries. Yet, while racial and ethnic identities can certainly be the basis of prejudice, discrimination, and inequality…they can also—and sometimes simultaneously—be the source of pride, meaning, motivation, and belongingness. (372)
c. When and How Race and Ethnicity Matter (continued)• Race and ethnicity influence identity whether an individual is aware of it and whether or not the individual claims a racial or ethnic association.• When and how these categories influence identity and behavior depends upon a wide array of contextual factors. To say that race and ethnicity influence identity is not the same as saying they determine behavior.
III. Psychological Research on Race and EthnicityA person typically can’t parse experience into racial and ethnic components. Thus, social psychologists have employed a variety of measures that demonstrate how race and ethnicity can (1) provide frameworks of meaning, (2) provide motivation for behavior, and (3) be a source of belongingness.
1)Race and Ethnicity as Frameworks of Meaning• Social norms shape whether we see ourselves as independent or interdependent or some combination of both.• Our racial and ethnic contexts are typically invisible to us but they do provide models of how to feel, act, and judge what is fair or just, etc.• Everyone is ethnic. No one way is “natural.” Everyone’s way is a particular way, and no one person is “normal” outside of a context.
2) Race and Ethnicity as Motivators for Behavior• Some psychological research has shown that in contexts where racial or ethnic identity is made salient, motivation and performance are affected.• Individuals may have a racial or ethnic self-schema or may be aschematic, but having a dual schema appears to have the most beneficial correlation to performance, perhaps because positive representations help the individual “confront and contest the prevalent negative stereotypes” (383).• Being aware of negative stereotypes can also have a negative affect on one’s performance.
3) Race and Ethnicity as a Source of BelongingnessWe all have a need to feel that we belong. Whenour sense of belonging is threatened,performance can be affected in a variety of ways:•If you feel unwelcome, you may work harder toshow that you belong,ORyou might bediscouraged and have more difficulty identifyingas a student or a learner.•If your sense of belonging is fragile but youbelieve someone is taking an interest in you, yourperformance can be influenced in a positive way.
ConclusionWhat is clear is that race and ethnicity matterfor identity, regardless of what race orethnicity is an element of your identitybecause you are always located in a socialcontext in which those elements havemeaning. To be color-blind or post racial atthis moment in history “is probably animpossibility” (386).
Conclusion“While it is not possible to live outside thesocial-identity-behavior-society cycle, thecycle itself is the result of human activity overtime. Ultimately, the consequences of thecycle will depend on how people individuallyand collectively make sense of race andethnicity and on whether or how they build itinto their worlds” (386).
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