Ethnic Identity: Developmental and Contextual Perspectives. Jean S. Phinney, California State University, Los Angeles. Notre Dame University, 2004

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1 Ethnic Identity: Developmental and Contextual Perspectives Jean S. Phinney, California State University, Los Angeles Notre Dame University, 2004 In this paper, I focus on the process of ethnic identity development and change, and on contextual factors that influence the process. Because the term ethnic identity is used in a wide variety of ways, I d like to begin by defining the concept as I use it. What is ethnic identity and how does it develop? Ethnic identity development is an aspect of becoming an adult. Becoming an adult involves figuring out who you are, finding a sense of direction and purpose in life, making decisions regarding career, life style, beliefs, gender roles, political orientation, and finding a niche, or a comfort zone; in short, developing a secure identity. The process difficult for most young people today, because of the complex world in which the live and the many choices they have to make. Young people from ethnic minority groups face all these challenges, but have additional challenges as well. As ethnic minorities, they belong to groups that are lower in status and power in society, are less well represented in society, are subject to prejudice and discrimination, and may hold values different from those of the larger society. They must come to understand the meaning and implications of these differences and make decisions about how to live with their dual cultural heritage and status in society. Young people from ethnic minority groups therefore face additional identity tasks. These include developing an understanding of the implication of ethnic group differences, figuring out how to relate to their own group and the larger society, establishing feelings of self-

2 worth in face of conflicting messages about their group, and developing ways to respond to prejudice. These tasks constitute the process of ethnic identity formation. My interests and research over past 15 years have focused on the process of ethnic identity formation. My approach is developmental, emphasizing individual changes over time (with implied direction, if not stages). My perspective is based on ethnic and cross-cultural psychology, focusing on the perspectives of under-represented and non-western groups. Theoretically, I endorse a developmental systems/human ecology approach that recognizes complex interactions of person, context, and historical period. My own context has strongly influenced my work. I live in Los Angeles, the most ethnically diverse region of US, where European Americans are in the minority, and ethnic children dominate in the schools. My institution, California State University, Los Angeles, is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country, with an undergraduate student body that is about 51 % Hispanic/Latino, 24 % Asian or Asian American, 16% Caucasian (European American and Middle Eastern), 8 % African American. Past work on ethnic identity has drawn heavily on sociology, such as the work of Portes and Rumbaut (2001; Rumbaut & Portes, 2001), and on social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Current work on ethnic identity is also found in a range of other areas, such as counseling psychology, community psychology, ethnic studies, and developmental psychology. Across disciplines, there is general agreement that ethnic identity is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon. A recent review of collective identity, of which ethnic identity is one example, by Ashmore and colleagues (Ashmore, Deaux, & McLaughlin-Volpe, 2004) suggest a number of elements in the construct: Self-categorization; Evaluation: positive/negative attitudes; Importance (centrality, salience) of group membership in overall identity; Attachment:

3 emotional involvement; Social embeddedness; Behavioral involvement; Content and meaning (ideology). Three of these elements, evaluation, importance, and attachment, make up what can be called commitment. Commitment can be defined as the strength of one s ties with a particular group. Group identity has been studied by social psychologists largely in terms of identification or commitment, that is, the strength of people s ties with a particular group (Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 2002, p. 164). According to Ellemers and colleagues, (Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 1999, p. 3), Group commitment moderates group members social perceptions as well as their behaviour on a range of indicators. A common sense understanding of ethnic identity is similar to the concept of commitment as defined above. In contrast to a social psychological approach, a developmental approach to ethnic identity is based on Erikson s (1968) ego identity model, with a primary focus on process of forming a group identity. Much of the research has been carried out with adolescents and young adults. A distinction is made between ascribed (given or assigned) identities, such as gender and ethnicity, and chosen (voluntary) identities, such as a profession; and interest is typically in specific types of group identities (e.g., ethnicity) rather than on generic groups. In Erikson s eight-stage model of development, ego identity formation is the critical task of adolescence and young adulthood and is considered the pivotal stage. For Erikson, identity formation is a process located in the core of the individual and yet also in the core of his communal culture. The young person, in order to experience wholeness, must feel a continuity between that which he conceives himself to be and that which he perceives others to see in him and expect from him. True identity depends on the support which the young individual

4 receives from the collective sense of identity characterizing the social groups significant to him: his class, his nation, his culture. However, Erikson s writing was theoretical, not empirical. James Marcia developed an empirical model of identity formation based on Erikson s work. Marcia defined ego identity as a core or center that gives meaning and significance to one s world (Marcia, Waterman, Matteson, Archer, & Orlofsky, 1993). Identity formation is based on two processes: Exploration: The process of examining and experimenting with alternative directions and beliefs; and Commitment: the strength or clarity of goals, beliefs, and standards that one holds regarding the self (Berzonsky, 2003). The two processes of exploration and commitment can be dichotomized as high and low and crossed to form a two-by-two diagram that defines four identity statuses (see Figure 1). COMMITMENT High Low EXPLORATION High Moratorium Achievement commitment Low Diffusion Foreclosure Figure 1: The four ego identity statuses defined by high and low exploration and Ethnic identity commitment derives from the concept for ego identity commitment, but carries a more specific meaning. It refers to the strength of one s ties with a particular ethnic group, the evaluation and importance of, and attachment to, one s ethnic group; and the clarity of

5 beliefs, standards, and goals that one holds regarding one s ethnicity. Commitment can be of two types: with and without exploration. Commitments that are unexamined are based on childhood identifications or basic characteristics; for example, a daughter adopts without question her parents views of the meaning of their ethnicity. This type of commitment is referred to as Foreclosure. Alternatively, commitments that are based on exploration are typically initiated by identity crisis. Identity is constructed, as individuals examine the meaning and implications of their ethnic group membership and make decisions about how to lead their life as a group member. The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney, 1992; Roberts et al., 1999) is a survey instrument designed to assess ethnic identity. Ethnic identity commitment is measured with items such as: I am happy that I am a member of the group I belong to; I have a strong sense of belonging to my own ethnic group; I have a lot of pride in my ethnic group and its accomplishments; I feel a strong attachment towards my own ethnic group. The scale has a reliability of Cronbach alpha =.81 to.89, across ethnic groups. Ethnic identity commitment has been found to be associated with psychological wellbeing (e.g., high self-esteem), lower substance abuse, and absence of depression (Phinney, Cantu, & Kurtz, 1997; Roberts et al., 1999). There is some evidence of a positive relationship to academic achievement. Interviews with adolescents (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997) provide examples of the attitudes associated with a strong ethnic identity commitment: I feel proud of being Mexican. I think I am lucky; I love it. ; I like my race. I wouldn t want to be anything else : I like being Black We are more like a family. I feel like I belong to something; I love the skin complexion and rough hair. I just love it. I would not want to change.

6 It is not clear how ethnic identity commitment changes over time. Across age groups, mean levels of commitment are consistently high among minority youth. Longitudinal research tends to show relatively little change in commitment over time. Changes in commitment may involve more complex understandings not tapped by surveys. Such changes in commitment are based on exploration. As noted earlier, James Marcia (1980) suggested two types of ego identity commitment, based on extent of exploration, namely, foreclosed and achieved commitments. In both cases, individuals are high on commitment, but in the case of foreclosure there has been no exploration. Identity foreclosure reflects an unexamined commitment based on childhood identifications; life directions and values are unmodified since childhood. Identity achievement is based on commitments based on exploration, typically initiated by an identity crisis, followed by an individual choice. Similarly, there are two types of ethnic identity commitment. Ethnic identity foreclosure refers to commitment without exploration. The individual affirms and is committed to his or her own ethnicity and culture but has not questioned parental and societal values and attitudes. A foreclosed individual stated, I don t go looking for my culture; I just go by what parents say and do, the way they are. Ethnic identity achievement refers to commitment with exploration. The individual has examined the attitudes of parents and society at large, and has developed his or her own understanding about their ethnicity. For example, People but me down because I m Mexican, but I don t care I accept myself more. Exploration refers to the process of examining the meaning and implications of one s ethnic group membership, including its history, culture, and current status in society. In the

7 Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney, 1992; Roberts et al., 1999), exploration is measured with items such as: I have spent time trying to find out more about my ethnic group; I have talked to other people in order to learn more about my ethnic background; I have thought about how my life will be affected by my ethnic group membership. Studies using the scale have found Cronbach alphas of.70 to.83, across ethnic groups. In interviews, adolescents reveal exploration in statements such as, One thing is reading a history book and another is to actually hear real stories with real people; that s what I got from grandpa. Factor analyses show that ethnic identity exploration and commitment are distinct factors. Moreover, they have different correlates, as shown in Tables 1-3. Table 1. Correlations between self-esteem and ethnic identity exploration and commitment, across ethnic groups. Exploration Commitment Vietnamese.17.32* Armenian.15.25* African American.22*.32* Mexican American.24.35* European Americans.07.28* Overall.13*.26* (317 High school students)

8 Table 2. Correlations between self-efficacy and ethnic identity exploration and commitment, across ethnic groups. Exploration Commitment Asian Americans.10.21** Latinos.12.20** Blacks Table 3. Correlations between perceived discrimination and ethnic identity exploration and commitment, across diverse samples. Exploration Commitment 3000 middle schoolers.15* high schoolers.14* college students.16* Asians.28* Latinos.18*.01 Ethnic identity commitment is a stronger correlate of indicators of psychological wellbeing than is exploration. However, ethnic identity exploration is a stronger correlate of perceived discrimination than is commitment. Nevertheless, ethnic identity exploration and commitment are related. Across studies, they are correlated between.50 and.70. We suggest that exploration and commitment go hand in

9 hand. More questioning leads to better understanding, and increased understanding leads to more questions. The result is increasing depth of understanding of ethnicity that is not captured by surveys. To explore further the relationship of exploration and commitment to the ethnic identity statuses, we used the exploration and commitment scales of th Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney, 1992; Roberts et al., 1999) to assign individuals to statuses. A split at the mean of each scale divided it into high and low. Those high on both scales were considered ethnic identity achieved; those low in both were diffuse. Those high in commitment but low in exploration were foreclosed; those low in commitment but high in exploration were in moratorium. The scatterplot in Figure 2 illustrates the distribution. The scatterplot shows the correlation of the two scales. The achievement and foreclosure statuses are fairly clear, defined by being high on both scales or low on both, respectively. However, the in-between statuses of foreclosure and moratorium overlap and cannot be clearly distinguished. Search and commitment may be difficult to separate empirically because the two processes proceed together. The increasingly complex understandings of ethnicity may not be picked up by the surveys.

10 6 5 4 ethnic identity; exploration fall Ethnic identity stat Achieved Moratorium Foreclosed Diffuse ethnic identity; commitment fall Figure 2. A scatterplot showing ethnic identity statuses defined by scores on ethnic identity exploration and commitment, assessed in the fall of college students freshman year. The larger context plays an important role in ethnic identity development. However, the findings regarding context are mixed. Some studies show higher ethnic identity in minority contexts; others show higher ethnic identity in ethnic dominant contexts. The influence of context depends on prior experience, the intergroup situation, and the current level of ethnic commitment. Ellemers and colleagues (2002) point out that Commitment to the group is a crucial moderating factor that determines responses to the context (Ellemers et al., 2002). It is therefore important to consider the interaction of the person and the context (Ethier & Deaux, 1994).

11 Given the complex and interactive effects influencing in ethnic identity development, there is a need for in-depth study of a range of people in variety of settings. Qualitative methods provide useful insights into the specifics of ethnic identity development in particular ethnic groups and settings. The following quotations from several qualitative studies of ethnic identity illustrate some of the factors that influence ethnic identity exploration. Changing contexts are likely to motivation ethnic identity exploration. An Armenian young adult stated, When I was living in Iran, we were seen as Armenians, which is correct. However, when I was living in India and now in the U.S., we are considered White But living in Glendale [predominantly Armenian community near Los Angeles], it s quite clear that I am seen as an Armenian. Changing contexts were also important for an Asian American woman raised in Hawaii who moved the California: I was raised American like everyone else, but I wasn t allowed to be American. The media was all white, sexy females, and that wasn t me Funny thing, though Whenever I mentioned that I was part Hawaiian, people immediately were nice I finally realized that it was all right for me to an Asian American with some native Hawaiian blood I am what I am. The age of a young person interacts with his or her setting. High school settings elicit reactions associated with an adolescent s need to belong. A Chinese American stated, In order to be accepted by the majority group of American teenagers, I mimicked what they do and say I pretended that I did not know how to speak Chinese. An African American noted, At school I have to act a certain way. I can t talk like I want to. With my friends and at home, I talk like I want to.

12 In college settings the issues are somewhat different, but may raise similar confusion about ethnicity. A Latino student from a poor farming community in California recorded his experiences attending an Ivy League university. We were consumed with simply finding a precarious place to perch between two opposing worlds. [We] were people poised to conquer the future, but who had not yet reconciled themselves with their past. We were torn, divided, conflicted. I loved and respected my parents and yet I wanted nothing as much as to live a life that was different, better, than their. (Navarette, 1993). An Asian graduate student attending predominantly minority university and living at home had a different experience: I m attracted to the values of independence and doing my own thing, but it is also important for me to be close to my parents; it is sometimes hard to do both. Beyond school and college, work settings may also lead to greater awareness of one s ethnicity. A Latino professional reported, Even though you consider yourself one of the guys, American, and a professional people have subtle ways of letting you know that when they look at you they see a Hispanic first. (Ferdman & Cortes, 1992). Another professional pointed out: Too many people have a stereotypical view of what Hispanics are. Through normal day-to-day activity, I give them visible proof that it s not necessarily true. (Ferdman & Cortes, 1992). Beyond the need to explore one s own ethnicity, minority group members also need to understand other groups as part of the identity formation process. A Latino young adult stated, [ It is necessary] to be open-minded and not stay in our [own] little world there is so much out there You begin to understand what other people go through. But you can only get there if you explore... You have to immerse yourself in the diversity around you.

13 The exploration process represented by these quotations is expected to lead to the secure sense of one s ethnicity that is termed ethnic identity achievement. The following quotes provide examples of this. I used to want to be White and I wanted to be real light. I used to think that being light was prettier, but now I think there are pretty dark-skinned girls and pretty light-skinned girls Now I m happy being Black (Phinney, 1989). I am extremely proud of my culture because it is very rich in history and tradition. I visit museums that related to my culture and attend Spanish speaking plays. I am proud to be Mexican. I want people to see me as the Mexican that I am. (Phinney, 2004). I ve gotten a lot better as I ve gotten older at not always wondering how people are perceiving me (Alipuria, 2002). When I was younger I felt I didn t belong anywhere. But now I ve just come to the conclusion that that s just the way I am, and my home is inside myself. (Alipuria, 2002). Conclusions Ethnic identity formation is a complex, dynamic process involving both exploration and commitment. Ethnic identity exploration and commitment are both strongly influenced by contexts. Contexts change with migration and also vary with age, as one moves from home, to school, college, and work settings. With increased exploration, commitments become more secure, complex, and nuanced. Qualitative methods are valuable for examining these processes.

14 References Alipuria, L. (2002). Ethnic, racial, and cultural identity/self: An integrated theory of identity/self in relation to large scale social cleavages. (Doctoral dissertataion, Claremont Graduate University, 2002). UMI Microform Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest. Ashmore, R., Deaux, K., & McLaughlin-Volpe, T. (2004). An organizing framework for collective identity: Articulation and significance of multidimensionality. Psychological Bulletin, 130, Berzonsky, M. (2003). Identity style and well-being: Does commitment matter? Identity: An International Journal, 3, Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (1999). Social identity: Context, commitment, and content. Oxford: Blackwell. Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (2002). Self and social identity. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, Erikson, E. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton. Ethier, K., & Deaux, K. (1994). Negotiating social identity when contexts change: Maintaining and responding to threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, Ferdman, B., & Cortes, A. (1992). Culture and identity among Hispanic managers in an Anglo business. In S. Knouse & P. Rosenfield & A. Culbertson (Eds.), Hispanics in the workplace (pp ). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Marcia, J., Waterman, A., Matteson, D., Archer, S., & Orlofsky, J. (1993). Ego identity: A handbook of psychosocial research. New York: Springer-Verlag. Navarette, J., R. (1993). A darker shade of crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano. New York: Bantam.

15 Phinney, J. (1989). Stages of ethnic identity development in minority group adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 9, Phinney, J. (1992). The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure: A new scale for use with diverse groups. Journal of Adolescent Research, 7, Phinney, J. (2004). Ethnic, racial, and cultural identity in college students at a predominantly minority institution (Unpublished paper, California State University, Los Angeles). Phinney, J., Cantu, C., & Kurtz, D. (1997). Ethnic and American identity as predictors of selfesteem among African American, Latino, and White adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 26, Phinney, J., & Devich-Navarro, M. (1997). Variations in bicultural identification among African American and Mexican American adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 7, Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. (2001). Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Roberts, R., Phinney, J., Masse, L., Chen, Y., Roberts, C., & Romero, A. (1999). The structure of ethnic identity in young adolescents from diverse ethnocultural groups. Journal of Early Adolescence, 19, Rumbaut, R., & Portes, A. (2001). Ethnicities: Children of immigrants in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In S. Worchel & W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 7-24). Chicago: Nelson- Hall.

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