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Home    >    Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity
Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity
Elizabeth Pathy Salett and Diane R. Koslow, Editors
ISBN: 978-0-87101-460-3. 2015. Item #4603. 224 pages
Book Type:

In the past 30 years, the United States has undergone an unprecedented and accelerated growth in the diversity of its population. These changes affect all elements of our society, underscoring the need for an informed and knowledgeable public that can understand, respect, and communicate with people of diverse backgrounds. Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity discusses the relationship between race, ethnicity, sense of self and the development of individual and group identity. It further explores the question of who we are and who we are becoming from the perspective of our multicultural, multilingual, and globally interconnected world. This book offers readers the opportunity to examine the importance of ecological and environmental factors in defining how we experience our lives and the world around us.


The authors introduce and review numerous frameworks and models for understanding racial and ethnic identity development. Each chapter reviews the social, economic, and political processes related to building and preserving racial and ethnic identities and perceptions of self. Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity is a great resource for all social workers.


Editors Salett and Koslow have assembled an interdisciplinary group of scholars to explore cutting-edge issues in the study of self and identity within the multilayered contexts of race, ethnicity, and oppression. A concise and highly readable volume, topics addressed include racial and ethnic identity, privileged identity or the study of "critical whiteness," biracial and multiracial identity, native and indigenous perspectives on reclaiming identity, and the evolving nature of what it means to be American in the 21st century. The book balances well coverage of these critical topics across age groups, and it integrates the most up-to-date research and theoretical developments available. As a group, the authors emphasize that identity is not static, but socially constructed; and the issues explored are critical in our increasingly multicultural, multilingual, globally interconnected world. The lead chapter of this text pays homage to Erik Erikson's vision in locating identity development within a social-cultural-historical context. This volume carries and extends that tradition through an innovative assessment of identity development going forward.


Joseph G. Ponterotto, PhD


Professor, Counseling Psychology


Fordham University, New York City

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Elsie Achugbue

Chapter 1: Identity, Self, and Individualism in a Multicultural Perspective
Alan Roland

Chapter 2: African American Identity and Its Social Context
Lee Jenkins

Chapter 3: Children of Undocumented Immigrants: Imperiled Developmental Trajectories
Luis H Zayas and Mollie Bradlee

Chapter 4: Racial and Ethnic Identities of Asian Americans: Understanding Unique and Common Experiences
Greg M Kim-Ju and Phillip D Akutsu

Chapter 5: Indigenous Peoples and Identity in the 21st Century: Remembering, Reclaiming, and Regenerating
Sandy Grande, Timothy San Pedro, and Sweeney Windchief

Chapter 6: White Racial Identity Development: Looking Back and Considering What Is Ahead
Lisa B Spanierman

Chapter 7: Growing Up Multiracial in the United States
Robin Lin Miller and NiCole T Buchanan

Chapter 8: What It Means to Be American
Jennie Park-Taylor, Joshua Henderson, and Michael Stoyer

About the Editors

About the Contributors

Index
The authors take as their premise a shared belief that in the context of a pluralistic society, the values, mores, and status of the group or groups with which we each identify have a profound effect on how we view ourselves and on how we view and interact with others. The book provides an opportunity to delve into the historical contexts and processes that have shaped each of us while navigating the sea of change that will define our future. It urges us to seek the common humanity in those very different from ourselves.

Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity is a multicultural conversation intended for all those who wish to explore the impact of race, ethnicity, and sense of self on the development of individual and group identity in the increasingly diverse society of the United States in the 21st century. This volume expands on an earlier version, published by the National MultiCultural Institute, titled Race, Ethnicity, and Self: Identity in Multicultural Perspective, which was first published in 1994, with a second edition in 2003.

In any book about multiculturalism, there could be dozens of chapters representing different identity groups and many more perspectives addressing any one group. We have chosen to focus here on issues related to race and ethnicity. Multiculturalism is also a broader concept that includes differences such as gender, age, religion, class, sexual orientation, and variations in abilities. It includes different perspectives, worldviews, values, belief systems, and social and economic conditions, often intersecting between and across these differences.

Rapidly changing demographics and transformational social change continue to reshape the racial and ethnic composition of the United States. In some ways, these changes have challenged traditional definitions of race and ethnicity, expanding them to include our ever increasing diversity. In other ways, they have tested the boundaries of our understanding of identity itself.

There is, of course, great diversity within each racial or ethnic group even within the context of the United States; and as the meaning of family and community evolve and expand to reflect the depth and complexity of our interconnectedness, in our homes, in our neighborhoods and cities, and around the world, so too will our definition of ourselves. While acknowledging the multiplicity of this diversity, these chapters underscore the belief that certain experiences or cultural traits are shared by members of particular identity groups and play a role in identity development.

The key terms in this book - race, ethnicity, and identity - are defined differently by different authors. Because these definitions are still evolving and reflect ongoing changes in our society, each chapter establishes its own vocabulary, as well as its own perspective. We believe that the differences presented here will contribute to, rather than detract from, the conversation.

Historically, race has been defined as a biological classification of human features and characteristics. In the context of the United States, race has also been recognized as a social construct, a concept of complex and inconstant meaning, influenced by social conflict and political struggle. Race is often also used to differentiate among human beings in social structure and cultural representation and can lead to distortions in self-image and perception of and by others.

Ethnicity generally describes a group’s sense of possessing a shared identity informed by a common language, culture, or religion. Racial and ethnic identities often overlap. One person may be Caucasian by race and Anglo-Saxon or Jewish by ethnic group; another may be Latino by ethnic and linguistic group but of African, Caucasian, or Native American racial heritage. As with race, our ethnicity plays a major role in how we are viewed by others, in who we believe we are, and in who we may or may not want to be.

Identity development is a process through which we create a sense of self influenced by history, community, family, and personal characteristics. In the context of the United States, autonomy is one way identity is expressed. In many cultures around the world, however, less emphasis is placed on individual autonomy, and the development process engenders the creation of a "familial" self that reflects an interdependency among family or cultural group members. Whether individual or familial, our perceptions of ourselves are undoubtedly influenced by our interactions with and relationships to one another.

As in many other parts of the world, the United States is undergoing substantial transformation. Increasing immigration, population growth among racial and ethnic minority groups, intermarriage and intermingling across cultures, and technological advances that bring us closer together despite distance and difference all serve to advance the reality of an increasingly multicultural society. These trends continue to challenge and to inevitably shift what have been the dominant social norms and structures, with the creation of new and different ways to understand ourselves and one another. Recognizing our unique identities and the ways in which the world around us forms and shapes these identities remains a fundamental step toward knowing and respecting one another.

Elizabeth Pathy Salett

Diane R Koslow
Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity offers the reader a multicultural and pluralistic perspective on factors that influence our individual and collective identities and perceptions of self and the important role these factors play in defining how we experience our lives and the world around us. The authors introduce and review numerous frameworks and models for understanding racial and ethnic identity development and articulate the unique experiences, past and present, of various racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Each chapter reviews the historical background - the social, economic, and political processes - that has shaped the experience of building and preserving racial and ethnic identities and perceptions of self in U.S. society and identifies the important socioeconomic trajectories that have affected interpersonal and group relations over time. In doing so, the authors, importantly, highlight the very real practical and policy implications that these changes and trends have for our future.

The path to becoming an increasingly multicultural and international society, however, often presents very real challenges to understanding racial and ethnic identity. Every once in a while, a significant or major historical event, such as the 2008 election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president, spurs a national dialogue in the United States that urges us to examine whether we have become "postracial" and more inclusive and respectful of difference. In recent years, political figures, media pundits, and everyday citizens have pondered this question, and this discourse seems to offer both hope and concern. On the one hand, in the face of collective triumph or shared tragedy, it can seem that we - a nation of many divides - have overcome our most significant barriers to nestle in a place of unity. On the other hand, that the everyday reality for so many Americans, of all different backgrounds, may involve daily indignities or injustices, seemingly based on their race or ethnicity, negates such optimism.

The election of Barack Obama sent ripples of hope throughout the United States and the international community and seeded the notion that the country had transformed itself into a postracial utopia. Meanwhile, race itself, and racism, permeated political and social arenas nationwide as the American public grappled with the question of why and how much the president’s, or anyone’s, racial and ethnic identity really mattered. This also led to pertinent discussions on the meaning and significance of race and ethnicity in 21st-century U.S. society. Though unified in our thirst for change, America was divided, not necessarily along racial lines but by where we stood on the position of the importance of race and ethnicity as a concept. Some saw racial and ethnic group divides as an important historic institution that formed the basis of a real social hierarchy; others saw these divides as a false notion and a shameful stain on the otherwise polished face of a great nation.

Both the embracing and the backlash surrounding Barack Obama made evident what were still very salient categories in our daily national discourse and experience: color, race, ethnicity, and nationality. Obama’s political opponents weren’t the only ones who called into question the president’s identity; suspicion was evident on both sides of party lines as political figures and the public evaluated their new leader. Could the new president be trusted to represent mainstream America, or would he underhandedly advance black interests? Did he embody real "American" values despite being raised in a nontraditional family by a single mother? What did it mean that the president was also viewed as part of an educated black elite: Was the president black enough? What did it mean that he was rumored to worship amid an Afrocentric congregation: Was he, perhaps, too black? As a child of an interracial marriage, should he be considered black at all? And with ties to relatives in Africa, was he really even an American?

The very public examination of the president’s identity, the dissection of his identity into distinct facets of his life experience, illustrates a critical connection between our individual and collective identities and the broader narrative on what it means to be a part of this nation, to be an American. It also made clear that while the shape and form of racial and ethnic identity today is ever changing, it plays as important and central a role in our lives today as it has in the past. It is not only the way many people in the United States define themselves, it is still very much the way in which we define one another.

As we become more aware of our rapidly diversifying society; as so many of our cities are poised on the brink of becoming "majority minority"; as "bi-," "multi-," and "trans-" increasingly preclude our self-identities; and as a growing number of nontraditional families progressively define a "new normal," we, as a nation, embark on an ever more complex examination of the meaning of race and ethnicity today. There is a strong assertion made by social science researchers that our relationship with racism and discrimination is not disintegrating but is simply taking on a different face. Each year, new studies are released that chronicle series of social experiments designed to capture social attitudes in the United States. What we are learning is that where the old racism was overt and obvious, a new racism has taken root that is covert and subtle, yet nonetheless has very real implications for individual, family, and community outcomes. Research has shown that racial and ethnic discrimination and bias remain ever present in everyday interpersonal interactions, in the act of buying or renting a home, applying for a job or bank loan, or purchasing a car, and in our policies and institutions - for example, in education and criminal justice systems. Beyond interpersonal relations, structural racism and systemic bias continue to privilege some and disadvantage others, contributing to real disparities among racial and ethnic groups, in education, employment, health, and household wealth.

Nonetheless, we have developed an ill-fated national culture of deeming it mostly unsuitable, uncomfortable, and inappropriate to talk about race. Although this is often done in an effort to revive that age-old fantasy of a raceless, or postracial, color-blind melting pot, it is in shockingly persistent ignorance of our daily realities. As a result, we unveil race and ethnicity only in reactionary responses to political missteps, sensational media reports, and celebrity blunders or, worse, to police brutality, hate, violence, and, ultimately, tragedy. It is for this very reason that the discussion embarked upon in the following chapters is both critical and timely.

The authors included in this book write about very different populations and subgroups in the United States; however, there are some consistent themes and concepts that transcend cultural boundaries. Each chapter addresses race as a social construct - meaning that at the same time that they acknowledge the very real political, economic, and social significance of race in the United States, they demonstrate a shared understanding of race as a false classification and echo the findings of rigorous scientific research that purports that there is no real biological demarcation that sets one "racial" group apart from another. Perhaps more important than this perspective of race as a social construct is the common insistence that, for many, a deliberate awareness and acceptance of racism and oppression as a reality for some groups - and, accordingly, of privilege and power as a reality for others - is a critical component of healthy identity development. Additionally, the authors place mutual emphasis on establishing and maintaining a sense of belonging as inherent to the psychosocial development process. At the core of the frameworks and models discussed is the need among all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity, to feel that they are part of a greater community, to connect with others in, and recognize a reflection of themselves within, that community. In this way, despite the persistent notion of identity development as a personal or individual process, it is also almost impossible to separate the individual "self " from family, community, or even the nation as a whole, because each of these environs influences our psychosocial development and perception of our selves. Finally, the authors collectively purport an understanding of identity as transformational, not static throughout one’s life, but rather as something that is constantly changing, evolving, redefining, and reshaping itself.

We begin, in chapter 1, with "Identity, Self, and Individualism in a Multicultural Perspective," in which Alan Roland examines the origins of individualism and chronicles the range of pioneering scholarship on identity development. He goes on to differentiate between the individualized and familial conceptions of self that separate the United States, in its Westernized cultural framework rooted in individualism, from many cultures around the world, which instead embrace interdependency and reciprocity. In doing so, Roland draws from his experience working with East and South Asian clients, from Japan and India, respectively, to illustrate Asian societies’ emphasis on family, rather than the individual, as the core concept of identity. As an appropriate opener to the subsequent chapters, Roland also stresses the importance of recognizing the role of racism and colonialism in creating identity conflicts and reminds us that new identities are continuously emerging and evolving.

In chapter 2, "African American Identity and Its Social Context," Lee Jenkins builds on Roland’s emphasis by defining the various manifestations of racism in U.S. society. Jenkins relates this to recognizing and understanding anger and rage as valid and appropriate responses to the unique position held by African Americans in the United States. He describes this position by borrowing from DuBois’s articulation of "twoness," the dual endeavor of affirming a self-identity and maintaining self-respect in the face of a society whose continued exclusion prohibits the same. Jenkins appropriately closely links the African American experience to changes in social trends and economic development policies in the United States that adversely affected social cohesion within African American communities and fortified barriers to integration with the larger society. Jenkins offers a complex view of African American identity in differentiating among the social classes and gender and pays particular attention to the experience of poor urban African American youths.

In chapter 3, "Children of Undocumented Immigrants: Imperiled Developmental Trajectories," Luis H. Zayas and Mollie Bradlee introduce us to the harrowing experience of citizen children living with undocumented parents and siblings in the United States. The chapter focuses on children of mixed-status families of Latin American origin - appropriately so, given that U.S.-born children whose parents were unauthorized immigrants represent an estimated 4.5 million of 9 million people living in mixed-status families in the United States; and that unauthorized immigrants, 58 percent of whom are from Mexico, are primarily of Latin American origin.[1] The authors guide us through the various legal, social-structural, and developmental conditions that contribute to these children’s identity development, too often characterized by fear and uncertainty, guilt and shame, detailing the ways in which living in a constant state of "hypervigilance" contributes to emotional insecurity, anger, and depression. At the close of chapter 3, the authors invite us to consider the ways in which immigration policy in the United States "devalues children," especially citizen children, and how this experience will affect not only their psychological well-being, but also their sense of belonging, level of civic duty and engagement, and perspective on their obligation as workers and citizens.

Perceptions of Asian Americans as a social group have undergone substantial transformations over time. In chapter 4, "Racial and Ethnic Identities of Asian Americans: Understanding Unique and Common Experiences," Greg M. Kim-Ju and Phillip D. Akutsu trace the history of Asian Americans, a diverse group composed of over 25 distinct ethnic groups from East and Southeast Asia, in the United States and recount the Asian American experience, from exclusion and marginalization in the 1800s to the stereotypical role of the "model minority" in contemporary times. The authors situate the process of Asian American identity development within the cultural constraints of ethnic traditions, practice, and language and, in reviewing different models of identity development, call out the distinction many Asian Americans make between ethnic and racial identity. The authors then address the various situational influences on ethnic identity, reinforcing our understanding of identity as a variable and continuing process informed by our unique life experiences.

In chapter 5, "Indigenous Identity in the 21st Century: Remembering, Reclaiming, and Regenerating," Sandy Grande, Timothy San Pedro, and Sweeney Windchief encourage practitioners and service providers to do the work of developing a "critical consciousness" in examining their own racial bias as a key component of learning to walk with and be "in a good way" with indigenous peoples. The chapter details the experience of "forced incorporation," endured by indigenous peoples, as unique from other racial and ethnic minority groups. The authors recognize the construction and reconstruction of race in the course of our actions rather than as something we are or possess. Accordingly, they identify the acts of remembering, regenerating, and reclaiming, particularly through the medium of storytelling, as something that indigenous peoples do, not only as a critical component of the process of healing wounds of history, but also in continuing to assert their sovereignty and self-determination, engendering a mode of survival.

Through a historic review of whiteness, Lisa B. Spanierman, in chapter 6, "White Racial Identity Development: Looking Back and Considering What Is Ahead," engages us in an examination of the intricate relationship between race, labor, and economy in the United States. Whereas for many, racial and ethnic identity is defined by an experience of exclusion, contrarily, whiteness in the United States is a story of inclusion, an evolving and expanding definition that transformed over time as was needed to maintain social control by the empowered elite. In this chapter, we learn that whiteness is not removed from the experience of race but is rather inherently defined by it. Spanierman discusses several models of White identity development, each articulating an interdependent relationship between stages of identity development and racist or nonracist attitudes. She chronicles a process in which individuals move first from ignorance to awareness and then to acceptance of racist structures in U.S. society - inevitably paired with White power and privilege - and ultimately culminate in a desired healthy White identity that embodies both a comfortable understanding of and commitment to racial justice. The author importantly reminds us that, as with any other group, whiteness is not a monolithic experience but differs across gender, sexual orientation, and social class divides.

The rapidly rising number of individuals who self-identify as multiracial is pointed to by many as evidence of improved tolerance for mixing among groups. In chapter 7, "Growing up Multiracial in the United States," Robin Lin Miller and NiCole T. Buchanan illustrate how multiracial individuals themselves have often occupied a symbolic position in U.S. society, first as a new and "exotic" category of minority and now emblematic of the realities of an increasingly multicultural society. Nonetheless, these individuals must still navigate the complex hierarchy of social and economic status afforded to different racial groups. Miller and Buchanan depict a compounding process of racial identity development: Akin to the American public’s examination of President Obama’s identity, they address the question of which label - a self-label, the family’s label, or society’s label - determines a multiracial child’s identity and acknowledge that these labels may, at times, be at odds. The authors stress the importance of ecological and environmental factors in multicultural identity development, offering a critical lesson on the importance of external validation to our internal processes and on how our neighborhoods and communities affect our perceptions of self.

The book aptly ends, in chapter 8, on the question of "What It Means to Be American," through which Jennie Park-Taylor, Joshua Henderson, and Michael Stoyer engage us in an examination of the numerous micro- and macrosystems that influence our understanding of ourselves in relation to our nation. The authors articulate that what it means to be American has changed and continues to change over time, is deeply rooted in our history, and varies depending on the age and generation of the individual. They depict an America in which the experience of being American is not shared, is not uniform, but instead is uniquely crafted on the basis of an individual’s position within a fixed social hierarchy that clearly demarcates preferences and privileges based on race, gender, and class. They point out the inconsistencies of an American ideology that values civic participation and freedom but is built on biased and exclusionary rules for belonging and ask us to consider what change is needed to truly become a pluralistic society.

The world of multiculturalism is vast and the diversity of experience seemingly infinite. As such, it is important to acknowledge some of the important areas where additional research and a more in-depth discussion could contribute to and complement this work.

The authors consider the experience of identity development within the context of the United States. Although some of the chapters, particularly regarding Asian American identity and that of citizen children of undocumented parents, incorporate a lens that considers identity development as influenced by foreign policy, immigration law, and individual and familial experiences that transcend borders, the book overall does not deliberately acknowledge the role of internationalism. For example, many immigrants in the United States and their children maintain strong ties with their families and communities in their country of origin. These relationships are evident in both the social-cultural practices of these groups as well as their financial habits, for example, the billions of dollars U.S. immigrants send to their home countries each year. In addition, as discussed by Miller and Buchanan in chapter 7, a growing number of individuals develop blended identities that represent bicultural, multicultural, and international family arrangements. Furthermore, the relative ease and affordability of international travel, compared with what it was just a generation ago, and increased frequency and quality of interaction afforded by technological advancements and social media have served to further strengthen global ties and individuals’ connectedness to people and places around the world. Undoubtedly, these factors introduce an additional layer to our understanding of identity that transcends borders and traditional boundaries.

Additionally, although some authors address the differences in experience among men and women, this book does not deeply investigate the complexities of racial and ethnic identity development in the context of gender. Furthermore, for many racial and ethnic groups, the experience of being in that group varies not only between men and women but also among individuals who transcend traditional gender roles: The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) experience is another area worthy of further research. The present-day reality for LGBTQ individuals and families is not unlike that of other minority groups in the United States in that they, too, encounter social exclusion and live within the confines of legislative constraints that, at various points in history and up to today, infringe on civil liberties and rights enjoyed by mainstream society. Recognizing this allows us to at least acknowledge the many ways in which the LGBTQ experience warrants the same level of investigation and understanding.

Furthermore, Arab Americans and Muslims in the United States, as increasingly visible minorities in this country, constitute other groups whose voice would benefit from further attention. Although the majority of Arab Americans are Christian, the fastest growing segment of the Arab American population is Muslim. Like other racial and ethnic groups, Arab Americans and Muslims represent great diasporas that span many countries of origin and distinct waves of immigration to the United States. With the United States’ continued engagement in the Middle East as well as future involvement in the political and economic arenas of Arab countries - and rising immigration from these countries as a result of this engagement - the experiences of Arab Americans and Muslims will become an increasingly important component of our national narrative and an essential perspective on ethnic and religious diversity in the United States.

Multicultural Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Identity illustrates the multiple ways that racial, ethnic, individual, and group identity and sense of belonging are etched in our collective history, deeply ingrained in the process of our birth and growth as a nation. This has occurred on an internal and individual level, in our understanding of ourselves and one another, as well as an external level, in shaping our national psyche and dominant cultural norms. In doing so, the authors have also chronicled our legislative past, identifying how race and ethnicity have been, and continue to be, so deeply intertwined with the law, governing everything from our interpersonal relationships and neighborhood interactions to our settlement patterns, development, and expansion. The authors present an invaluable examination of how understanding and accepting this history, given its inherent influence in our personal lives, families, and communities, can contribute to much-needed change that will ensure we remain on the path toward becoming a truly multicultural society in which each one of us can participate and thrive. They rightly ask the question of what this means not just for individuals, or various racial and ethnic communities, but for all of us.

Footnotes
[1]Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, "A Nation of Immigrants: A Portrait of the 40 Million, Including 11 Million Unauthorized." Washington, DC: Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, January 2013.
Elizabeth Pathy Salett, MSW, was the founder and former president of the National MultiCultural Institute, whose mission was to create a society that is strengthened and empowered by its diversity. In 2013, she was named a pioneer by NASW. She is president of the OLP Foundation that focuses on diversity, education, human trafficking and modern-day slavery (http://www.humantraffickingsearch.net). She is a graduate of Wellesley College; she earned an MA from Columbia University, Teachers College, and an MSW from the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

Diane R. Koslow, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. She was director of training for the National MultiCultural Institute, where she contributed to publications, presentations, marketing, and proposal development. Dr. Koslow is listed in Who’s Who Among Human Service Professionals, and Who’s Who in the East.
Salett and Koslow and the contributors of this volume have woven together a rich tapestry of the intersections of race, ethnicity and identity. The coverage is scholarly, yet practical. The authors tackle the complexities of racial and ethnic identity of African Americans, Asian Americans, undocumented immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and multiracial individuals. Identity is seldom discussed in everyday conversations, yet it colors how we see the world and interact with it. This is a welcomed volume that is both engaging and informative and will surely enlighten our discussions of the topic. Overall, it is recommended for all who are interested in multiculturalism in the United States.

Frederick T.L. Leong, PhD

Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry

Director of the Consortium for Multicultural Research

Michigan State University