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Reimagining Race in Education: A New Paradigm from Psychology

by Robert T. Carter - 2000

This article calls attention to the paradigms underlying current approaches to multicultural education and expands upon them with contributions from the field of psychology. The first section introduces a typology of philosophical assumptions that has been used to classify approaches to multiculturalism in the field of psychology. The typology classifies assumptions as universal, ubiquitous, traditional, race-based, or pan-national. The second section discusses racial identity theory as an important psychological component of a race-based perspective for understanding race and culture in education. The third section describes how racial identity affects educational thought and practice.

Our paradigms are the nets with which we capture reality. I am a counseling psychologist and the paradigms with which I capture reality necessarily reflect my training in psychology—particularly my training in multicultural counseling. It is my contention that our paradigms matter, both as educators and psychologists, because they form the basis from which we attempt to influence and intervene in the lives of others. The purpose of this paper is to make visible the paradigms underlying current approaches to multi-cultural education and to expand on these approaches with contributions from the field of psychology. In so doing, I ask you to join me in reimagining race in education, particularly as I offer a new racial paradigm from which to approach the current racial–cultural realities facing our nation and our schools.

This paper consists of three distinct sections. The first section introduces a typology of philosophical assumptions that has been used to classify approaches to multiculturalism in the field of psychology. Subsequently, I apply this typology to the field of education, and I explicitly advocate approaching understanding race and culture in education from a race-based perspective. The second section outlines racial identity theory, an important psychological component of the race-based perspective. The third section describes how racial identity impacts educational thought and practice.

It is an often-cited fact that the

United States ’ population is becoming increasingly multiracial with each succeeding generation. The corollary to this fact is less readily acknowledged: as the racial–ethnic composition of the nation shifts, so too does the racial–ethnic composition of the nation’s elementary, middle, and secondary schools. Numerous public schools already report that their student populations represent an array of colors, languages, and cultures. Currently, 36% of school children are members of nondominant racial/ethnic groups. More importantly, children from non-dominant racial/ethnic groups constitute 70% of total school enrollment in the country’s largest school districts (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1995, 1997). In contrast, 86% of new teachers are White and fewer than 3% of new teachers speak a second language (Darling-Hammond & Sclan, 1996).

In response to these shifting racial–cultural realities, educators, social scientists, parents, and community representatives have called for changes in school policy and practice. They have challenged the adequacy of cur-rent curricula and teacher training and questioned the racial–cultural com-position of teachers and school administrators (Darling-Hammond, 2000). Moreover, lawsuits have arisen regarding how schools are financed (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Kozol, 1991). In light of these changes, debate over the definition and operationalization of multicultural education has intensified over the past two decades (Wills, 1996). In a major review of multicultural education research and practice, Sleeter and Grant (1987) outlined numerous definitions of multicultural in the education literature. Similarly, Banks (1997) identified a lack of clarity surrounding the terms related to multi-cultural education (e.g., ethnocentric, Afrocentric, diversity, and global education).

The persistence of confusion regarding how to define multiculturalism and the terms related to multicultural education hinders the reform of education in

North America (Carter & Goodwin, 1994; Darling-Hammond, 2000). One core issue with definitions of multicultural concepts is that few are clear about the meaning of culture. The term “culture” refers to learned patterns of thought and behavior that are passed from one generation to another and are experienced as distinct to a particular group. Ethnicity, on the other hand, refers to one’s country of origin and the traditions that come from that country (when such traditions are retained) (Helms & Cook, 1999). Race is used to mean the sociopolitical designation that is assigned on the basis of perceived skin color, physical features, and in some cases, language (e.g., Hispanic). Racial group designation has associated with it presumptions about cultural characteristics as well (see Carter, 1995, for a more detailed discussion).

In order to facilitate the reform of education given recent demographic trends, I contend it is important to explore the theoretical paradigms, or philosophical assumptions, from which the concept of “multicultural” in education may be derived and used. Furthermore, I believe that defining culture in the context of philosophical assumptions allows for a deeper investigation of the ideological differences that are often masked by use of the terms “diversity” or “multicultural.”


It is my contention that one’s definition of multicultural is driven by a number of unstated philosophical assumptions about the nature of cultural difference. Specifically, these philosophical assumptions may be grouped into five types: (1) Universal, (2) Ubiquitous, (3) Traditional, (4) Race-Based, and (5) Pan-National (see Table 1). These types have been used to understand training approaches in counseling and mental health (Carter, 1995; Carter & Qureshi, 1995) and to address cultural issues in organizations (Carter, 2000). Taken together, they function as a conceptual scheme, or paradigm, for organizing ideas and beliefs about “cultural” difference. The following paragraphs provide an overview of the five types of philosophical assumptions used to classify approaches to multicultural education with emphasis on teaching and training.


The basic tenet of the Universal approach to culture is that people are essentially the same irrespective of culture. This idea is the foundation of most current theories of personality, human development, and teaching and learning; the difference between people that matters most is individual difference. We are first and foremost human beings, and only secondarily does our identity derive from group memberships or reference groups (e.g., ethnicity, race, gender, etc.). Ultimately, intrapersonal (within-person) differences are greater than intergroup (between-group) differences. The Universal approach does not deny the existence of culture per se; rather, it emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual person. According to this assumption, it is necessary to transcend race, ethnicity, and gender because focusing on domains of difference (i.e., differences within a superordinate cultural framework like age, gender, social class, etc.) is undesirable, and it is assumed that such a focus would detract from the educational process. Implicit in this perspective is the idea that domains of difference, or reference groups, are unimportant aspects of development, teaching, and learning.

To illustrate historically, the

U.S. educational system has served as a means to assimilate People of Color into the dominant culture (Helms & Cook, 1999; Marger, 1999). Malloy and Malloy (1998) have argued that the processes of assimilation and acculturation within the educational system entail the learning of a Western-European-oriented code of conduct and

Table 1. Typology of philosophical assumptions associated with multicultural




Teaching and Training Approach.


Culture equals individual differences—we are all human

Teaches about specific populations or cultures and emphasize human similarities and individual differences. Promotes learning about common principles of human experience and development

without regard to cultural worldviews or their influence.


Culture equals shared group circumstances. People belong to multiple groups.

Teaches about the need to celebrate and accept a range of group differences. Similar to many multicultural curriculum approaches. Promotes learning about the experience of the cultural “other,” usually without regard to history or power relationships.


Culture equals country, which is determined by birth and environment.

Teaches about exotic or global cultures and their different ways of living. Promotes cultural immersion experiences as preferred method for cultural learning.


Culture equals racial group. Within-group psychological identification with racial group—racial identity—important element of race as culture.

Teaches about history of racism and sociopolitical use of race, culture, and racial-identity development. Promotes self-exploration and introspection for cultural learning.


Culture equals oppression or oppressor experience. One’s role (dominant or nondominant) determines the power relationships; culture is viewed globally.

Teaches about the cultural experience of groups who have been oppressed—and those who oppress. Promotes learning about group-based experiences from past to present.

pattern of thinking. Traditionally, students who experience difficulty with the assimilation process have been viewed as intellectually inferior, often being labeled as deficient and placed in lower level academic classes (Darling-Hammond, 2000). This approach is mostly restricted to the Universal assumption, with its particular implication that educational processes should transcend the constructs of culture, race, and ethnicity.

A common notion among educators centers around the belief that it is not practical or possible to teach students about differences since many differences exist, such as language, social class, region, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc. These educators (e.g., Baker, 1978; Dunn & Griggs, 1990; McLean, 1990; Ramirez, 1989) would rather focus on individual differences. Baker (1978) observes that schools, while being asked to be more responsive to the multiracial mix of their students, also tend not to vary from a White European-American worldview.

Multicultural training based on the Universal approach would teach trainees about “special populations,” and then argue that the population is less important than the individual. The Universal approach would, perhaps ultimately, seek to do away with salient domains of difference or cultural difference (i.e., differences that emerge from and through being socialized within the framework of a particular racial–ethnic group).

The advantage of this assumptive approach is that it reminds us that humans have many characteristics in common and that all people are unique as individuals. The disadvantage is its lack of emphasis on sociopolitical history and intergroup relations; it assumes one group membership has no more meaning than any other.


The main assumption underlying the Ubiquitous approach is that any group difference (e.g., ethnic, geographic, gender, etc.) is considered a cultural difference. According to this approach, every group membership represents a distinct collective identity, based on the common experience of the members within a given group. Moreover, it assumes that one’s commonality with others cuts across superordinate cultural worldviews and socialization. Sleeter (1999) and many other educators and psychologists define multicultural education through a Ubiquitous lens. Their assumption is that multicultural education is an umbrella concept that deals with all differences. Issues of race, culture, language, social class, gender, and disability are given equal importance (Banks, 1997, 1999). The Ubiquitous approach would hold, for example, that there is a fundamental cultural difference between a gay White man and a straight White man based on affectational orientation. Implicit in this example is the assumption that all gay or straight people share a culture that results from their reference group affiliation irrespective of their dominant culture. Some would also contend that it matters culturally whether you are White and male.

The work of Boute and DeFlorimonte (1998) typifies the Ubiquitous approach. Boute and DeFlorimonte call for educators to be mindful of the multiple cultures to which students belong and to assess which of students’ cultural influences may be more salient at any given point in time.

Training based on the Ubiquitous approach insists that differences be acknowledged and celebrated; it demands that everyone’s social or group identity be accepted. Sleeter (1999) argues, however, that while curricular materials are becoming more diverse, the actual content educators offer does not. This perspective has an advantage in that group differences of any sort are seen neither as pathological nor marginal. However, a disadvantage of this approach is that it promotes an ahistoricial understanding of cultural difference in the

United States . It ignores the influence of the sociopolitical context of the dominant cultural worldview in one’s socialization or social integration.


The Traditional approach defines culture as country of domicile, which includes common language, history, beliefs, rituals, symbols, cultural artifacts, and so forth (Hoffman, 1996; Pedersen, Lonner, Draguns, & Trimble, 1996; Weist, 1998). According to the Traditional approach, one is a member of a particular cultural group by virtue of birth, upbringing, and geo-graphic location: cultural difference is a function of one’s worldview and one’s worldview is determined by one’s country of origin. The Traditional approach recognizes that other domains of difference, such as social class or gender, may exist within a given cultural group, yet these domains of difference are recognized as but one part of an individual’s larger cultural experience. As a result, they do not solely constitute a cultural experience per se, as is the case in the Ubiquitous definition of culture.

According to the Traditional approach, cultural norms, values, perceptual sets, and so forth develop in response to environmental contingencies. Hoffman (1996) believes that multicultural discourse has been disguised thus far by dominant core American cultural frames of reference. Regarding training, it is suggested that some “experience” of another culture is essential, the purpose of which being to give the trainee exposure to the new culture. The Traditional approach stresses cultural knowledge through immersion or exposure; it is an approach that has become increasingly popular in the area of diversity training.

The example provided by Weist (1998) is typical of this approach. Stu-dent outcome of which is to enhance teachers’ cultural knowledge and thereby increase their cultural sensitivity.

An advantage of the Traditional approach is its recognition of the ways in which societal institutions reinforce the meanings of behavior, thoughts, and feelings. A disadvantage of this approach is the extent to which it overlooks within-group variability in socialization processes that result due to racism, ethnocentrism, social class, or religious differences.


According to the Race-Based approach, our society has maintained a system of subordination, inclusion, and exclusion based on skin color. Thus people are categorized as members of racial groups based on perceptions regarding skin color, as well as language and physical features. Given the visibility of race and the history of racial segregation and racism directed toward all non-White citizens and immigrants in the

United States , the Race-Based approach acknowledges that race operates as the primary and most fundamental locus of culture and difference. In other words, the experience of belonging to a racial group supersedes all other reference group experiences.

Scholars who advocate that we acknowledge race and its influence (Feagin & Vera, 1995; Fine, Powell, Weis, & Wong, 1997; Lawrence & Tatum, 1997; Obgu, 1990; Solomon, 2000) contend that culture is a function of both race and ethnic background (Carter, 1995, 2000). But cultural groups are in any case identified on the basis of racial categories whether or not we value or believe in race. For instance, the salience of other group member-ships such as gender, ethnicity, social class, or religion occurs within the context of one’s race. Race serves as the marker or criterion for assigning cultural traits and characteristics. Thus, given these circumstances, scholars who recognize the role and function of race make explicit how untenable is the possibility of becoming sensitive to another’s culture in our society, without first dealing with the overlay of race (Alderfer, 2000; Carter, 1995; Fine, 2000; Goodwin, 2000; Sheets & Hollins, 1999; Thompson & Carter, 1997).

Race-Based scholars also recognize that individuals within a particular racial group may vary with respect to their psychological identification with their race. Advocates of the Race-Based approach recognize that each member of a given racial group may not think, feel, or behave the same way toward his or her own racial group, other racial groups, or the dominant racial group. This variation in one’s psychological identification with race is known as racial identity. Some proponents of the Race-Based approach advocate the use of racial identity models for understanding the influence of race on the behavior of individuals (Helms & Cook, 1999), as well as on the behavior within and between racial groups, organizations, and institutions (Carter, 1995, 2000).

One advantage of the Race-Based approach is that it recognizes that psychological variability exists with regard to racial group membership. Further, it does not focus solely on victims of racism and discrimination, but considers all racial groups on equal terms. Another advantage of the approach is that it takes into account the influence of sociopolitical and historical events on racial and cultural group membership. Moreover, it requires understanding the power relationships associated with racial and cultural group membership, both past and present. However, a disadvantage of the Race-Based approach is the unfounded perception that the experiences of Black and White racial groups are emphasized at the expense of other racial groups. And another disadvantage pertaining to the strong and powerful denial about race and racism that exists in society is that understanding race at a social and organizational level requires that one undergo a personal and potentially painful journey of self-discovery and examination with little institutional and social support for such an undertaking.


The Pan-National approach views the experience of oppression, from the perspective of either the oppressor or the oppressed, as primary in the definition of culture (Bulhan, 1985; Comaz-Diaz, Lykes, & Alarcon, 1998; Freire, 1970; Phillips, 1990). According to the Pan-National approach, the experience of oppression has been borne mostly by non-Europeans and, with few exceptions, identifies European and American cultures as the oppressor cultures (Bulhan, 1985; Wallace 2000b). As a consequence of colonialism and slavery, oppressed non-European people have become alienated from themselves and their cultures and White Europeans have developed a culture based on violence (Azibo, 1989, 1991; Bulhan, 1985; Myers, Speight, Highlen, Cox, Reynolds, Adams, & Hanley, 1991; Phillips, 1990; Wallace, 2000b). An example of this process can be seen in the history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ boarding schools, where children were extracted from their first culture and dropped into an alien one (Helms & Cook, 1999; Sheets & Hollins, 1999; Seelye & Wasilewski, 1979). According to this approach, the experience of being either the oppressed or the oppressor serves as a bond for groups with similar experiences.

Proponents of the psychology of oppression/liberation (e.g., Bulhan, 1985) focus on the role played by the imposition of European social thought on all non-European peoples. The legacy of the oppression and violence rendered by colonialism and slavery is emphasized, as in the obliteration of the culture, language, and history of the oppressed (Bulhan, 1985, p. 189). According to the Pan-National approach, culture is understood inter-actively, whereby the cultures of the oppressor and the oppressed have developed in relationship to one another. Because of the lasting effects of the violence of colonialism and slavery, oppressed non-Europeans and people of color are alienated from themselves and their cultures.

A Pan-National training program would focus on anti-African, Asian, or Indian teaching or other power dynamics inherent in European world-views. As a requisite first step, it would attempt to enable trainees to under-stand and emancipate themselves from Eurocentric thought. Cultural accuracy would allow for a richness of cultural information, authentic dialogue and relationships, in-depth treatment of cultural issues, and the inclusion of People of Color (Yokota, 1993). Thus scholars who teach and train from the Pan-National perspective advocate the cultivation of knowledge regarding ancient history as well as shared racially and culturally based experiences. It is understood that the oppressor–oppressed relationship between White and non-White worldviews is inimical to psychological health for all those involved.

In describing a multicultural approach to the study of

United States history, Wills (1996) offers an approach that would be consistent with Pan-National typology. Wills’ multicultural emphasis calls for an appreciation of the social and political experiences of oppressed groups in the United States not only at distinct time intervals but also across the spectrum of time. For example, he views the continued emphasis on African American history in the narrow context of slavery as perpetuating a White stereotypical view of the contribution of African Americans to the historical picture offered in traditional curriculums.

The Pan-National approach has the advantage of offering a broad and global understanding of oppression throughout the world. In so doing, it demonstrates how groups are connected by common experiences. How-ever, this advantage may also be construed as a disadvantage: by emphasizing oppression as the primary construct for cultural difference, one may overlook significant cultural variations within the oppressed or oppressor groups, such as those pertaining to ethnicity and social class.


It is my contention that one’s definition of multiculturalism is driven by a number of unstated philosophical assumptions about the nature of cultural difference. My intention in presenting this conceptual system has been to make visible the paradigms underlying current approaches to multicultural education. As the preceding discussion reveals, scholars clearly are not in agreement about how to define culture or multicultural education. Indeed, much may be masked by the use of the terms “diversity” or “multicultural.” In this regard, I believe that defining culture in the context of a typology will allow for a deeper investigation of ideological differences. In order to facilitate the reform of education, it is important to explore the theoretical paradigms from which one derives the concepts of culture and multiculturalism in education. Perhaps more importantly, the paradigms one espouses matter because they form the basis from which one attempts to influence and intervene in the lives of others. For example, one’s paradigms may influence the sorts of skills and information multicultural educators pro-vide, as well as the types of experiences they create for students in their classrooms (Banks, 1997; Goodman, 2000; Hollins, 1999). As a consequence, multicultural education may look very different, in both content and emphasis, depending on one’s assumptions about the nature of cultural differences.

It is my hope that the typology of assumptions will serve multicultural education in the

United States by providing a way to explicitly examine and develop theory, training, and research. For example, studies may be designed to examine the effects and outcomes of teacher education programs that espouse a Ubiquitous or Race-Based perspective. Use of a typology will allow educational training programs to make their assumptions about cultural difference explicit by indicating whether they take a Universal, Traditional, Ubiquitous, Pan-Nationalist, or Race-Based approach to multicultural education. At the very least, the typology may be used to stimulate debate and research in multicultural education.


To demonstrate by example, this section of the paper will advocate the Race-Based approach and show its utility and application to education. Multicultural education needs to be driven by a racial–cultural perspective. I advocate this approach because I believe race has been and continues to be central to educational and psychological thought and practice. Moreover, I am concerned that much is lost when multicultural educators who operate from other approaches subsume race under the rubric of ethnicity, diversity, or culture. Adherence to other approaches to multicultural education may lead educators to focus on the victims of racism rather than recognize and include the perpetrators of racism. Currently, there are educators who explicitly recognize the role and significance of race and the history of racism in the

United States (e.g., Banks, 1997; Fine, 2000; Hollins, 1999; Ogbu, 1990; Sleeter, 1999). Nonetheless, there are many multicultural educators who either do not recognize, or choose to de-emphasize, the significance of race and racism in our nation’s schools (e.g., Davidman & Davidman, 1988; Milk, 1994).

This is disturbing, given that in some American cities the majority of teachers are White and children of color comprise a majority of the students. Cockrell, Placier, Cockrell, and Middleton (1999) looked at teacher preparation programs and the lack of understanding about teachers’ own beliefs regarding race, class, culture, and other human diversity and its impact when working with diverse populations. Indeed, as I look over the landscape of schools both public and private I see predominantly White educators and a growing number of children of color. According to O’Connor (1989), this may have important ramifications in our schools: members of racial/ethnic groups may have little opportunity to shape the “terms of classroom interaction” (p. 58) in schools that are dominated by teachers and school officials who are predominantly White.

Empirical studies have examined the impact of these changing racial demographics in

America ’s classrooms on diversity training for teachers (Grant & Seceda, 1990). Grant and Seceda offer empirical support for the notion that race is not integrated well in multicultural education research. Likewise, Fine (1991, 2000) observes that race is silenced in our nation’s schools: “Inside low-income public schools, there is a systematic commitment to not name those aspects of social life that activate social anxieties” (p. 33). In particular, Fine asserts there is social pressure to not name those aspects of education related to race and racism. Thus when Black, Latino, or Native American students raise issues about social inequities and practices associated with race and racism, teachers typically shift topics and effectively silence the discussion.

One possible explanation for why White educators may silence discourse about race is offered by Sleeter (1989), who notes that “it is difficult to engage Whites [about race] who make up the majority of teachers and educational officials [since they] do not see racial oppression.” However, a more basic explanation for why White educators may silence discourse about race is that Whites generally do not see themselves as members of a racial group. To the extent that their own racial group membership is de-emphasized, so too is their awareness regarding the impact of racism on their own psychological development. Consequently, they do not under-stand or appreciate the role and significance of race and racism in the lives of People of Color (Sleeter, 1989). In fact, Kailin (1999) and Solomon (2000) found that many liberal White teachers in her study blamed Black students for racism or that organizational leaders create structures that assume Black educators are deficient.

Given the contemporary salience of race in our society, it seems reason-able to conclude that it is very difficult to be socialized in this society without internalizing, consciously or unconsciously, negative beliefs about People of Color and positive beliefs about Whites. No person or professional group—including educators—is immune from the infectious influence of race and racism. Nonetheless, few educational programs equip their developing professionals with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that allow them to work the racial boundaries that exist in our society (Thompson & Carter, 1997).

It is time to equip educators, theorists, and researchers working in the field of multicultural education with new ways to address race and racism in

America ’s schools. To this end, I ask you to join me in reimagining race in education, and I propose a new Race-Based paradigm from which to approach the racially mixed population emerging in our nation and our schools.

A Race-Based approach to multicultural education would have far different, and far clearer, implications for education than many of the existing paradigms in multicultural education. Based on racial identity theory, a Race-Based approach to multicultural education begins with the premise that all Americans have a race and that having a race is not necessarily something to be avoided. As a result, the Race-Based approach does not take as its exclusive focus the experiences of People of Color. Rather, it provides an inclusive paradigm—one that incorporates all racial groups and values all racial–cultural perspectives. In so doing, it provides a way for all Americans, including White Americans, to participate in the dialogue about race and racism in education.

The implication for education is clear: every student, teacher, teacher educator, and administrator has a race. Racial identity theory suggests that not only do different races bring to the educational enterprise their racial group membership, but they also bring their unique racial identity resolution. In other words, simply that someone is Black, White, or Latino does not tell us about the nature of his or her psychological involvement in his or her cultural group. And indeed, what is more important for each person within the context of the school environment is his or her psychological orientation to his or her race; that is, that person’s own racial identity, as well as how that racial identity may interact with the racial identity of other educators and students. But before examining more fully the ways in which racial identity theory may be applied to education it is necessary to describe the theory itself more fully. The next section provides a brief overview of racial identity theory and the associated models of racial identity. For a discussion of the research that validates the models and descriptions of applications, see Carter (1995), Carter and Goodwin (1994), and Thompson and Carter (1997).


The term “racial identity” refers to one’s psychological response to one’s own race; it reflects the extent to which one identifies with a particular racial group and how that identification influences perceptions, emotions, and behaviors toward people from other groups (Carter, 1995; Helms, 1984).

In the psychological literature, there are three separate models of racial identity: White, Black and People of Color. Each model is comprised of several distinct racial identity statuses. The racial identity ego status is an aspect of personality that is expressed and integrated through one’s personality structure. It represents both an individual and group psychological resolution. Racial identity ego statuses, themselves, contain constellations of beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors centered on one’s member-ship in one’s racial group. The statuses operate as emotional/cognitive schemas that process and interpret information and experiences and guide thought and behavior.

Although the statuses are similar for each racial group, variation exists as a result of the social position of the respective racial groups, e.g., each group has a distinct sociopolitical history that affects the expression of each status. It is important to point out that while each status is presented separately and discussed as a predominant status, the reader should not take this to mean that racial identity is about stages. The statuses operate together, and it is believed each person has all of the statuses available to him or her in his or her own personality structure (see Figure 1). A person can develop sequentially from a less differentiated, externally derived, and less mature status to a more internally based, complex, and differentiated mature status.

The following paragraphs provide an overview of the models of racial identity for Blacks, People of Color and Whites. Racial identity models for Blacks and People of Color are described together; subsequently, the White racial identity model is described. I encourage the reader to consult other works for more detail (Carter, 1995; Carter & Goodwin, 1994; Helms & Cook; 1999; Lawrence & Tatum, 1997; Thompson & Carter, 1997).


Given space limitations, I will describe the models together and indicate changes in terms as needed. Each is composed of five statuses (see Table 2). The five statuses are: (1) Pre-encounter (Blacks) or Conformity (People of Color); (2) Encounter (Blacks) or Dissonance (People of Color);3)Immersion– Emersion; (4) Internalization; and (5) Internalization–Commitment (Blacks) or Integrative Awareness (People of Color).

Pre-encounter or Conformity

For a person who espouses this status, race has little or no personal or social meaning; rather, personal and social status are determined primarily by one’s personality. Persons expressing the Pre-encounter or Conformity status view People of Color from a stereotypic perspective that is consistent with the predominant societal view.

Figure 1: An example of the schema configuration using White racial identity statuses: each person as a complete schema where one or more status(es) may dominate.

Thus they learn from the external world to maintain psychological or physical distance from People of Color. One’s worldview in this status is consistent with dominant Euro-American cultural beliefs, e.g., idealizing American culture. However, for persons who use this status, there may be little or no conscious awareness that their worldview might be different from (and difficult for) People of Color.

Encounter or Dissonance

When one uses the Encounter or Dissonance status, one experiences challenges to the externally derived beliefs one previously held in the Pre-encounter or Conformity status. This status is like a series of emotional upheavals that begin to weaken one’s prior defenses. Slowly, one may begin to question one’s previously unexamined views regarding the meaning and significance of race. This questioning and examination has two phases: phase one represents the initial jolt to one’s old racial identity resolution,

Table 2. People of Color* and Black racial identity development model



Educational Thought and Practice


External self-definition and attitudes that reflect preferences for the dominant race and culture and negative attitudes toward one’s own race and culture. Social rewards for acceptance of dominant worldview.

Believes if racial–cultural differences exist, no influence on teaching and learning. Focuses on exotic cultures; thinks academic failure is due to home or lack of ability; remediation would reduce amount and


Feelings and attitudes that reflect confusion and conflict relative to one’s own group and the dominant racial group. Begins a process of discovery and learning about self as racial person.

complexity of instruction and control student behavior.

Immersion– Emersion

The dominant culture and race are rejected and a person immerses him-/herself into his/her race and culture of origin. Begins to develop internal definitions of self (emersion).

Recognizes culture and race and accepts individual differences. No impact on how children learn; flexible and eager to find things that work for each child; incorporates racial–cultural knowledge into curriculum but own racial–cultural view blocks full integration. Creates relaxed setting for learning.

Internalization; Integrative Awareness/Internalization– Commitment

Use of internal criteria for self-definitions. Commitment to race and culture—strong sense of pride and self-fulfillment. Capable of accepting and functioning within the dominant society while valuing and taking pride in one’s own racial– cultural identity.

Race and culture are important in teaching and learning; racial–cultural knowledge used to promote equitable learning. Academic achievement brought about by accommodating student’s background. Curriculum includes life and background of students. Promotes supportive and collaborative learning environment.

*“People of Color” includes African, Latino, Asian, Native American, and certain immigrants.

and phase two involves an energized decision to discover the meaning and significance of one’s race. As persons experiencing this status begin to explore what it means to be who they are racially, they may begin to view their race more positively, yet tentatively. This effort may help the next racial identity status to emerge: Immersion–Emersion.


Immersion–Emersion expressions are characterized by deep involvement in discovering one’s racial–cultural heritage. The Immersion–Emersion status, which is the same for both Blacks and People of Color, has two phases. Phase one is characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with, or immersion in, one’s group and culture; one engages in an effort to transform one’s racial identity ego structure from externally derived sources to internally generated information and knowledge. In essence, one immerses one-self in group experiences (e.g., political organizations) and withdraws, physically and0or psychologically, from White society in order to discover and affirm a new identity. As this intensity of this phase subsides, and the person begins to emerge, the second phase of the Immersion–Emersion status is initiated.

In the second phase, also known as the Emersion phase, of the Immersion– Emersion status, one begins to integrate one’s new internally meaningful identity into one’s overall personality structure. A person in Emersion is able to acknowledge the strengths and weakness of one’s people and to accept the role one’s group plays in American society. In effect, one begins to internalize one’s new racial identity. It is this process of internalizing one’s new identity, and reconciling it with one’s personality, that stimulates the growth of the next status: Internalization.


In the expression of the Internalization status, a person is able to convey a sense of inner pride regarding his or her racial identity and a sense of security with respect to his or her cultural heritage. This status is characterized by ideological flexibility, psychological openness, and self-confidence regarding one’s race in interpersonal, and intergroup, transactions. A per-son operating primarily from the Internalization status has found a comfortable resolution regarding how he or she expresses and experiences race. The resolution is the result of a complex internal process that reflects one’s personal work to find peace with societal notions regarding race and its meaning to self. Overall, he or she feels less tension, emotionality, and defensiveness. It is now possible to hold a pluralistic and nonprejudiced perspective. One no longer needs to judge people by their racial group memberships “. . . rather they are concerned with common peoplehood” (Helms, 1990, p. 31).

Internalization–Commitment or Integrative Awareness

The final status, Internalization–Commitment or Integrative Awareness is characterized by an active and visible support of nonracist perspectives. A person expressing this status has adopted a behavioral style that is characterized by social and political activism. In essence, this status is an extension of the Internalization status and it represents a deeply held commitment to one’s own racial–cultural group as well as humanity.

The following section will present White racial identity. Again, only brief descriptions of the statuses associated with the model are presented (see Table 3).


Helms’ (1984, 1990, 1995) theory of White racial identity development proposes that the White racial identity model is composed of six ego statuses (see Table 3); (1) Contact, (2) Disintegration, (3) Reintegration, (4) Pseudo-independence, (5) Immersion–Emersion, and (6) Autonomy. In addition, these six statuses may be divided into two general themes: the abandonment of a racist identity and the establishment of a nonracist White racial identity. The first three statuses (Contact, Disintegration, and Reintegration) represent the abandonment of racism and the three latter statuses (Pseudo-independence, Immersion–Emersion, and Autonomy) rep-resent the establishment of a nonracist White racial identity.


The expression of this status is seen in the view that race has little or no personal or social meaning; rather, personal and social position are primarily determined by one’s ability and effort. The Contact status is characterized by denial of the significance of race for self and others. Persons who express this status are basically “color-blind,” and they typically communicate sentiments such as: “I don’t notice what race a person is,” or “I just treat people as people.” This status is usually based on information and emotions that are learned from others; in other words, that are externally derived.

Table 3. White racial identity development model



Education Thought and Practice


Accepts external views about self, race, and culture. Satisfaction with racial status quo, oblivious to racism and one’s own participation in it. Believes being color- blind is best way to see self and others. Social support and reward for accepting dominant worldview.


Disorientation caused by racial dilemmas that force one to choose between commitment to one’s racial group and social and familial lessons about equality. Begins to question lessons taught and the external criteria for race and culture. Begins to see that people really are not color- blind.

Believes if racial– cultural differences exist, they have no influence on teaching and learning. Focuses on individuals and “exotic” aspects of cultures. Academic failure is due to home and/ or lack of ability. To be effective, must reduce complexity of instruction and control students’ behavior.


Idealization of own racial group and denigration of other racial groups. Accepts and embraces social messages that one’s own group is entitled. Other racial groups have not earned social rewards. Denial of historically based educational, sociopolitical, and psychological barriers exist for other racial groups.

Pseudo- independence

Begins internal self- definition. Develops rationalized commitment to acceptance of racial and cultural differences and adopts ostensible liberalism about racial issues while maintaining emotional and often physical distance. Uses self to guide and understand the racial other’s experience. Support for racial other leads to marginal status within own group.

Recognizes racial differences. No impact on how children learn; flexible and eager to find things that work for each child; incorporates racial– cultural knowledge into curriculum but own racial– cultural view blocks full integration. Creates relaxed setting for learning.

Immersion– Emersion

Emotional integration of knowledge and experience. Starts search for an understanding of nonracist positive White identity. Seeks other Whites and not People of Color for source of knowledge about race and racism. Internal self- definition begins to take full shape and form. Personal and racial identity are merged.

Race and culture are important in teaching and learning. Racial– cultural knowledge used to promote equitable learning environment. Academic achievement brought about by accentuation of students’ background. Curriculum includes life and background of students and supportive


Informed, integrated, positive racial- group identity internally established. Race and self- identity allow understanding of racism. Works to dismantle oppression in all forms.

and collaborative learning environment.


The disintegration status is characterized by an awareness of racial differences and a limited consciousness of one’s Whiteness, both of which are primarily externally derived. This status is wrought with emotional conflict.

The conflict arises as one confronts the contradiction between the notion that “people are people” and the reality of racial inequalities. The dilemma, which is particularly difficult, is the awareness that:

. . . negative social consequences can besiege the White person who does not respect the inequalities. As a result the person comes to realize that they are caught between two racial groups. And that to maintain his or her position among Whites depends on how well he or she can split their personality. (Helms, 1990, p. 57)

Social acceptance and its associated pressures, coupled with the socio-cultural depth of the belief in White superiority, usually lead to the view that racism does not exist—or if it does exist, it is a remnant of the past or the product of aberrant people. It is these types of ideas that help the next status to grow: Reintegration.


Reintegration is an expression of racial identity that acknowledges White-ness and adopts a belief in White racial superiority and non-White inferiority.

A person comes to believe that Whites deserve the proxy to dominate and the preferences they enjoy. Conversely, poor social participation is a result of lack of effort and will, and less developed social, moral, and intellectual qualities. Thus, Reintegration status expressions selectively attend and reinterpret information to fit stereotypes commonly held in American society. These views may be held actively (as part of a conscious ideology) or passively (as facts to be taken for granted).

American society’s norms regarding race and culture make it possible for many Whites to be reinforced for holding and expressing views consistent with the Reintegration status. It may take some powerful event for a person to begin to abandon this racist identity status. The multicultural movement may be the type of event that for many Americans triggers an examination of long-held beliefs about race and culture. It is this type of questioning that may help the next status emerge: Pseudo-independence.


The Pseudo-independence status is characterized by a re-examination of externally derived information regarding race as well as by a personal reflection on one’s ideas and knowledge about race. One begins to question whether Blacks and other People of Color are innately inferior to Whites. Moreover, one begins to understand that Whites have responsibility for racism and to see how intentionally or unintentionally one has sup-ported racism as a White person. However, the expression of the Pseudo-independence status takes place primarily on an intellectual level rather than an emotional one. One may begin to feel marginal regarding race and racial issues over time if one continues to struggle for an internal and more personal understanding of one’s racial–cultural identity. It is the struggle for personal meaning that initiates the abandonment of racism and the development of a nonracist identity. Subsequently, this struggle is advanced by the growth of the next status: Immersion–Emersion.


It is when one uses Immersion–Emersion that a person deepens his or her process of self-exploration and discovery. Emotional and integrative activity takes place as one struggles to internalize a personally significant under-standing of one’s race. The questions asked and answered include: “Who am I racially?” and “Who do I want to be?” Racial myths are replaced with accurate historical and current information. Other Whites are sought out, and they become the source and locus for answers to the questions that characterize this level of racial identity development. In effect, one learns how to be proud of one’s race without being racist. Positive feelings emerge that not only serve to buttress the newly developing White identity, but also provide the fuel by which one may begin to tackle racism and oppression in its various forms. It is this transformation that leads to Autonomy, the final ego status of White racial identity development.


A person comes to express the Autonomy status when he or she has nurtured and internalized a new meaning of Whiteness and no longer oppresses or idealizes people based on group memberships. Because race is no longer a threat, he or she is able to have a more flexible worldview. Thus a person operating primarily from the Autonomy status is able to largely abandon cultural, institutional, and personal racism.


In summary, racial identity is a psychological resolution within each person’s personality that sets a lens and filter for racial and cultural knowledge, experience, behavior, and emotion. Racial identity ego status variations provide a complex view of individual development and group participation. They shed light on one’s self-understanding, affect, perceptions, ideas, and behaviors toward those who belong to the same or different racial groups. Racial identity constructs that are psychological highlight the fact that skin color and physical features are not sufficient in locating a person’s level and degree of cultural identification. Group membership judged from demo-graphic markers is a misleading indicator of whether a person values his or her ascribed racial and cultural group.

Also, racial identity points out that how we look and what people think of us do interact with our personal understanding of our culture and heritage. Both ascribed and personal psychological resolutions associated with race and culture matter in human development (Branch, 1999).


A Race-Based approach to multicultural education incorporates racial identity theory as a framework for defining, understanding, and addressing issues of race and culture in educational systems. I contend that this variation in response to one’s racial group membership, namely one’s racial identity, has numerous implications for educators, students, administrators, and policy makers. Carter and Goodwin (1994) show how the concept of racial identity is an integral aspect of equitable approaches toward developing a pedagogy of racial–cultural inclusion. As educators attempt to bring attention to the psychological, educational, and cultural needs of the members of racial–cultural groups, they typically do so with little recognition that individuals may vary in response to their racial group member-ship. However, I contend that this variation in response to one’s race is crucial to dealing with race and culture in education.

I have chosen this emphasis on race and to address and understand culture, gender, social class, ethnicity, religion, and other reference group memberships through race because I believe that in our society, social political systems and institutional practices and policies operate based on racial assumptions and beliefs. Whites, as the preferred group, tend to benefit from educational, social, economic, and political rewards whereas People of Color, more often than not, have less access to educational, social, economic, and political rewards and benefits. This unequal distribution of benefits and rewards is obvious in the country’s public and private schools.

Hollins (1999) shows how educators might conceptualize school learning through racial identity ego statuses. She suggests that educators’ racial identity is related how they view culture, and to their practices. Hollins’ (1999) model of educators’ perspectives on culture is divided into three categories. I will extend my description of her work by incorporating People of Color and Black racial identity and show links to my own typology of cultural differences.


According to Hollins (1999) the racial identity statuses of educators influence their teaching approaches, curriculum content, and the environment they create for learning. Hollins’ first category is called culture as artifact and behavior and she describes it as a perspective in which teachers and school personnel deny the importance of culture. The denial of cultural importance is similar to the Universal or Ubiquitous assumption discussed in the first section of this paper. The racial identity statuses associated with this perspective are Contact, Disintegration and Reintegration, Conformity, Pre-encounter, Dissonance, and Encounter (see Tables 2 and 3). These educators focus on the exotic: “[T]hus, in these educators’ perspectives culture (and race) has little significance in classroom instruction or in explaining how children learn, although it may be included in the curriculum as objective content” (p. 186).

If teachers at this level of racial identity development were to teach about the cultures of others they would tend to focus on distant groups and present them in a cursory way. “Their study might include an examination of the housing, food, clothing, music and art of these children’s culture. The information presented is often superficial and does not represent an authentic perspective from the cultural groups studied that would provide insight into their particular worldview” (Hollins, 1999, p. 187).

Educators who use these less mature racial identity statuses tend to believe their students are all the same and that racial and cultural differences do not impact teaching and learning, so their instruction does not vary in the classroom. They tend to explain school failure in terms of the students’ lack of ability, effort, and parental guidance, or as a result of their home life and community. Their solution to meeting the educational needs of failing students of color is to reduce the complexity and amount of instruction. Educators in this group would contend that they hold high standards and expectations for all children—a belief that is contrary to empirical studies of teacher expectations of students of color (Darling-Hammond, 2000). Therefore, if asked to accommodate racial– cultural difference in learning they would resist such practices because for them such changes would jeopardize their high standards.

In regard to curriculum, traditional content is valued. The fact that many Americans are left out of this educational material is not a matter of concern for them. Teachers with immature levels of racial identity will be likely to experience multicultural curricula as an intrusion, and approach it as having more to do with “minorities.” These educators believe that White American culture should be the cultural conduit through which all learning takes place.

The learning environment for teachers and educators with lower levels of racial identity, according to Hollins, is one that is characterized by the need to control. Interaction is shaped by the educator who decides who participates how and when.


The next set of racial identity statuses falls into Hollins’ second category. These educators recognize culture and race as societal influences in teaching and learning. The racial identity statuses that correspond to this category are Pseudo-Independence (White) and Immersion–Emersion (People of Color and Black) (see Tables 2 and 3). Educators see race and culture in terms of their social and political relationships. Such educators are committed advocates for multicultural education. Valuing difference and promoting under-standing of racial–cultural groups are seen as critical aspects of a democratic society.

Educators who acknowledge and appreciate cultural diversity are also educators who approach instruction without consideration for culture and race. Hollins (1999) notes that the acknowledgment does not always transfer to the educational practice, school setting, or classroom:

[Acknowledging race and culture] does not seem to have the anticipated impact on their thinking about teaching and learning, rather than connecting knowledge about culture with how children learn, individuality is central in these teachers’ thinking. That is each child is thought of as an individual without conscious reference to his or her cultural background. (p. 188)

Educators who hold such racial identity statuses will use methods that work and have no particular preference for standard processes or mandated plans. Rather, they focus on what is needed for each child.

School failure is associated with a child’s prior or current circumstances. Therefore, these educators would give each child more individual attention. Educational remediation usually is addressed by allowing more time for learning through tutoring or repetition of key ideas and skills.

For these educators, curriculum content reflects racial–cultural differences. They also believe that the content of learning should be such that it promotes reform, decreases oppression, and increases equity. They work hard to understand people in terms of racial–cultural differences usually from a Ubiquitous, Universal, or Traditional assumptive perspective (see Table 1). However, their own cultural learning and viewpoint tends to distort their understanding. For instance, Whites do not see how they are using their own racial background and experiences as the standard for other racial groups (Pseudo-independence). Immersion–Emersion People of Color are overzealous due to the fact that they are still in the process of evolving a positive internal racial identity, so they also distort information and tend to be less able to be balanced in their understanding of complex racial relationships.

The learning environment is less controlled and more relaxed since Immersion–Emersion People of Color work at making children comfort-able and are focused on what works with students. They are committed to using racial knowledge for themselves and their students and to building a sense of competence in their students. Their learning environments are designed after careful planning and considerable thoughtfulness to guide children and not to control them (Hollins, 1999).


In Hollins’ third category educators accept and embrace culture and ethnicity as important factors in school learning. The racial identity statuses associated with this category are the more mature and internally defined statuses: Autonomy, Immersion–Emersion, and Internalization (see Tables 2 and 3). These educators are characterized by an internalized positive view of self as racial beings with greater and deeper understanding of racial and sociopolitical issues in society. They accept their own race and culture as important aspects of their personal identity and understand their social position. Thus educators in this category might operate from a Race-Based or Pan-National assumptive perspective (see Table 1). They advocate for multicultural education as a way to promote equitable teaching and learning. For them, racial–cultural knowledge is used to foster learning and students’ competence.

These teachers believe children are a product of their home culture. That is how children perceive the world and how what they learn is a product of cultural values, practices and perceptions. Type 3 teachers alter the curriculum and instructional approaches as necessary to facilitate children’s development into competent persons who can lead rich and productive lives. (Hollins, 1999, p. 190)

The best setting for teaching and learning for these educators is the racial– cultural sociopolitical environment (e.g., Ball, 2000). Educators who use these internally based racial identity statutes recognize and work with a complex set of relationships between schools, society, students, and teachers. They are able to see students as individuals who are shaped by race and influenced by society, their schools, and their teachers (Obidah, 2000). Academic performance differences for these educators is accounted for by the lack of accommodation for students from nondominant racial– ethnic group backgrounds. Thus, for them, remediation means connecting the material to the students’ race and cultural knowledge and experience. These educators work to identify racial–cultural patterns in how students learn.

Curriculum content tends to include racial–cultural knowledge about the learners in the room, school, and society. However, application of cultural knowledge is also stressed. Educators who express these racial identity statuses work actively to expand their own knowledge and under-standing. As they learn, the information they acquire is usually integrated into the curriculum in meaningful ways. The context for learning created by educators characterized by the more internally based racial identity statuses is one of support and validation.

They create a classroom context that is collaborative, purposeful, and supportive. Children learn a natural form of collaboration based on natural interest and needs. These educators engage in careful and systematic planning that provides good direction for children to learn from and with their peers. (Hollins, 1999, p. 192)

For educators to be able to promote learning and healthy self-development they must have adequate and healthy self-understanding (Branch, 1999; Hollins, 1995; Paccione, 2000). Development of one’s racial identity is a critical component of self-understanding that can help educators to under-stand the meaning of learning and teaching in their own development (Ball, 2000). Educators will come to understand the ideologies that guide their approach, methods of teaching, and views about learning (Obidah, 2000). Racial identity development exploration can shed light on how teachers’ and educators’ own experiences and socialization influence their thinking, feelings, and behavior in society, schools, and classrooms.

Students, like educators, understand the world and interpret classroom and school events through their own level of racial identity development. Children learn about who they are from their families and schools (Dolby, 2000). These are the most powerful early forces in children’s lives. They learn which groups are valued early in their development (Branch, 1999; Sheets & Hollins, 1999). These messages are often internalized and acted on. Fine (2000) observes:

. . . inside schools . . . students who carry their genders, their race0 ethnic identities, and their social class biographies into school “become”—that is, are seen as and see themselves as—bright or not; talented or deficient, filled with potential or filled with needs.... [I]nstitutional hierarchies . . . patterned by race . . . come to be embodied by students so . . . students can be sure about who is promising and who is not. (p. 35)

Racial identity models are useful not only in allowing educators to under-stand their own perceptions of students, but also in enabling educators to understand the racial experiences of the students whom they are teaching. For example, students functioning from different statuses of racial identity may have different reactions to the same educational environment.

White students in the Contact or Reintegration statuses may experience an educational environment that supports Traditional American cultural values as affirming. Similarly, Black students in the Pre-encounter status or Latino students in the Conformity status initially may feel comfortable with a teacher who believes that American culture is the conduit through which all learning should take place. In contrast, students of color who possess more advanced racial identity ego statuses may view this attitude as one diminishing their race and culture; thus they may experience such an educational environment as hostile and punitive.


Racial identity ego status can also influence interpersonal interactions, group dynamics, and systemic processes wherein decisions about policy and practice are made. The role of racial identity status in relationships, systems, and groups is affected by power and authority dynamics. The person or policy and practices that hold the greatest amount of power and authority exert the greater force in terms of relationship issues. Four types of distinct relationships are possible when one considers the relationship pairs, group coalitions, and systemic processes that form due to combinations of participants’ racial identity status (Carter 1995; Helms, 1984; Helms & Cook, 1999; Thompson & Carter, 1997). The influence of a person’s racial identity status increases when the interaction or discourse is related to race in some way either directly or indirectly. The four types of relationships are regressive, parallel, progressive, and crossed.

In a parallel relationship, the participants both are at the same level of racial identity development and express the same type of attitudes about their own race and the race of others. Such a relationship would be self-validating and socially confirming in that the participants hold the same view and process information in a similar manner. Such a relationship has been found to be placid and stagnant (Carter & Helms, 1992). Thompson and Carter (1997) provide this example:

Take the case of a white teacher and a white student, both operating primarily at the reintegration status of white racial identity development. Recall that this status is characterized by an idealization of whites and by information-processing strategies of selective perception and negative out-group distortion. During a lecture, the teacher states that a disproportionate number of People of Color are living at the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. The student raises his hand and asks whether this phenomenon of disproportionate wealth across racial groups can be attributed to the inability of “minorities” to aspire to the levels of whites in society.... Although she believes that this statement is true . . . she eventually responds by stating that there are many theories that explain the “minority problem” and encourages the student to read a number of books on the topic.... (p. 27)

In this parallel relationship, Helms explained that the person in the powerless position, the student in this case, acquires no new information about how to deal with racial stimuli. Because the two persons in the example have similar perspectives, neither is given an opportunity to challenge his or her racial identity status beliefs.

In a regressive relationship the person with less power and authority has more mature and advanced racial identity ego status development and the person with more power and authority is less developed and less mature in terms of racial identity development. This type of relationship usually is one that produces anxiety, resistance, and anger. Little growth is facilitated. Rather, the person with less power experiences his or her point of view as being disregarded, devalued, and dismissed.

Like a regressive relationship, a crossed relationship is one in which the participants have opposite racial identity ego statuses. The result is conflict and suppression when the person with power and authority has less-advanced status development. In this instance, the core dynamic is conflict and oppositional positions.

The progressive relationship is the most productive. In this relationship the power holder has more advanced racial identity status development. By virtue of the more developed status the person in authority can help the less powerful participant learn, grow, and understand his or her issues surrounding race and racial identity.

Thompson and Carter (1997) offer this example of a progressive relationship:

A white student expresses the racist notion that minorities are inferior to whites because they lack the will to succeed. The white autonomy– status professor would recognize that this statement is racist. She may inform the student that the statement is based on partial information and that the politics of knowledge are such that the perceptions of minority inferiority and white superiority [are] rampant in American society. Proactively, she would ensure that her lectures and her reading materials that accompany them include information that will not lead to such broad-stroke conclusions on the motivation and temper-aments of blacks and whites and, when possible, would directly con-front this common misperception. (p. 29)

Extending the racial identity relationship dynamics analysis to groups and organizations is extremely powerful and represents an important advance in our ability to understand race-related issues in organizations and groups. As Thompson and Carter (1997) point out:

. . . individuals who comprise groups and organizations influence others according to the racial identity schema and conversely, are influenced by the racial identity statuses of those who hold power within these settings. Importantly, the racial identity of those in positions of influence contribute to the racial climate of a particular group or organization....(p. 29)

The racial climate refers to how open the group or organization is to addressing and resolving racial conflicts and whether group members are able to encourage and facilitate the development of positive racial identity (Helms, 1990).

Thompson and Carter (1997) observe that in groups and organizations racial identity coalitions may be formed on the basis of racial norms and perceptions of power. Coalitions operate based on how comfortable people feel, in part due to the proportion of Whites to People of Color in the group or organization. Whites are more comfortable when they are in power and outnumber People of Color and Blacks. Self-identified People of Color’s comfort derives from equal numbers of Whites and People of Color in the organization or group.

Understanding how the racial identity model applies to educational organizations such as classrooms, schools, and school districts is important and critical particularly since more often than not racial issues and conflicts exist in these settings. This is especially so as those in positions of power are predominantly White and increasingly larger segments of parents and students are People of Color. Racial climate plays a powerful role in shaping individual behavior within groups. Teachers and administrators are guided by the racial norms and expectations of those who have authority for the school and district. For example, if the racial climate of a school or district is characterized by racial denial and stagnation, the attempts from persons in the community, parents, and teachers who want to promote change, but have little power, will have little success since they are attempting to change their organization’s racial norms. If group or organizational leaders.avoid and minimize race-related issues and conflicts, or if they confront and address racial issues openly, their behavior sends signals to group and organizational members about the prevailing racial climate.

Racial climates in organizations are usually plagued by stagnation and ambivalence (Carter, 2000; Wallace, 2000a). Many organizations and schools claim to be concerned with improving race-related problems and conflicts, like poor achievement of children of color, high rates of suspensions, and referrals to special education, underfinanced schools, and so on, however, many school leaders will nevertheless establish polices and procedures that ignore or even promote these very problems. As Fine (2000) points out race is a critical element in institutional and organizational life in our schools. However, she argues that rather than focus on People of Color, we should shift our attention to how Whiteness is created and maintained, as an unseen process:

. . . whiteness, like all “colors,” is being manufactured, . . . through institutional arrangements....[I]nstitutions [are] designed “as if ” hierarchy, stratification, and scarcity were inevitable. Schools . . . do not merely manage race; they create and enforce racial meanings.... [W]hiteness grows as a seemingly “natural” proxy for quality, merit, and advantage, [and] color disintegrates to embody deficit....[T]he institutional design of whiteness, like the production of all colors, creates an organizational discourse of race and a personal embodiment of race, affecting perceptions of self and “others,” producing individuals’ sense of racial “identities” and collective experiences of racial “tensions,” even coalitions. Once this process is sufficiently institutionalized and embodied, the observer . . . can easily miss the institutional choreography....[W]hat remains visible are the miraculous ways in which quality seems to rise to the glistening white top. (pp. 38–39)

As we can see from Fine’s example, aspects of race and their systemic effects and processes may go unnoticed, and our attention may need to be on who benefits and how in our educational system, not just on who is excluded and how come. Nevertheless, the example illustrates the use of racial identity analysis in group and organizational contexts.

Another example is offered for how racial identity might impact an organization. Since groups are comprised of individuals, it is possible for the individual levels of racial identity to combine and reflect the views of the group. For example, in a given middle school there may be a group of teachers who possess a low status of racial identity (e.g., Contact, Pre-encounter, Disintegration, Encounter). It is likely that their individual attitudes will combine to form a coalition (see Helms, 1990) that will become the predominant perspective of the school.


The task of developing effective multicultural skill, competence, and aware-ness is something all educators must undertake. However, just what is meant by “multicultural” in education is often unclear. It is my contention that how one defines multiculturalism is driven by a number of philosophical assumptions, often unstated, about the nature of cultural difference. In an effort to clarify these assumptions, I advocate the use of a typology to examine and develop theory, training, and research in multicultural education. Furthermore, I support an explicitly Race-Based approach to multi-cultural education. Specifically, I suggest that racial identity theory serve as a conceptual framework and guide to practical applications for the development and implementation of inclusive racial–cultural curriculum (Grant & Wieczorek, 2000), schools, and learning environments, and to guide district policy and practice.

As the multicultural movement in education grows, the core of the literature focuses on helping Whites and others to understand the culturally different. Members of nondominant racial/ethnic groups and some Whites study and teach about racially and culturally different people. Nonetheless, the world-views and cultural patterns of racially and culturally different people seldom are incorporated as valued aspects of our social and educational system. By using racial identity and its application, however, we now have a mechanism that will allow us to engage in a strategy of racial–cultural inclusion. Educators can develop awareness about themselves as a way to become effective multicultural educators and administrators (Ball, 2000; Goodman, 2000; Solomon, 2000). Racial identity models include members of all racial groups in the process of a developing racial/cultural conscious-ness. In so doing, all racial groups are equally valued and it is possible to abandon doctrines based on racial and cultural assimilation or superiority. Racial inclusion assumes that multiracial and multicultural differences are a source of social strength and enrichment. By moving toward a more inclusive racial paradigm, we could restructure our educational institutions such that multiple perspectives, systems, social norms, and communication styles are valued. Therefore, I strongly encourage a shift in paradigms in the multicultural movement from a diversity focus to a Race-Based approach premised on racial identity theory and practice as a way to understand the issues surrounding race and, through race, the issues concerning culture (Thompson & Carter, 1997).

A version of this paper was presented as a keynote address at the National Association of Multicultural Educators 1999 Convention,

San Diego , CA . I also would like to thank Leah DeSole, Adrienne Millican-Carter, Lisa Orbé, Alex Pieterse, Heather Shangold, Julissa Senices, and Lauren Sur for their assistance in the development of this manuscript.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 5, 2000, p. 864-897
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10612, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 2:15:19 AM

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About the Author
  • Robert Carter
    Teachers College
    E-mail Author
    Robert T. Carter is Professor of Psychology and Education, Chair of the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, and Director of Training of the Counseling Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is known internationally for his work on Black and White racial identity. He has published in the areas of psychotherapy process and outcome, career development, and equity in education through the lens of racial identity. He has been retained to consult on organizational, legal, and educational issues associated with race and diversity. He is also the conference director for the Teachers College Winter Roundtable on Cross-Cultural Psychology and Education.
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