Personal Racial Identity Development
An individual’s identity is a complex, multifaceted and dependent description of oneself. The development of one’s identity will require one to be selective and creative while describing oneself. As a young individual, I must understand my racial identity not only for a sense of belonging but also to identify with a particular group that would entail having shared commitment and values. Therefore, this essay is a Personal Racial Identity Development that follows a comprehensive framework that will guide me in establishing my identity.
Identity Development: Gender and Sexuality
I am a female individual who came into the United States as a refugee from the Asian continent at a very young age. Being a female individual was not something that I battled with. With the understanding that gender is a social construct, I grew to do the female duties at my home. In my school years, my female side was not challenged since the system there seeks to teach on the ability of an individual engaging in anything of their interest regardless of gender. I was in sports activities, science and art classes as long as I was passionate about them.
The development of my sexuality mainly followed the Worthington et al. (2005) model, where I looked into my perceived sexual needs, preferred sexual activities, preferred characteristics in sexual partners, sexual values, the recognition and identification of one’s sexual orientation and the modes of sexual oppression preferred. My progression in these elements was affected by biological factors, religious factors, gender factors and finally, my psychological factors. The biological factors such as genetic familiarity, sex hormones, maternal attachment patterns and physical attractiveness ness to male individuals did establish my heterosexual identity (Dillon et al., 2011). Growing up in an Asian family setup, I grew knowing that a female individual will have a sexual relationship with a man. Same-sex relationships were not common in my cultural setup. The microsocial factors played a significant role in developing my heterosexual identity since the biological factors did trigger a range of social norms for female gender characteristics and behaviours. Ultimately, I grew to acknowledge that I had a heterosexual identity.
Personal Racial Identity Development
My Asian identity would, however, affect me considerably, and it underwent a development process, so that I accepted it ultimately. From my early years, I knew that I was of Asian descent. According to Dr Jean Kim (1981), this stage is the ethnic awareness stage, which happened when I was around four years old. At this time, I had moved with my family as refugees into the United States. The ethnic awareness came mainly from the interactions that I had with close family members and relatives. My family served as the most basic and essential ethnic reference model. The close family relationships were evident in other Asian families. Over time, I would learn of my Asian culture and traditions, which created considerable ethnic pride. Whenever my family met with other Asian families, mainly due to our refugee status, I experienced a sense of security. These exposures helped me acquire a positive ethnic awareness from my younger years.
Notably, this stage would last until I joined the American school system. It was evident that being in a foreign country meant a change in the school system and the social environment. I had moved from a home environment that was protective and secure into a public setting that was not very homely. First, the majority of the school’s students were white Americans. This meant that I had changed into a different social environment requiring increased considerable interaction with the white society. This would be a challenge since I knew very little of the white society, and I already felt like an outcast in this environment. This change had me questioning my perception of myself considerably, especially why I was among the minority group, which was very different from the majority of white individuals. According to Dr Kim (1981), this is considered the white identification stage that starts once a child joins kool and the environment becomes a powerful force that conveys and reinforces racial prejudice. The stage hurts one’s self-esteem and identity. The evident differences led to a personal desire to identify with the white community and distance myself from the Asian heritage.
In the process of Racial Identity development, I consider this my pre-encounter stage considering that I felt that I needed to assimilate myself into the white community. I actively distanced myself from other individuals of my race since it was easier to see with the white majority. The differences were so evident that kids would blatantly point them out, such as asking why I had slant eyes and what happened to my nose. When we would play games such as the machine gun game, it was common for many of the whites to target other different students and me. At times it became complicated, and I could not wait to go home and cry or just tell my parents about the awful experiences. When the bullying was extreme, my parents would report the case to the headteachers, but I could not stop feeling guilty about it. I felt that it was my fault for everything that was happening. Unfortunately, since more time was being spent in school, there was also a de-emphasis of my membership as an Asian such that it felt like my race may not be an essential factor in my growth as an individual. It is hence important to note that regardless of the positive ethical awareness that I had achieved as an Asian, my pre encounter stage happening at school had negatively affected the ethical awareness obtained earlier as I was now in constant contact with the white society and the associated exposure to prejudice being faced by different persons.
Assimilation into the white majority was never easy, which meant that I would always feel inferior, at fault, and responsible for issues that I could not fully comprehend. It was also a painful journey, it was complicated to defend myself, and I would always repress the negative feelings I harboured. This process did go on until my high school years. I recall in high school. There was always a beauty contest where both boys and girls were rated in terms of cuteness. The most common thing was that the list was always ‘white’. A Chicano or a Black person may appear on the list once in a while, but it became an excruciating period. As an Asian, it meant never appearing on the list nor being invited to parties, nor playing spin the bottle. I remember speaking to my pet every evening as we played that being Asian was the last thing I ever wanted to be, and I wish I could change it. It was an awful experience, but they also played a role in accepting that the sense of difference was something I could not change. Over time, I understood that all of us were just people who looked one way or another. Some individuals would like it while others would not. Following the racial identity development process, at this point, I was at the encounter phase that acknowledged the effect of my race in my life (Tatum, 2004). With the understanding that I cannot indeed be White, it was now time that I focussed on my identity, which is a member of a racial group that was always a target of racial prejudice.
The next stage would be the Awakening to Social-Political Consciousness. In contrast, as an individual, I started to obtain a distinct viewpoint on who I was in American society and acknowledged that I was a member of a minority group. I could not change it (Cheung & Swang, 2019). However, the change was triggered at one time when I was once in a class where it was predominantly made of Asians. However, these students were different. The students made dynamite statements in the class of their ethnic background on various aspects. These students were very comfortable with the ethical discussion.
On the other hand, I was there in the midst of people like me but felt very lost. I had no accurate and substantial information about my ethnic background. Nonetheless, I took this up as a challenge to start asking questions of my orientation from both my parents and peers. I also got involved in political movements, which entailed reading and discussing racism, specifically from the Asian American perspective and for a female. Over time, I learnt about the oppressed persons and gained a political consciousness for being a minority. Following the racial identity development stages, this would be the immersion stage since I get a simultaneous desire to be surrounded by visible symbols of my Asian racial identity and actively avoid whiteness symbols (Tatum, 2004). I was actively looking for opportunities to learn about my history and culture.
The following stage would be the redirection stage that entailed my reconnection and pride in my Asian heritage and culture. At this stage, I also realized white privilege and oppression within my society is the primary cause for the negative experiences for Asian communities. In my commitment towards learning about my ethnicity, I read a lot and related it with my personal experience. It is important to note that I mentally underwent an identity conflict in my discoveries as I struggled to understand why we left our home country as refugees and how I could be a more independent and autonomous adult. The entire sense of being different had been fuelled by being an Adian American in this sizeable white community. Also, the political consciousness obtained affected my learning about who I was and where I was at every given moment. An important thing to note in this stage is that I also got angry at some point at the white society after fully understanding some of the historical racism incidents against people of my community. Eventually, I did learn to move past this reactionary phase to a more realistic approval of myself, my fellow Asian Americans and even the members of the white community.
The final stage has been the incorporation stage that represented the most extraordinary form of identity evolution. I have come to a point where I am positive and comfortable as an Asian individual living in America hence being referred to as the Asian American. I also respect other racial groups, including the white community, despite knowing that the community could prejudice me. Also, I am not concerned with any feelings of association with the white culture. I still go to different movements concerned with Asian Americans since I am now confident of things I have learnt. It has also entailed sharing my experiences with others, especially those that are willing to learn. I also have learnt not to find comfort in a single place. Therefore, I am not forced to assert that I am an Asian American or a female individual who identified with feminism. Generally, I am comfortable in different social settings interacting with different people.
In my life, I have undergone an identity development process on various elements, specifically, gender, sexuality and race, especially in the cosmopolitan American society. I now consider myself a female, straight Asian American individual who is still developing their self-identity.
Cheung, C. W., & Swank, J. M. (2019). Asian American identity development: a bicultural model for youth. Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling, 5(1), 89-101.
Dillon, F. R., Worthington, R. L., & Moradi, B. (2011). Sexual identity as a universal process. In the Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 649-670). Springer, New York, NY.
Kim, J. (1981). Processes of Asian American identity development: A study of Japanese American women’s perceptions of their struggle to achieve positive identities as Americans of Asian ancestry (Doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst).
Tatum, B. D. (2004). Talking about race, learning about racism: The application of racial identity development theory in the classroom. In The Black studies reader (pp. 401-424). Routledge.
Worthington, R. L., Dillon, F. R., & Becker-Schutte, A. M. (2005). Development, Reliability, and Validity of the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Knowledge and Attitudes Scale for Heterosexuals (LGB-KASH). Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(1), 104.