White Racial Identity Development
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The White Racial Identity Model was developed by psychologist Janet Helms in 1990. It is a racial and ethnic identity model created specifically for people who identify as white. This theory, heavily influenced by William Cross, has become a widely referenced and studied theory on white racial identity development. This model was created “to raise the awareness of white people about their role in creating and maintaining a racist society, and the need for them to act responsibly by dismantling systemic racism through a framework of power and privilege,”. In addition, Helms presented the idea that all people have a racial identity in some way that is influenced by power and privilege.
Two sequential phases
The White Racial Identity Model is broken into five stages, split into two groups: Abandonment of Racism and the Evolution of a non-racist identity. White individuals transition from understanding themselves as racial beings and the privilege associated with being white, to taking ownership of and abandoning racial privilege, and finally learning about other racial groups.
In phase one, the abandonment of racism, white-identifying individuals have no consciousness of their race and privilege until they are met with a disruption related to race. This disruption then challenges the individual’s ideas of whiteness and how they play a role in a racist society. Following this encounter, the individual then begins to understand the salience of race and its relevance to power. In this stage, a person moves through three other sub-stages: Contact, Disintegration, and Reintegration.
Once an individual has experienced phase one, they move to phase two, the evolution of a non-racist identity, where they begin to reflect more seriously on their identity and how they interact with their surroundings. They begin to make more efforts to interact and learn from different racial groups. Helms wrote that people in this phase are working to “be White without also being bad, evil, or racist”. The stages a person moves through in this phase includes Pseudo-independence, Immersion/Emersion, and Autonomy.
Research and measurement
The White Racial Identity Model has been measured using the White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale (WRIAS) developed originally in 1990 by Helms and Carter. Helms has said that this scale can be used to quantify the “multidimensional aspect” of the identity statues. Although this scale has been critiqued[by whom?], it has been replicated in several studies and the scales in this measure are highly correlated in measuring this construct. Helms and Cook, however, recommend using qualitative analysis in conjunction with the WRIAS to develop a racial profile for these individuals.
One of the main critiques of this model is that it is outdated and not as applicable as it once was. The theory was created in 1990 and revised in 1995. Although it has been updated, there are many other white identity development and consciousness models that have been adapted from this that some researchers and practitioners see as more relevant. Row, Bennett, and Atkinson created their own theory in response to concerns they had with Helm’s model. These critiques included the singular focus on blacks and the white-black relationship, the developmental stage focus of the model, and the similarities to ethnic identity models. They created the White Racial Consciousness Theory to address these concerns.
- Acting white
- Cultural identity
- Ethnic identity development
- Identity formation
- Identity (social science)
- Racial-ethnic socialization
- White identity
- Whiteness theory
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