Racial-ethnic identity: Content and consequences for African American, Latino, and Latina Youths

Daphna Oyserman, Daniel Brickman, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Alarge number of sociologists and psychologists have argued that racial-ethnic identity is a central part of self-concept for racial-ethnic minority adolescents. While these scholars have proposed that positive racial-ethnic identity should be related to general positive self-regard as well as specific positive outcomes, such as academic attainment (for example, Akbar 1991; Asante 1987; Asante 1988, Cross 1991; Gibson and Ogbu 1991; McAdoo 1988; Parham 1989; Phinney 1996; Porter and Washington 1989). Research to date more consistently provides empirical evidence of a link between racial-ethnic identity and self-esteem than evidence of a link between racial-ethnic identity and academic outcomes. In the current chapter, we conceptualize racial-ethnic identity within a self-schema formulation. We then address when and how racial-ethnic identity is associated with and predictive of positive academic outcomes. We define self-concept as a set of knowledge structures that provide working answers to basic identity questions about meaning ("Who am I?" and "Where do I belong?") and process ("What am I trying to achieve?") and self-schemas as cognitive structures that organize experience as well as structure motivation and behavior by identifying goals as either relevant or irrelevant to how the self is defined. Using this framework, we focus on how racial-ethnic identity may bolster academic attainment and promote well-being for racial-ethnic minority youths. We propose that social identities, including racial-ethnic identity, influence behavior both by providing information about the norms, expectations, and behaviors relevant to group membership and by influencing the sense made of social and contextual feedback (Oyserman 2007). Thus, racial-ethnic identity serves to parse experience and create sense and meaning from the flow of everyday life by (1) making sense of the self as a group member; (2) lending meaning to current and historical racism and the limited opportunities and successes of racial-ethnic in-group members; and (3) organizing self-relevant knowledge about personal effort and its meaning to oneself and members of one's racialethnic in-group. Thus, racial-ethnic identity is likely to matter because it serves to protect youths from negative social contextual influences and motivates persistent pursuit of important goals. Because academic attainment is both a central focus of adolescence and a key pathway to attaining future adult success, we are particularly interested in what distinguishes the content of the racial-ethnic identities of adolescent youths who are more and less successful at school. In subsequent sections, we outline our model of racial-ethnic identity and the nature of empirical support for the proposition that racial-ethnic identity has a positive effect on school outcomes, concluding with a more general theoretical model of adolescent racial-ethnic identity as a self-schema.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationContesting stereotypes and creating identities
Subtitle of host publicationSocial categories, social identities, and educational participation
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)0871542986, 9780871542984
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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