The Impact of The White Racial Identity Model

Author Note

This paper is written from the perspective of a white male. This paper is only a sample of the existing literature on this research topic

The Impact of The White Racial Identity Model

Individuals are not born racist; they are born a blank slate, highly impressionable and malleable as gold. It is during the formative years of the individual in which they are highly susceptible to the influences of their environment. Individuals are taught from a very young age, via social influences, their beliefs and prejudices (Sue, 2003, as cited in Sue & Sue, 2015, pp. 416). This education, so to speak, is overwhelmingly likely to be accepted by the young individual as some of the primary teachers of the beliefs and prejudices come from the parental, or guardian, figures. Fortunately, despite the ending of the Civil War, Jim-Crow Laws, and the Civil Rights Movement, explicit forms of racist beliefs and prejudices have largely disappeared although we are experiencing a resurgence of these attitudes in recent years; unfortunately, implicit forms of racist beliefs and prejudices have remained rampant and continue to be damaging. Implicit racism can be particularly difficult to pinpoint by the perpetrating individual as they are often beliefs and prejudices that have been repeatedly reinforced throughout their upbringing and are often thought to not be racist at all.

Before it is possible to understand the White Racial Identity Development Models, context must be provided, not only for non-white individuals, but also for white individuals that may be in the beginning stages of their own racial identity development. Being that whites are in the majority in the United States, they experience the luxury of not having to realize their whiteness, not being impacted by their whiteness in ways they are aware of whiteness comes with privileges that are unearned (Sue & Sue, 2015). One of the utmost privileges being that they are unaware of these privileges and their impact on non-white individuals (Sue, 2013).

White Racial Identity Development Models

While racial identity models have existed since the 1970s, the focus was primarily for non-white individuals, with the first model for White Racial Identity Development not existing until 1982 (Hardiman, 1982), followed up more than a decade later by Helms (1995), and subsequently Sue & Sue (2013) (Lund, 2009). The models that will be subsequently described highlight a transition from lack of awareness to full awareness of racial identity. These not only impact the everyday interactions that can exist between white and non-white individuals, but also the therapeutic alliance between the clinician and client depending on the stage of development the clinician is in (Neville, Awad, Brooks, Flores, & Buemel, 2013). Impacts on psychotherapy will be specifically talked about in its own section.

The Hardiman (1982) White Racial Identity Development Model

Residing in an unpublished doctoral dissertation, Hardimans (1982) White Racial Identity Development Model marked the first foray into the development of a white racial identity model. Concerned with an inherent bias regarding the study of racism in America beset with the complaint that most studies focus on socially deviant or minority groups and tend to ignore the majority group in a society (Hardiman, 1982). Between each stage there entails a transition period and the model allows for regression from one stage to a previous one at any point.

In order to gain more insight into understanding the majority group the beneficiaries of institutionalized racism Hardiman (1982) developed her model. Stage I, entitled lack of social consciousness, is characterized by unawareness of appropriate behavior, beliefs, and attitudes. Stage II, the acceptance stage, is characterized by acceptance of stereotypes about own/other groups, conforming to the societal standards of their own group, and rejection of behaviors of other groups. Stage III, resistance, is characterized by rebellion against previously head beliefs about own/other groups manifested via discomfort and anger toward these ideals and subsequently gaining a new world view. Stage IV, re-definition, is characterized by a re-evaluation of ones own beliefs without influence of the societal-prescribed beliefs and values ingrained during Stage II. Stage V, internalization, is the final stage of this model, characterized by pure integration of racial identity realized in Stage IV and understanding of and empathy for people of ones group that are in previous stages of the model.

The Helms (1995) White Racial Identity Development Model

Janet Helms (1984, 1995) created her original model in 1984 and subsequently updated it in 1995. Helms (1984, 1995) model is divided into two phases abandonment of racism and defining a nonracist white identity and six stages (Helms, 2015, as cited in Sue & Sue, 2015). Helms model is empirically supported, widely utilized, and has resulted in the production of an assessment instrument (Sue & Sue, 2015).

Similarly to Hardimans (1982) model, there is the ability to regress from one stage to a previous stage at any point throughout the model. Stage I, entitled contact, is similar to Hardimans (1982) model wherein the individual is unaware of racism and lack of understanding of appropriate behaviors. Stage II, disintegration, is characterized by moral dilemmas that are inverses to one another. Stage III, reintegration, is built-in regression stage wherein the white individual reverts back to some of the positive, basic beliefs held in Stage I of this model. Stage IV, pseudo-independence, begins the second phase of the model and is provoked due to a transformational event that forces the individual out of Stage III. Stage V, immersion/emersion, is when one ultimately focuses on their whiteness and the way they benefit from the privileges associated thereof and begin to combat racism and oppression on their own. Lastly, Stage VI, autonomy, is the full acceptance of ones role in perpetuating racism and increased knowledge in multicultural arenas.

Sue & Sue (2015) White Racial Identity Development Model

Sue & Sues (2015) on the other models presented and comes with a few assumptions. Ethnocentric monoculturalism, and its accompanying racism, is inherent throughout U.S. culture, because whites are the majority, they are socialized into the majoritys racist beliefs and attitudes, and where individuals are in the process can effect interracial relationships (Sue & Sue, 2015). Sue & Sue (2015) believe that white individuals appear to go through the same model of development as non-white individuals do, especially considering that white individuals are also subject to socialized attitudes and beliefs as much as minorities are. Furthermore, it is of Sue & Sues (2015) belief that individuals can linearly and non-linearly progress through these steps.

Stage I, naivet, is similar to the previous models in that it is characterized by a lack of awareness of the appropriate attitudes and beliefs; however, it is also noted that the stage is short0lived and occurs as a young child (Sue & Sue, 2015). Stage II, conformity, is characterized by a lack of knowledge about other groups and entails high reliance on stereotypes coupled with a belief that white culture is superior than others. Stage III, dissonance, is the beginning of racial awakening wherein the individual begins to deal with inconsistences present in their beliefs and experiences. Stage IV, resistance and immersion, the white individual challenges their own racism and begins to see it pervasively throughout their everyday lives accompanied by anger and guilt. Stage V, introspective, is highly similar to Stage V of the previous model wherein the individual no longer denies oppression nor their part in it. Stage VI, integrative awareness, is characterized by high awareness of the pervasive effects of racism and becomes more committed to combating racism. Lastly, Stage VII, commitment to antiracist action, is characterized by what the name of the stage entails: social activism against racism.

Impact on Psychotherapy

As is evident from the descriptions of the models, significant difficulties in interracial interactions can arise if a white individual is in one of the earlier stages of the model. This can entail microaggressions, which are explicit and/or implicit behaviors that serve to invalidate or put-down a member of another group. Typically, implicit behaviors will occur in situations where the behavior may be more ambiguous or there exists situations where it may be easy to offer an alternative explanation for said behavior (Sue & Sue, 2015). These behaviors are typically present at the lower ends of the identity models accompanied by a lack of awareness of the appropriate attitude and beliefs on should hold. Therefore, it only goes to hold that a clinician at a lower level of any of the models will exhibit behaviors that will prohibit them from providing therapeutic treatment without any microaggressions or without misunderstandings. The lack of racial awareness is likely due to the overwhelming pervasiveness of the majority culture across the U.S. society wherein white individuals are highly unlikely to experience a non-whitewashed version of another culture, let alone be able to see white culture from the outside looking in (Katz, 1985).

As Katz (1985) points out, counseling is a social act wherein there lies a core set of values by which all individuals, regardless of race, are judged by values which are derived from white culture and not applicable to all other cultures. Clinicians have been found to harbor significant implicit bias against minority clients regardless of education level and multicultural training (Boysen, 2010). Compounding this issue, is empirical research that shows white individuals are lowest in terms of multicultural awareness compared to all non-white counterparts (Pope-Davis & Ottavi, 1994). Considering the fact that many clinicians are members of the cultural, or oppressive, majority, AKA white culture (Sue & Sue, 2015), it is highly likely that if the clinician is at a lower level of racial identity they will inadvertently belong to the culturally oppressive group and potentially create a divide between themselves and the client that disallows the formation of the therapeutic alliance (Hanna, Talley, & Guindon, 2000). Additionally, due to the that, because of their occupation, they are moral and good individuals attempting to help others, clinicians are less likely to identify racist tendencies or microaggressions committed by themselves (Sue & Sue, 2015). Coupled with the perception that empirically supported treatment is appropriate for all cultures (Sue & Sue, 2015) despite its lack of norming on other cultures, leads to the incorrect application of attempted therapy to an individual that does not mesh with the clients culture. This disparate thinking is rooted in the bedrock of the counseling profession; white culture serves as the lens through which theory, practice, and, most importantly, research is viewed through (Katz, 1985). As a result, the therapeutic style employed by the clinician will most likely experience profound issues with non-white individuals (Sue & Sue, 2015).

My Reactions

Strangely, it is difficult to write about the White Racial Identity Development Model, and their impact, as a white person. I set out thinking it would be easier to define and react to the White Models. In reality, it is quite difficult to describe here, including its impact on psychotherapy as it is largely negative. While I understand this pain is short-lived, in comparison to the plights experienced by minorities, it is nevertheless excruciating to realize ones own impact on the perpetuation of oppression and institutionalized racism. As described in Sue (2013), I share the fear of speaking up in discussions in the classroom or among peers regarding race. I fear saying something born out of my own prejudices, I fear misinterpreting something born out of my own beliefs about a person, and I fear being labeled as a racist. While the news may claim that the word racist has lost its bite because of how often it is said nowadays, it remains a very real label, and a terrifying one at that, for many white individuals, including myself. Further compounding my fear is that I am the only white man in that classroom the ultimate oppressor. Yes, there are white women in the class, but even they have been historically oppressed by the white man. Therefore, the fear extends from being labeled racist to potentially saying something misogynistic or deprecating about others. While I would like to believe I have no such thoughts in my mind, one cannot predict automatic thoughts, rather they can only identify them and attempt to find the root problem. However, I am worried that my automatic thought might produce itself verbally and not allow myself to have reflection before the labelling and changes in how others may see me.

To The White Racial Identity Models

Ignorance is not an excuse, but, in this case, ignorance is racist bliss. These models are particularly difficult to consume as a white individual. As Sue & Sue (2015) point out at the beginning of the book and reiterate at the beginning of this chapter: do not allow your own emotive state to block the intake of information. Regardless, it is still a painful experience. One does not want to realize that certain aspects of these models are true; one does not want to realize how pervasive the injustices that are described really are in our society. Yet, all one needs to do is take a step back and listen to their own culture-group, look at the news, social media, marketing, etc. to see that there is an issue. While I believe, like all the models, it is largely dependent upon the location and demographic make-up of where an individual was raised, it is painful to know that these models apply to my life. It is painful to be made aware of the impact of my actions at previous stages of the various models on non-white individuals and how callously my behaviors were thrown around.

Additionally, it is painful to be made aware that I am not at the final stages of any of the models. From review of these models, I have understood that I have a long way to go because of my fear. I understand that I should speak up and fight back about the oppression and racism that is prevalent. In the meantime, I enjoy one of the ultimate privileges: being aware and doing nothing to help. Not for a lack of will, rather another sense of overwhelming fear: being ostracized from my own group. I believe this fear is best explained in terms of immigrant identities that have been explained both in our class and privately among my peers: among Americans they are deemed not American enough, but among their native country-members they are deemed too American and, thus, fall into a weird in-between area. So, too, I am afraid of being rejected by own cultural group, not being accepted by another cultural group, and, thus, falling into a weird area of isolation between two cultures.

To The Impacts on Psychotherapy

Similarly to my reaction to the White Racial Identity Models, it is quite difficult to come to terms with the impact white culture has had on the counseling profession. While white culture has provided a significant amount of research, it has been predicated largely upon itself while ignoring or, at best, marginally including multicultural individuals. Even with the inclusion of multicultural individuals being more common in todays literature, it is still a relatively new phenomenon in the field of research. Largely unrepresented and, now, not a beneficiary of longitudinal studies on different cultures, counselors have taken the one-size-fits-all approach, which the research has found to be detrimental to multicultural individuals and largely ineffective. Being an individual training to enter the counseling profession, I wanted to believe that what we were doing was helping people. It turns out we were mainly helping people of my own skin-tone. Going forward, it is obvious that many of the old theories and research will need to be completed again, normed again, and compared for efficacy across as many cultures as possible, potentially leading to the formulation of new therapies appropriate for a wide-range of multicultural individuals.


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