November 8, 2013
Dr. Andre Rawls, JD
This paper will discuss racial and ethnic identity, their differences, and the importance in multicultural psychology. A race is a group of people with origins in a single geographic area and ethnicity is more about how the people in that geographic area define nationality, share a language, social, and cultural heritage (Phinney, 1996).
If someone does a search for racial identity, ethnic identity comes up as a subcategory for racial identity. Phinney, a leading multicultural psychologist used the words interchangeably, adding to any standing confusion. Helms (1996) stated that "identity models are racial when they describe reactions to societal oppression based on race and are ethnic when they describe the acquisition and maintenance of cultural characteristics such as religious expression and language." Helms and Talleyrand (1997) argued that "race is not ethnicity and that race has a clear meaning in psychology and American society whereas ethnicity is ill-defined and remains a proxy for racial classification."
So, if race and ethnicity are treated as separate yet related constructs, racial identity and ethnic identity should be as well. Racial identity historically was defined by biological features and genes. The educated Europeans created the groupings of people hierarchically with Caucasians first, Asians, and then Natives third. They grouped African people last in the racial ladder (Spickard, 1992). Today, racial identity is defined as " a sense of groups or collective identity based on one's perception that he or she shares a common heritage with a particular racial group." (Helms, 1993) However, according to O'Hearn, 1998,"racial identity seems to be a framework in which individuals categorize others based on skin color." Racism occurs when a group assumes its own race is superior, and practices domination of one racial group over another.