Sample Education Essay Paper on Ethnic Identity and Internalized Racism

Ethnic Identity and Internalized Racism

            Human beings have a tendency to affiliate not only with fellow humans but abstract and inanimate objects and ideas such as culture and religion. The quest for a sense of belonging is a feeling born out of deeply held motives that tend to draw humans towards others, objects and ideas that they use to define their identity. One such inanimate concept that constantly draws people together is ethnic identity; an affiliative concept that is critical in self-categorization and self-identity. Developing an ethnic identity is a lifelong process that takes in stages that usually begins during adolescence. Depending on the environment, the process of constructing an identity can lead to a positive conception of self. This paper will focus on the concept of ethnic with the view of analyzing stages of ethnic identity and linking them to internalized racism.

Stages of Ethnic Identity

           According Jean Phinney, a Psychology professor, Feeling connected and remaining loyal to a practice, tradition, religion, culture or even geopolitical region takes place in three distinct stages. The first stage is characterized by unexplored ethnic identity. During this stage, an individual may show disinterest in unearthing their ethnic identity while others may accept the consciously and unconsciously normalize and accept the dominant culture. At this stage, such individuals consider ethnic identity as a nonissue; an attitude that is borne out of multiple factors. For such individuals, the idea of ethnic forecloses or diffuses. However, there are some individuals may show a strong sense of belonging to a given culture or ethnicity and therefore begin to construct their sense of self-identity (Phinney, 1993).

            In stage two, individuals begin to actively search for their ethnic identity driven by negative and positive experiences. One such negative experience that can lead an individual to transition from stage one to stage two is explicit and implicit racism. Cultural exploration usually takes a long time as individuals begin an incessant quest for self-identification. It is a stage marked by engaging in different activities including cultural events and having conversations with friends and relatives alike with the primary goal of searching for ethnic identity. Others may even enroll for cultural classes where they are taught about their cultural identity including customs, practices and traditions. For others, ethnic identity search and exploration come in the form of reading available literature of their culture. According to Phinney (1993), stage two is an emotive stage since individuals may feel embarrassed and guilty for being disinterested in their culture and normalizing and accepting the dominant culture in stage one. Others may show intense anger due to perceived blind acculturation, racism or showing disinterest in their own culture in stage one (Phinney, 1993).   

            The last stage is marked by achieving ethnic identity. Individuals who reach this stage are characterized by cultural acceptance. They develop a positive attitude towards other cultures including the dominant culture. It is a stage marked by cultural awareness and clarity; the intense emotions that were evident in stage two have dissipated. Conflicts due to ethnic identities are resolved as the individual feels increasingly secure as a result of stronger self-identity founded on affiliation to an ethnic identity they are have embraced and understood through exploration (Phinney, 1993).

Internalized Racism

            The quest for ethnic identity does not always end in attaining complete self-identity, cultural awareness and acceptance. In some cases, individuals may suffer from internalized racism which manifests in the form of harboring of negative and limited thoughts and attitudes towards one’s culture. Individuals suffering from internalized racism have limited sense of self, their inner life and identity. They may feel inferior to the dominant culture. They self-stereotype themselves and individuals from their own ethnicity or culture.

            Internalized racism is marked by intense emotion that mirrors stage two of ethnic identity. Individuals searching for ethnic identity may sometimes resort to internalized racism based on their experiences during stage one of ethnic identity. They also suffer from victimhood. That is, they feel like they are victims of racism. Internalized racism stem from experiences such as racism and mistreatment. Therefore, individuals suffering from internalized racism fail to achieve racial equality which is the hallmark of an individual who feels secure in their ethnic identity.

            In conclusion, ethnic identity is the hallmark of human’s desire for a sense of belonging. As a long process, achievement of ethnic identity takes place in different stages marked distinct mental and psychological states. Affiliation with a cultural practice, norm or religious identity begins with a sense of disinterest and embracing of the norms and beliefs of a dominant culture. However, individuals may experience a cultural issue such as racism that may inspire a cultural identity transformation. From a nonissue, ethnic identity becomes an important construct that they endeavor to explore. Driven by self-hatred and anger, individuals begin a lifelong process of defining their self-identity. However, there is no assurance that all individuals achieve ethnic identity. Some, due to negative experiences such as racism by individuals from the dominant culture, may end up suffering from internalized racism founded on stereotypes against one’s culture.


Phinney, J. S. (1993). ‘A three-stage model of ethnic identity development in adolescence.’ In M.E. Bernal & G.P. Knight (Eds.), Ethnic identity: Formation and transmission among Hispanics and other minorities. New York: State University of New York Press. Retrieved from: