Racism Ethnic Identity Essay

The daily and lifelong experiences of racism and discrimination have a deleterious effects on the well being of Asian and Asian Americans (Lee, 2003; Mossakowski, 2003; Wong & Halgin, 2006). Racism may overwhelm the available coping response and resources for Asian Americans, which may lead to psychological distress (Harrell, 2000; Lazaurs & Folkman, 1984). In explaining the ways in which Asian Americans react, understand, and cope with racism, authors have used various theories and methods. Racial identity (Alvarez, Juang, & Liang, 2006; Liu, 2002), ethnic identity (Lee, 2005; Noh, Beiser, Kaspar, Hou, & Rummens, 1999), cultural values (Liu & Iwamoto, 2006), and collective self-esteem (Liang & Fassinger, 2008) are found in the extant empirical literature. These diverse theories and methods highlight the complexity inherent in the Asian and Asian American community that is related to their immigration experiences, population concentrations in certain regions of the United States, and the types of racism they experience. Researchers often assume that Asian Americans have a pan-racial identification which could be assessed by racial identity, and others have focused on specific Asian American ethnic groups and have assessed ethnic identity or cultural values. Yet because of the diverse histories and contexts within the Asian American community, what might psychologists assume about this community? Previous studies have focused on subjective well-being without addressing identity or values or have used only one measure of identity and therefore have been limited (Kang, Shaver, Sue, Mi, & Jing, 2003; Lee, 2005; Lieber, Chin, Nihira, & Mink, 2001; Utsey, Chae, Brown, & Kelly, 2002; Yoo & Lee, 2005). The present study builds upon previous research by investigating how racial identity (Helms, 1995), ethnic identity (Phinney, 1992; Roberts, Phinney, Masse, Chen, Roberts, & Romero, 1999), Asian values (Kim & Hong, 2004), and race-related stress (Liang, Li, & Kim, 2004) are collectively and uniquely associated to eudaimonic psychological well-being (Ryff, 1989) among Asian American and Asian international college students.

Asian and Asian Americans

In the United States Census, Asian American is a racial category comprised of at least thirty different ethnic groups and potentially many more cultural groups (Census Bureau, 2002). As a result, the confusion about Asian Americans is often related to the interchangeable use of race, ethnic identity, and culture to describe this community. For the purposes of this research study, we define culture to be the “customs, norms, practices, and social institutions, including psychological processes…[and the] beliefs, values, and practices, including religious and spiritual traditions” (Cooper & Leong, 2008, p. 133). These values and beliefs such as filial piety, deference authority, and saving face often span across many Asian ethnic groups such as Chinese, Japanese and Koreans (Kim & Hong, 2004). Additionally, race is defined as “the category to which others assign individuals on the basis of physical characteristics, such as skin color or hair type, and the generalizations and stereotypes made as a result” (Cooper & Leong, 2008, p. 134). Finally, ethnic identity is reflective of cultural practices as well as the acquisition and maintenance of cultural characteristics (Cokley, 2005).

Accordingly, Asian Americans represent approximately 4.2 percent of the total United States population. Over 51% live in California, New York, and Hawaii, and 75% live in these three states and only seven others (Census Bureau, 2002). Moreover, Asian Americans reside in states where there are large ethnic-specific communities (e.g., Chinatown, Little Saigon, Koreatown), and where historically these states served as major ports of entry for early Asian laborers (Chan, 1991; Takaki, 1989). Owing to the uneven history of immigration to the United States because of racial and ethnic specific exclusion laws (e.g., 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law), many Asian American ethnic groups have only recently, since 1965, been allowed to migrate and settle in large numbers (Chan, 1991; Takaki, 1989). Most Asians migrating to the United States are a part of a chain of migration where they come to be reunited with family, to work, or to attend school (Fu & Hatfield, 2008; Zhou & Xiong, 2005). Two contemporary issues arise from this history which is pertinent to this study. First, Asian Americans are a predominantly immigrant community. For instance, in 2006, 76% of Asian Americans adults were immigrants (Ong, Cruz-Viesca, & Nakanishi, 2008). Furthermore, of the adult Asian Americans, between one in twenty-five and one in thirty were United States citizens (Ong et al., 2008). While citizenship rates are not a perfect manner to assess acculturation or assimilation, the lopsided ratio of citizens to non-citizens does suggest the potential salience of culture and ethnicity (i.e., country of origin).

The second issue is related to the type of racism Asian Americans may experience. Although the racism, discrimination, prejudice, and harassment Asian Americans experience falls under the umbrella of racism, the racism against Asian Americans might vary from racism against African and Latino Americans. Reported incidents of racism against Asian Americans often confuse an Asian American’s race and ethnicity. For instance, the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, reportedly started when Chin, who was Chinese, was accused of being a “Jap” and the reason for automobile job losses (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, USCCR, 1992). Similarly, Jim Loo, who was Chinese, was murdered in 1989, and called a “gook” during his beating (USCCR, 1992). In Loo’s case, “gook” is a slur for Vietnamese. Other differences in the types of racism again Asian Americans arise from their immigrant status as they are often stereotyped as foreigners, exotic, or the perpetual alien (Abreu, Ramirez, Kim, & Haddy, 2003; Lee, 1999; Liang & Fassinger, 2008; Takaki, 1989). While some forms of racism are overtly hostile and aggressive, there are also microaggressions that are seemingly innocuous, are also forms of racism since these comments and descriptors assume that Asians are not-true-Americans (Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, & Torino, 2007). Remarks about Asian Americans’ proficiency in English or assuming that all Asians are from abroad (“Where are you really from?”) are forms of racism that simultaneously attack the person’s race, ethnicity, culture, and immigration status (Sue et al., 2007). These assumptions perpetuate the stereotype that Americans are always White (Devos & Banaji, 2005)

Proposing that Asian Americans may have an important ethnic identity does not diminish the importance of race for Asian Americans. Race, in particular a pan-Asian American identification and affiliation may be important for some Asian Americans. But the historical and sociological research suggests that this process of affiliating with a pan-racial group, such that ethnicities are no longer identifiable or salient, is a long-term process evolving over many generations (Espiritu, 1992; Jacobson, 1998). One variable that may contribute to the development of a pan-Asian American identification is experiences with racism (Espiritu, 1992). That is, over time, Asian and Asian Americans may come to see him/herself as representative of a larger community against whom racism is directed, regardless of ethnicity or country of origin. But at this current point with the Asian American community where the vast majority of the adult population are immigrants, and many of the children and adolescents have been socialized in U.S. schools (Zhou & Xiong, 2005), and some Asian American ethnic groups such as Japanese Americans have longer and stable histories in the United States, what are the best ways to understand how Asian Americans experiences racism?

Social Identity Theory

One theoretical approach to understanding the roles of race, ethnic identity, and culture in moderating the effects of racism is social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 2001). In social identity theory, these variables may help ameliorate and buffer the negative psychological effects of racism but could also potentially exacerbate the affects as well (Yip, Gee, & Takeuchi, 2008). In social identity theory, individuals select from a diverse range of social identity groups and once the individual chooses a group which becomes their in-group, the individual is motivated to focus on the positive aspects of that group (Hornsey, 2008; Trepte, 2006). For those who affiliate and identify with their chosen in-group and experience racism they will focus on positive aspects of their group which might bolster and maintain their psychological well being (Yip, Gee, & Takeuchi, 2008). For instance, if individuals were to select ethnicity as the in-group, ethnic identity may potentially buffer the negative effect of racism on the person’s chosen in-group. Some research already suggests that ethnic identification among Filipino Americans, for instance, may mitigate the impact of racism on depressive symptoms (Mossakowski, 2003).

While strong identification with one’s ethnic or racial group may be protective, it is possible the high identification may also increase the negative effects of discrimination and impact an individual’s well being (Yip, Gee, & Takeuchi, 2008). Some research also suggests that individuals who highly affiliate or identify with an in-group may also experience more negative effects of racism. Potentially, individuals who choose an in-group may become highly sensitive to environmental cues related to that aspect of their in-group (Hornsey, 2008; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). For example, experiences with racism may call attention to an individual’s racial or ethnic group. Because the individual identifies with a particular in-group, and since he/she is sensitive to cues (i.e., racism) against the in-group, the individual is likely to be more sensitive to challenges against the in-group. Some research suggests that for some African Americans who had a strong racial identity, racial discrimination was more likely to be reported (Sellers & Shelton, 2003; Shelton & Sellers, 2000). It might be that for some African Americans, racial identity attitudes are the lens through which many interracial interactions are interpreted. That is, depending on one’s racial identity attitudes, potentially ambiguous situations that may not be explicitly racist are interpreted as being discriminatory (Shelton & Sellers, 2000). It would also follow that potentially having a strong racial or ethnic identity may lead to poorer psychological outcomes related to racism. Some research suggest this possibility that strong identification with a group and experiences with racism are related to increased psychological distress; these were some results found among Latinos (McCoy & Major, 2003), Asian and African Americans (Operario & Fiske, 2001), and among Southeast Asians (Noh et al., 1999). Therefore, it is possible that depending on the identity of the Asian American, racial identity and ethnic identity may moderate the psychological distress related to racism and affect the individual’s psychological well-being.

In reviewing the extant literature on racial identity, ethnic identity, and cultural values in relation to racism and psychological well-being are limited (Kang et al., 2003; Lee, 2005; Lieber et al., 2001;Yoo & Lee, 2005; Utsey et al., 2002). Typically these investigations have used only one measure of ethnic identity or racial identity or conceptualized psychological well-being as self-esteem. The conceptualization of well-being as self-esteem is problematic, as psychological well-being is conceptually different from self-esteem. Specifically, the former encompasses optimal experiences, functioning, and self-actualization (Lent, 2004), whereas self-esteem is unidimensional in nature and only captures self-worth and self-acceptance. In the present study, eudaimonic psychological well-being is defined as an individual’s openness to growth and personal expressiveness, self-actualization, and the feeling of purpose and meaning in life (Lent, 2004; Ryff, 1989). Ryff’s (1989, 1995) conceptualization of psychological well-being was used in this study because her measure is conceptually appropriate in capturing college students’ cognitive evaluation of their positive psychological adjustment. These factors include personal growth and personal expressiveness, positive relationships with others, self-actualization, and meaning and purpose in life---all of which are salient dimensions of wellness that emerging adults strive to develop (Berk, 2006).

Race-Related Stress

The Surgeon General’s Report underscored racism and intolerance as directly contributing to mental illness by exacerbating anxiety and depression (Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Harrell (2000) indicates that race-related stress often taxes individuals’ cognitive resources to cope with these experiences, and thus threatens the mental wellness of the individual. Others have also suggested that racism has deleterious psychological and physical consequences as well (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 2000). However, there have been scant investigations on race-related stress or the psychological stress resulting from exposure to direct and indirect forms of racism with Asian Americans (Chen, LePhuoc, Guzman, Rude, & Dodd, 2006; Liang et al., 2004). Liang and colleagues postulated that Asian Americans experience unique forms of race-related stress, which include: (a) socio-historical racism, (b) general racism, and (c) perpetual foreigner racism. Examples of socio-historical racism includes the perception of Asian American men as passive and asexual; an example of general racism includes the assumption that all Asians are good at math and know karate; while an example of perpetual foreigner racism is the perception of Asian Americans as foreigners who speak poor English, even if they are American born. Several investigations have found strong associations between perceived racism and depression among Asian Americans. Chen et al.’s (2006) cluster analysis found that the racial identity statuses Dissonance and Immersion characterized high Asian American race-related stress (Liang et al., 2004), while the Conformity status clustered on low race-related stress. These findings emphasize the importance of identifying variables that moderate the effects of race-related stress on the psychological well-being of Asian Americans.

Racial Identity Theory

For people of color in the United States, developing a healthy identity and psychological well-being remains a constant challenge in the face of persistent discrimination. Racial identity theory (RIT) describes the process of how “members of racially oppressed groups respond to and internalize race-related stress and discrimination into their overall identity or self-consciousness” (Alvarez & Helms, 2001, p. 218). RIT includes a consideration of the “racialization” of ethnic and cultural groups in America. This racialization and categorization process experienced by Asian Americans and other minority ethnic groups (e.g., Mexican Americans) minimizes ethnic within-group variations while similarities are exaggerated. The racial identity model, according to Helms (1995), is a dynamic and interactive process consisting of the following hypothesized racial-identity-formation statuses: Conformity, Dissonance, Immersion-Emersion, and Internalization. Conformity status reflects a “color blind” worldview whereby the individual identifies only with White Americans and White culture while trivializing the significance of race and racial issues. Dissonance status marks a time of confusion and anxiety about one’s racial affiliation and racial issues. Immersion-Emersion status entails the individuals immersing themselves solely in their own racial group by exclusively socializing with people of the same ethnic or racial belonging. Resentment and resistant attitudes towards Whites and White culture are also present in this status. Internalization status is characterized by integration, acceptance, and appreciation of one’s own culture as well as others (Alvarez & Helms, 2001; Kohatsu et al., 2000). Racial identity reflects a dynamic process in which people of color do not necessarily follow a linear trajectory. Individuals often recycle or move from one status to another (Parham, White & Ajamu, 1999) depending on life events and experiences (e.g., from Dissonance to Internalization). Finally these transitions through statuses are often triggered by experiences of racism and discrimination (Quintana, 2007).

Research examining racial identity with Asian Americans illustrates how racial identity is linked to psychological adjustment (Tan & Alvarez, 2004), awareness of racism (Alvarez & Helms, 2001; Chae, 2004b), and collective self-esteem (Alvarez & Helm, 2001). Thus, it is important to examine how racial identity might serve as a moderator of race-related stress on well-being. That is, individuals who report high amounts of race-related stress and who are strongly identified with their racial group might be able to focus on positive characteristics of their racial group and minimize the stigma associated with the discriminatory and racist experience (Sellers & Shelton, 2003). Moreover, individuals who operate in the Immersion-Emersion or Internalization statuses might be more mentally prepared for these racist encounters, thus their foresight might protect against the adverse effects.

Ethnic Identity

Another aspect of identity shaping Asian Americans’ self-concept is ethnic identity. Ethnic identity is considered a multidimensional construct, which includes ethnic group behaviors, knowledge and awareness of cultural beliefs, and traditions of one’s ethnic group (Lee, 2005; Phinney & Ong, 2007). This definition differs from racial identity theory which describes the impact of racism on self-concept (Alvarez & Helms, 2001; Fischer & Moradi, 2001) and social attitudes about one’s race and towards Whites. Several investigations have suggested that higher ethnic identity development is associated with higher levels of quality of life), and satisfaction with life. Given the link between ethnic identity and well-being, research has begun to examine the role of ethnic identity as a moderator of perceived discrimination. Investigations that have studied the effects of ethnic identity on well-being have found disparate results. Two epidemiological studies have indicated that ethnic identity moderated the negative effects of discrimination on depressive symptoms (Yip et al., 2008; Mossakowski, 2003), however, another investigation by Lee and colleagues (Lee, 2005;Yoo & Lee, 2005; Yoo & Lee, 2008) suggested that stronger ethnic identity exacerbated the effects of discrimination on negative affect. These findings suggest the need for exploring the possible moderating effect between ethnic identity and discrimination on psychological well-being.

Asian Values

Along with examining the racial and ethnic identity of Asian Americans and Asian international students, one may also explore similar and relevant cultural values that are a part of many Asian American ethnic communities. The important role of cultural values on optimal functioning has been stressed in the psychological literature (Constantine & Sue, 2006). According to Kim, Ng, and Ahn (2005), a majority of Asian Americans have been living in America for two or fewer generations. Consequently, cultural factors such as values, beliefs, and worldview greatly influence how individuals manifest psychological problems, relate to others, and how they express their feelings and emotions (Kim & Hong, 2001; Kim & Omizo, 2005). Asian cultural values and beliefs include: collectivism, conformity to norms, deference to authority, emotional self-control, family recognition through achievement, filial piety, humility, hierarchical relationships, and avoidance of shame (Kim, Atkinson, & Yang, 1999). Kim and colleagues (2001) suggest that although there are significant within-group differences among Asian Americans, this group shares significant common cultural values and beliefs. Kim and Omizo (2005) also noted that adhering to Asian cultural values, or enculturation, may play a role in developing a positive self-concept for Asians. It is possible that holding these values may reflect components of group belonging, which may be associated with better psychological adjustment and protection against adverse effects of race-related stress (Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2003; Oishi, Diener, Lucus, & Suh, 1999). But this is hypothetical since no research to date has investigated the relationship of Asian cultural values to racism and psychological well-being.

Current Study

The current study builds on previous research on Asian Americans and addresses the association between racial and ethnic identity, Asian values, race-related stress and psychological well-being. Specifically, we are interested in the relationship between racial identity, ethnic identity, Asian cultural values, and race-related stress in predicting psychological well being. It is hypothesized that race-related stress, racial identity, ethnic identity and Asian values will be positively associated with eudaimonic well-being. Because RIT describes how individuals respond to and internalize racism (Helms, 2007), it is predicted that participants’ adherence to the various racial-identity attitudes will influence their well-being. Similarly, endorsing ethnic identity should also uniquely promote aspects of well-being. Higher Asian values are also hypothesized to be related to well-being, as holding those values may contribute to dimensions of eudaimonic well-being such as purpose of life and relationships with others. This study also examines how racial identity, ethnic identity, and Asian values moderate the effects of race-related stress on psychological well-being. We hypothesize that the various racial identity worldviews will have the strongest moderation effects with race-related stress on well being since theoretically these statuses specifically address race and racism. Additionally, since Asian Americans are often racialized by society whereby “ethnic variation are minimized and similarities are exaggerated” (Liu & Iwamoto, 2006, p. 154), racial identity may play a more salient role than ethnic identity and Asian values on well being especially when individuals reports high levels of race-related stress. Based on previous studies we expect that ethnic identity will also have a strong interaction effect with race-related stress on well being based on the work of Lee and Yoo (Lee, 2003; Lee, 2005; Yoo & Lee, 2005; Yoo & Lee, 2008), and Asian values will have the smallest effect.


Prior to conducting the statistical analysis, a power analysis was performed using G*Power 3.0 (Erdfelder, Faul, & Buchner, 1996). Power was set at f2 = 0.80, and the alpha set at .05. Results of the analysis (F (16, 960) = 1.65, λ = 19.54) suggested that a sample size of 977 was needed to detect a small effect (0.02), whereas a sample size of 143 was needed to detect a medium effect (i.e., 0.12, F (16, 126) = 1.72, λ = 21.45). A sample of 70 was needed to detect a large effect (i.e., 0.35, F (16, 53) = 1.85, λ = 24.50). Therefore, according to the power analysis, the current study (N = 402) has a high likelihood of detecting medium and large main effects.

Preliminary Analyses

Preliminary analyses were conducted to examine possible differences in levels of ethnic identity, racial identity, AARRSI, SPWB, and AVS between the demographic variables. If there were significant main effects, for example, if women and men differed on well-being, sex was entered as covariates.

Gender differences

Ten ANOVAs were conducted to examine possible differences between males and females. To account for possible Type I error, the p-value was set to .005 (.05/10).The results indicated that men (M = 32.28, SD = 6.9) tended to hold stronger Immersion-Emersion beliefs compared to women (M = 30.37, SD = 6.4) (F (1, 400) = 7.8, p = .005). Whereas women (M = 42.4, SD = 4.02) scored higher on the Internalization Status (F (1, 400) = 6.5, p = .05), compared to the men (M = 41.24, SD = 5.1), as well as on the Dissonance subscale, (M = 33.04, SD = 5.6), compared to men (M = 31.29, SD = 5.1).

Ethnic Groups

ANOVAs were performed to examine possible differences between ethnic groups. In the analysis there were seven Asian American ethnic groups: Chinese, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Mixed Asian and Japanese. The results showed no differences between the various groups on the independent and dependent variables, thus ethnicity was not entered in the regression analysis.

Generational status

Ten ANOVAs were conducted to test for differences between generational statuses. Participants in the third (N = 3), fourth (N = 15), and fifth (N= 10) generation groups were collapsed into the second-generational-status group, for a total of 302 participants in the second- through fifth-generation group and 100 in the first-generation group. Important to note, international student status was not obtained in the survey, thus if a student was an international student they were categorized and placed in the first generation group. The results of the 10 ANOVAs revealed that there were no differences among the generational status groups in values on the predictors and dependent variables.

Correlational Analysis

Pearson correlations were conducted with the predictors and outcome variables (see Tables 1). Results from the correlational analyses suggest that Conformity, Dissonance, Immersion/Emersion, and Asian Values were all inversely correlated with SPWB, while AARRSI was not related to SPWB. Internalization had the strongest association with the SPWB, followed by Ethnic Identity Affirmation and Belong (EI-AB), and Ethnic Identity Search (EI-S). In accordance with RIT, Conformity was inversely related to Internalization; Conformity was also inversely related to EI-S and EI-AB. Internalization and Immersion-Emersion were both positively associated with EI-S and EI-AB. AARRSI was correlated with all of the racial identity, ethnic identity measures, and AVS. Finally, AVS was related to Immersion-Emersion, Internalization, and EI-S and EI-AB.

Table 1

Correlations, Means, Standard Deviations, Ranges, and Internal Consistency Estimates for the Scale of Psychological Well Being, Asian Values, Ethnic Identity, Racial Identity Subscales, Asian American Race-Related Stress Inventory, and Age Among Asian...

Hierarchical Regression

The first research question examined whether racial identity, ethnic identity, AVS, and AARRSI would predict SPWB. While the second question investigated possible interactions between racial identity, ethnic identity, AVS with AARRSI on SPWB. All the predictor variables except gender were grand mean centered in order to reduce multicollinearity between interaction terms and predictors (Fraizer, Tix & Barron, 2004), and the interaction terms were created by multiplying the centered racial and ethnic identity variables with AARRSI. Accordingly, the AARRSI, gender, and racial and ethnic variables were entered in the first step. In the second step the interaction terms were then entered. If interaction terms were significant, interaction terms were plotted with high (+1 SD) and (−1 SD) low scores on racial and ethnic identity, and by high (+1 SD) and low (−1 SD) AARRSI values.

Before interpreting the results, the collinearity statistics Tolerance and VIF (variance inflation factor) were examined. Multicollinearity was suspected because there were significant correlations between the variable of ethnic identity and racial identity. The criteria of a Tolerance score of less than.20 and a VIF score of greater than 10 were used to detect multicollinearity (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003). The results revealed no VIF scores greater than 3.13 and the lowest Tolerance estimate was.32. Thus, there were no problems with multicollinearity in the analysis.

Accordingly, in the first step (Table 2), Dissonance (β = −.17, p < .001), Immersion-Emersion (β = −.19, p < .001), Internalization (β = .37, p < .001), and EI-AB (β = .17, p < .02) were all significant predictors of SPWB, (R2 = .34, F (9, 392) = 21.93, p < .001). In the second step, the interaction terms were then entered which resulted in a significant change in R2 (4%), F (7, 385) = 3.86, p < .001, and overall model was R2 = .38, F (16, 385) = 14.66, p < .001. All the variables that were significant in step one remained significant in the model, however the direct effect of AVS (β = −.11, p < .009) on well being became significant when the interaction terms were entered. Three interactions were detected: Conformity X AARRSI (B = −.16, p < .02), Dissonance X AARRSI (B = .12, p <.05), and AVS X AARRSI (B = .4.59, p < .001; see Figures 1–3).

Figure 1

Moderator effects of Asian values with race-related stress on psychological well being. Y axis represents well being.

Figure 3

Moderator effects of Dissonance status with race-related stress on psychological well being. Y axis represents levels of well

Table 2

Hierarchical Regression Results with Psychological Well Being as Criterion and Sex, Asian American Race-Related Stress Inventory, Ethnic Identity, and Racial Identity Subscales, and Interaction terms as Predictors

To further explore the significant interactions, Aiken and West’s (1991) procedures for testing simple slope analysis were performed to determine if the slopes differed from zero. The analysis revealed that the slope of race-related stress significantly differed from zero when the conditional effect of Asian values was high (B = .17, p < .006), and it was not significant when the conditional effect of Asian values was low (B = −.11, p = .09). These findings suggest that increases in the amount of race-related stress experienced, corresponded to increases in well being for individuals with higher Asian values (Figure 1).

Analysis of the simple slopes of race-related stress was significant when the conditional values of Conformity was low (B = .15, p < .05), however the slope of the conditional effect of high Conformity was nonsignificant (B = −.09, p = .22). As observed in Figure 2, the relationship between race-related stress and well-being changed in the context of levels of Conformity. Specifically, participants who had low levels of Conformity and high race-related stress exhibited higher levels of well being, than those who experienced lower levels of race-related stress and low Conformity scores.

Figure 2

Moderator effects of Conformity status with race-related stress on psychological well being. Y axis represents levels of well being.

The simple slope analysis for the AARRSI and Dissonance interactions revealed that the slope was not significantly different from zero when the conditional effect of Dissonance was high (B = .12, p = .09) or low (B = −.06, p = .37). Generally, the interaction trend indicated that the advantage of low Dissonance on SPWB significantly increased as the amount of race-related stress decreased (Figure 3).

Poc Hoc Analysis

For exploratory purposes, the hierarchical regression analysis was performed with a restricted sample which included only 2nd generation and higher Asian Americans to test whether this model was comparable with the entire sample (with 1st generation status students). The overall model was significant, R2 = .36, F (16, 285) = 9.92, p < .001, and the predictors that were significant with entire sample had generally the same effect, with exception of the interaction effect Asian values X AARRSI (B = 2.93, p < .06).


While previous researchers have used only one identity measure in predicting positive psychological well being, the current study contributes to the literature by elucidating the unique effects of racial identity, ethnic identity and Asian values on positive psychological well being of Asian Americans and Asian international college students. Together, the patterns of the relationships were consistent with previous research examining racial identity and ethnic identity on well being. Higher Internalization and Ethnic Identity Affirmation and Belonging scores were positively related to SPWB, while racial identity attitudes that focus primarily on racism such as Dissonance and Immersion/Emmersion were negatively associated. Contrary to our hypothesis, Asian values were inversely associated to SPWB and no direct relationship between race-related stress and SPWB was detected. This study also demonstrated that Asian values, Conformity and Dissonance were moderators of the association between race-related stress and well being. Generally the three interactions appeared to follow a similar pattern where the largest differences occurred in low race-related stress. However, as race-related stress increased, the individual’s well-being that was based on having low AVS, high Conformity and low Dissonance was reduced.

As expected Internalization attitudes was a robust predictor of SPWB. One explanation could be that individuals who endorse Internalization status may have developed more cognitive resources and may use active coping strategies that help foster well-being. To this end, individuals who feel secure and have positive beliefs about their racial group, as well as are conscious about the effects of racism (Internalization status), have higher levels of eudaimonic well-being. It could be also argued that individuals who endorse Internalization ideology might be more self-actualized—they accept past struggles in their life, which might even include their past racial-identity conflict. Accordingly, these individuals can be characterized as having a greater sense of direction and an increased ability to manipulate and have more control over their social environment and daily stressors (Ryff, 1996). Furthermore, unlike those who endorse Immersion-Emersion views, individuals who embrace Internalization attitudes may be more open to positive relationships with others, regardless of race.

The negative relationship between Immersion-Emersion status and SPWB is congruent with previous research among Asian American college student samples (Tan & Alvarez, 2004). According to racial identity theory, individuals’ who endorse Immersion-Emersion attitudes are often hypersensitive to racism, and race is a salient part of their lives (Helms, 1995). Therefore it may be that individuals who strongly endorse Immersion-Emersion attitudes are distrustful and hold anger towards Whites which in turn leads to lower levels of well-being. Additionally these individuals might limit their social support by immersing themselves and limiting their social interactions with only other Asians. Consequently, their support system may be limited and may promote feelings of social alienation (i.e., “My racial group and me, against everyone else”) thus compromising their well-being.

While Immersion-Emersion attitudes are reflective of hypersensitivity to racial issues, individuals who feel ambiguous or endorse Dissonance worldviews tend to report lower levels of SPWB. In line with racial identity theory, these individuals might be just beginning to develop awareness of experienced racism and oppression (Alvarez et al., 2006; Helms & Cook, 1999). The transition from Conformity to Dissonance status may then negatively affect well-being as their previously held color-blind (in Conformity status) and “equality” (i.e., no differences between races) perceptions might shatter through awareness afforded from the Dissonance status. Furthermore, given Dissonance status is characterized by a lack of clear racial identity, this may additionally impact aspects of eudaimonic well-being, such as self-acceptance (i.e., accepting all aspects of their personality), meaning in life, and environmental mastery (i.e., navigating through daily stressors).

The findings also indicated that Ethnic Identity Affirmation and Belonging was positively related to SPWB which is consistent with ethnic identity theory (Phinney, 1992)), and previous studies that have demonstrated the strong relationship between ethnic identity and positive well being (Crocker et al., 1994; Kang et al., 2003; Yoo &Lee, 2005). Subsequently, Asian American college students who have strong ethnic pride and attachment with their ethnic group endorse more aspects of eudaimonic well-being, such as acceptance and positive relationship with others. The stronger sense of ethnic affirmation and belonging most likely accounted for the positive relationship with SPWB. For example, individuals who have higher levels of EI-AB may have more trusting and warm relationships with others and feel validated by members of their ethnic group and, thus be more accepting of themselves.

Asian values also appeared to play a significant role in predicting SPWB however the direction of the relationship was contrary to what we expected. The inverse relationship between AVS and SPWB could be reflective of conflict associated with the acculturation (i.e., adapting to mainstream culture values and beliefs) and enculturation (adherence to one’s indigenous values) process (Kim & Abreu, 2001). This process might contribute to acculturative stress or distress experienced due to cultural differences between American culture and Asian cultural values (Kim & Omizo, 2005).

Unexpectedly, race-related stress was not associated with SPWB. This discrepancy can be accounted for by a number of factors. The first explanation could be that AARRSI does not directly influence the well-being of Asian American college students. The effects of race-related stress could be more reflective of a state of stress and anxiety. For example, the items on the AARRSI (Liang et al., 2004) are scored in a manner in which the participants rate how much stress they felt because of their experience with racism. As such, these experiences are reflective of past levels of stress and might not be reflective of current states of anxiety or well-being. In fact, Liang and colleagues (2004) have noted that the scoring of this measure is a potential limitation of their instrument. Despite these limitations and the lack of direct relationship to well-being, the majority of the participants (61%) indicated that they have experienced racism and that were “slightly” to “extremely” affected by these experiences. These findings highlight that various forms of race-related stress may be salient experiences in the lives of Asian and Asian Americans, even at institutions and regions that are ethnically diverse. In addition it appears that for several subgroups of participants well being was positively impacted as race-related stress increased. It may be that these individual were able to draw upon positive aspects of their identity to bolster their well being when reporting high race-related stress (Tajfel & Turner, 2001; Yip, Gee, & Takeuchi, 2008).

Moderation Effects

The second objective of this study was to investigate how racial identity, ethnic identity and Asian values would interact with race-related stress and predict elevations in well being. AVS had the largest moderation effect followed by Conformity and Dissonance attitudes. As stated previously, the most dramatic moderation effects were evident at low levels of race-related stress, consequently individuals with low AVS, high Conformity and low Dissonance attitudes tended to have greater SPWB in the low stress conditions. Based on a racial identity framework, these patterns makes sense given that individuals who hold Conformity attitudes tend to idealize White culture and minimize racial issues (Helms, 1995). That is, if an Asian American who held strong Conformity attitudes experienced minimal race-related stress, then their idealized beliefs about White culture and their own well-being is maintained. Individuals with low Dissonance attitudes seem to have little fluctuation in their SPWB, regardless of the race-related stress condition. It may be that individuals with low Dissonance attitudes are clearer about their racial identity. Whereas individuals who are ambivalent and uncertain about racial issues or those who have high Dissonance worldviews and low race-related stress may question their perceptions and feelings about racism and this internal psychological conflict reduces their sense of well-being. This general trend might also be similar for individuals with who have low adherence to AVS and experience low race-based stress—their social environment might be supportive of low AVS worldview (i.e., low AVS could be reflective of higher Eurocentric values). Alternatively for those with high AVS but in low race-stress conditions, these individuals’ well-being may be challenged because they live in contexts which are not supportive of these Asian cultural values.

It was no surprise that the psychological advantages of low AVS, high Conformity, and low Dissonance decreased as the amount of race-related stress increased. The most dramatic effect was observed in the low the Conformity condition. Individuals who had low Conformity attitudes and experienced high levels of race-related stress displayed increases in well being. It is possible experiences with racism validated these students’ developing racial identity attitudes and confirmed their beliefs and notions that racism exists. Further, their racial identity attitudes allowed the individual to manage and externally attribute the race-related stress they experience (Yoo & Lee, 2005) thereby maintaining their well being. Additionally Asians endorsing Asian values and experiencing high race-related stress, might embrace their culture when faced with racism and draw upon cultural values and cultural styles of coping, such as collective group belonging, that supports their well being in these conditions. Some research supports the proposition that as individuals develop their racial or ethnic identity, they are able to draw upon more cognitive resources to cope with other experiences of discrimination (Cross, 1991; Yip, Gee, & Takeuchi, 2008).

Contrary to our hypothesis, neither EI-AB nor EI-S interacted with race-related stress on SPWB. It could be that in the presence of other identity measures such as, racial identity and AVS, decreased the predictive validity of ethnic identity. The discrepancy between these current findings to the extant literature may due to the fact that previous studies such as Yoo and Lee (2005) used perceived discrimination and life satisfaction, while other studies used psychological distress as their primary outcome (Lee, 2005; Mossakowski, 2003; Yip et al., 2008). Accordingly, it would be interesting for future research to examine if racial identity and AVS moderate the effects of perceived discrimination on psychological distress.

Finally this study highlighted some within-group differences between men and women on racial identity. These findings elucidate the varying racial experiences and distinct perceptions among Asian American men and women. Iwamoto and Liu (2008) highlight how Asian American men and women face different forms of racism. These men especially are often negatively portrayed in the media as well have to deal with the intersection between racial identity and negotiating masculine norms, which might explain some of the differences. More research is needed to examine the specific mechanisms that contribute to the gender differences.

Caution is warranted in interpreting these results. First, no causality can be concluded given that the research design focused on associated patterns and was cross-sectional. Second, generalizing these findings to all Asian American college students must be avoided because of the within-group variation along dimensions of life-span development, types of colleges (i.e., public versus private), and regions. Also, the demographics of the institution where the data was collected and the online collection sample could have influenced the results. Specifically, the data were collected from an institution with a 50% Asian American student body. The average experience of Asians growing up in California and attending a university with an Asian American majority is likely to differ from that of an individual growing up in another state and attending a school with a small percentage of Asian Americans. Asian Americans who grew up in areas having a low percentage of Asian Americans or ethnic minorities might also be exposed to, and experience more, racism and discrimination. Although the present study gathered generational status, we did not obtain international student status; therefore we were unable to delineate international students from 1st generation U.S. citizen/permanent resident. Finally, social desirability could have played a role in the results. Students may have been especially vulnerable to social desirability considering that overt racism and discrimination are considered to be unacceptable social values and norms.

Regardless of the study’s limitations, the present investigation contribute to the literature by elucidating the significant role of racial-identity, Asian values, and ethnic identity on the mental health of Asian American and Asian international college students. The results suggest that although racial identity and ethnic identity are often used synonymously, each of these constructs uniquely contributes to the well-being of Asian American college students. The results of this study reveal several potential avenues for future research. Because the participants were drawn from a large public university in southern California with a majority of Asian Americans, future studies should examine whether these associations hold up with students from other regions of the country. Comparisons with a sample of non-college-age adults could be additionally important, given their varying life and developmental experiences. Although, the People of Color Racial Identity Attitudes Scale (Helms, 1995) has been utilized with Asian American samples, studies need to examine the factor structure and psychometric properties of this measure among this population. Finally, it would be useful to conduct longitudinal research to explore the growth trajectories of racial identity, ethnic identity, Asian values, and well-being over time (Quintana, 2007).

Clinical Implications

The results of this study highlight several important factors that clinicians should consider when working with Asian American college students. First, results indicating the racial identity, EI-AB and AVS jointly impact SPWB, suggest that clinicians should assess and integrate these factors into their case conceptualization and treatment protocols (Alvarez & Yeh, 1999; Helms & Cook, 1999). Specifically, since college is a formative period when many students are searching and developing their self-concepts (Berk, 2006), facilitating the individual’s awareness and understanding of their racial and ethnic identity may be especially relevant for this population. In particular, if the clinician has a general sense that their Asian American client strongly endorses Asian cultural values, and low Conformity attitudes, it may be fruitful to inquire about the client’s sense of “what it means to be Asian American?,” or “What are some positive or negative messages you receive about your racial group?” This line of questioning might promote dialogue about their identity as well as help the clinician assess whether or not the client is experiencing and impacted by race-related stress. Accordingly, these questions may enable the client’s awareness of the internal and external negative messages that they receive about their race and ethnic group, and help the client become aware of how racism as well as racial and ethnic identity might be influence their well-being. Moreover since Dissonance and Immersion/Emersion were found to be inversely associated with SPWB, it may be useful to examine how the client developed these racial identity attitudes. In particular, since these statuses conceptually represent ambiguity and hypersensitivity towards race and racial issues, clinicians may consider processing and normalizing their past and present experiences of racism or discrimination. Related, given the majority of the participants reported experiencing stress due to racism, clinicians could inquire about the client’s first experience with racism, or process the first time they thought about race, and explore how the experience(s) may have impacted their ethnic or racial identity. This line of questioning might be fruitful since it could afford the client the opportunity to discuss these issues for the first time in a safe environment.

In conclusion, while racial identity and ethnic identity are often used interchangeably in the literature, the findings in this current study reveal that these concepts, albeit related with one another, are unique predictors of SPWB among Asian international and Asian American students. Finally, although this investigation advances our understanding of the factors associated to positive well being among Asian Americans, it only scratches the surface on the topics of racial identity, ethnic identity and AVS on positive well-being. An immense need to further examine these concepts with Asian Americans continues to exist (Ponterotto, & Park, 2007).


We would like to thank Drs. Leon Caldwell, Oksana Yakushko, Michael Scheel, John Creswell, Gustavo Carlo, Kevin Cokley, Nalini Negi and Tomio Iwamoto for all their feedback on earlier versions of this article. We additionally want to thank the reviewers for all their insightful and constructive feedback on the analysis and content of the manuscript.

Manuscript preparation for the first author was supported by the National Institute of Health Drug Abuse grant 5T32 019426-04.


Publisher's Disclaimer: The following manuscript is the final accepted manuscript. It has not been subjected to the final copyediting, fact-checking, and proofreading required for formal publication. It is not the definitive, publisher-authenticated version. The American Psychological Association and its Council of Editors disclaim any responsibility or liabilities for errors or omissions of this manuscript version, any version derived from this manuscript by NIH, or other third parties. The published version is available at www.apa.org/pubs/journals/cou.

Contributor Information

Derek Kenji Iwamoto, Yale University School of Medicine.

William Ming Liu, Counseling Psychology Program, University of Iowa.


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Race and ethnicity are important concepts in the field of sociology and are ones that are studied a great deal. Race plays a large role in everyday human interactions and sociologists want to study how, why, and what the outcomes are of these interactions. A race is a human population that is believed to be distinct in some way from other humans based on real or imagined physical differences. Racial classifications are rooted in the idea of biological classification of humans according to morphological features such as skin color or facial characteristics. An individual is usually externally classified (meaning someone else makes the classification) into a racial group rather than the individual choosing where they belong as part of their identity.

Conceptions of race, as well as specific racial groupings, are often controversial due to their impact on social identity and how those identities influence someone’s position in social hierarchies. Ethnicity, while related to race, refers not to physical characteristics but social traits that are shared by a human population. Some of the social traits often used for ethnic classification include:


religious faith
shared language
shared culture
shared traditions

Unlike race, ethnicity is not usually externally assigned by other individuals. The term ethnicity focuses more upon a group’s connection to a perceived shared past and culture.


Race is a socially defined category, based on real or perceived biological differences between groups of people. Ethnicity is a socially defined category based on common language, religion, nationality, history or another cultural factor. Sociologists see race and ethnicity as social constructions because they are not rooted in biological differences, they change over time, and they never have firm boundaries.

Example: White

The distinction between race and ethnicity can be displayed or hidden, depending on individual preferences, while racial identities are always on display.


The classification of people into races and ethnic groups carries deep implication on the social and political life of different racial and ethnic groups. These classifications led to the notion of racial superiority and racial inferiority, culturally advanced groups and culturally disadvantaged, the use of derogatory undertones and parody, apartheid policy, discrimination and prejudice, and stereotyping of groups of people. Ethnic conflicts have been regular process within the same territorial borders and among the nations of the world. Ethnic conflicts have been pervasive and dangerous because they cause massive humanitarian suffering, civil wars, and destabilizing effects.

Sociologically, “race” refers to a group of people whom others believe are genetically distinct and whom they treat accordingly. This term is commonly used to refer to physical differences between people brought about by physical characteristics of genetic origin. This commonness of genetic heritage may be manifested in the shape of the head and face, the shape and color of the eyes, the shape of the nose, lips, and ears, the texture and color of the hair, the skin color, height, blood type and other physical characteristics. Among the significant racial categories studied by early social scientists were the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid, and the subgroups of primary and derived races. Racial differences are seen as physical differences singled out by the community or society as ethnically significant.

It is preferable to refer to ethnicity or ethnic groups rather than race for its historical and biological connotations. An ethnic group represents a number of persons who have a common cultural background as evidenced by a feeling of loyalty to a given geographical territory or leader, a feeling of identification with and unity among historical and other group experiences, or a high degree of similarity in social norms, ideas and material objects. Members of ethnic groups see themselves as culturally different from other groups in the society and are viewed by others to be so. SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF MEMBERSHIP IN RACIAL AND ETHNIC GROUPS Membership in racial and ethnic groups influences people’s social status and roles as they interact with others. Physical characteristics, especially skin color and certain distinctive cultural traits, complexes, and patterns, become badges for social and economic status.

Frequently, they establish a person’s or groups position in the social stratification system and make up the foundation for prejudice, discrimination, and other forms of differential treatment. Furthermore, when an ethnic group becomes a target of discrimination, such group may utilize the unique physical or cultural traits as the rallying force for promoting common loyalties and enhancing collective action. When people’s definition of physical characteristics greatly affects their relationship, such definitions generally become interlinked with cultural differences. A classic example is the white man’s justification of his technological, economic, political and military superiority. Examples are such ideologies as the God-chosen race, the white man’s burden and more recently, the apartheid policy.

Since the early days of the United States, Native Americans, African-Americans and European-Americans were classified as belonging to different races. But the criteria for membership in these races were radically different. For Africans, the government considered anyone with African appearance to be purely African. Native Americans, on the other hand, were classified based on a certain percentage of Indian blood. Finally, European-Americans had to have purely white ancestry. The differing criteria for assigning membership to particular races had relatively little to do with biology; it had far more to do with maintaining a group’s defined roles and position.

Racial and ethnic membership leads to a sense of people-hood. By this, we mean a sense of identification with a relatively small segment of the world’s population- those who by virtue of common ancestry or heritage we consider “our own kind”.

Erich Fromm wrote in 1941:

“The identity with nature, clan, religion, gives the individual security. He belongs to, he is rooted in, structuralized whole in which he has an unquestionable place. He may suffer from hunger or suppression, but he does not suffer from worst of all pains- complete aloneness and doubt.”


People who occupy a subordinate status are usually called a minority group. What determines a minority group is not the unique racial or ethnics traits nor their great number but the relationship of different groups in the society of which they are a part. A minority group, then is one that, because of the power of differences among the groups, is singled out for unequal treatment in the society. A minority refers to a group which, because of physical and cultural characteristics, occupies a subordinate position in the society and subjected to collective discrimination, in some cases, even segregation, oppression, slavery, peonage, military subjugation, religious persecution, and economic, political, educational, and social suppression. The patterns of ethnic group relations include the following:

1. Patterns of Racism

a. Prejudice and discrimination

Racism – is behavior that is motivated by the belief that one’s own group is superior to other groups that are set apart on the basis of physical characteristics Structural racism refers to inequalities built into an organization or system. An example of structural racism can be seen in recent research on workplace discrimination.[37] There is widespread discrimination against job applicants whose names were merely perceived as “sounding black.”

These applicants were 50% less likely than candidates perceived as having “white-sounding names” to receive callbacks for interviews, no matter their level of previous experience. Prejudice – prejudged negative attitude or opinion about a group without bothering to verify the merits of the opinion or judgment The relationship between prejudice and discrimination is complex. Robert Merton’s study and typology of the relationship between prejudice and discrimination

Four patterns

1. Unprejudiced nondiscriminatory – integration
2. Unprejudiced and discriminatory – institutional discrimination

3. Prejudiced and nondiscriminatory – latent bigotry
4. Prejudiced and discriminatory – outright bigotry

In his study, (1974), Bulatao listed impressions on some ethnic groups by respondents from five Philippine cities: Ilocanos and Chinese were viewed as most industrious, serious, thrifty; Tagalogs, progressive; Bicolanos and Cebuanos, humble, friendly, warm, and peaceful; Warays, lazy but strong; and Ilongos, proud and extravagant.

b. Discrimination refers to the act of disqualifying or mistreating people on the basis of their group membership or on ascriptive rounds rationally irrelevant to the situation. Whereas prejudice is a state of mind, discrimination is actual behavior. Prejudice and discrimination work hand in hand to create and sustain racial and ethnic stratification, (Jarry J. 1987)


Light gives the following explanations on the origin of prejudice: 1. Economic Theory- assumes that racial prejudice is a social attitude transmitted by the dominant ethnic majority class for the purpose of stigmatizing some group s as inferior so that the exploitation of the group resources will be justified. 2. Symbolic Theory- asserts that prejudice arises because a racial or ethnic group is a symbol of what people hate, fear, or envy. 3. Scapegoat theory- maintains that human beings are reluctant to accept their mistakes for their troubles and failures so they look for an ethnic-minority to shoulder the blame. 4. Social norm theory- asserts that ethnocentrism is a natural development of group living. Hatred and suspicion for the out-group are the standard and normal way of doing things, particularly in dealing with people.

c. Stereotypes are often simplified and unsupported generalizations about others and are used indiscriminately for all cases. A few examples are Ilokano, “bantay kuako” (heavy smokers) and “kuripot” (stingy); Pampangueno, “dugong aso” (dog blood or traitors); Batangueno, “balisong” (knife-wielding); Bicolanos, “sili” ( pepper or hot people). 2. Patterns of Competition, Conflict and Domination

When ethnocentric attitudes are coupled with intergroup competition for territory and scarce resources, an explosive social situation may arise. When two groups both strive for the same things- and they perceive their respective claims to be mutually exclusively and legitimate- the stage is set for conflict. In modern societies, the state has become the vehicle that enables one group to dominate and keep the other group subordinate. In sum, competition supplies the motivation for systems of stratification, and ethnocentrism directs competition along racial and ethnic lines, but power determines which group will subjugate the other (Noel, 1972; Barth and Noel, 1975).

3. Economic and Political Subjugation

The economic takeover of one nation by a more powerful one and the subsequent political and social domination of the native population is called colonialism. If the takeover of one nation is trough the military superiority of the more powerful one for the purpose of territorial expansion and establishing colonies, it is termed as military colonialism. On the other hand, if the economic takeover is made through the great technological superiority of the more powerful one, the institutionalization of their businesses in their former colonies, the control and domination of most of a colony’s natural resources, the imposition of trade policies and economic treaties favorable to their side; the establishment of outlets for their surplus capital; the need for more cheap labor, raw materials, and markets to fuel their growing economy, the process is termed neo-colonialism or economic imperialism.

4. Displacement and Segregation of the Native Population

Economic and political subjugation of a minority population by a more powerful group is not the only pattern of conquest that occurs when different racial and ethnic group meet.

Displacement of native population can be made possible through the influx of powerful settlers or invaders with their vastly superior weapons. It is typically found in areas rich in natural resources and similar in geography and climate to the homeland of the invading group. Displacement takes the following forms: a.) by attrition, that is, numbers of the weaker group may die of starvation or disease either deliberately or not; b.) by population transfer; and c.) by genocide- deliberate and ruthless extermination of the weaker group.

Segregation involves the enactment of laws and/or customs that restrict or prohibit contact between groups. Segregation may be ethnic or racial or based on sex or age.

5. Patterns of Accommodation and Tolerance

Interracial and interethnic accommodation can be carried out through miscegenation or amalgamation- the intermarriage of members of the majority and minority groups. This can result in the blending of their various customs and values and the creation of a new cultural hybrid. This involves a cultural and biological blending in which the customs and values of both groups are to some extent preserved and their biological characteristics appear in the offspring.

6. Patterns of Acculturation and Assimilation

Acculturation and assimilation are two very important concepts in sociology and anthropology that describe cross cultural effects on both minorities as well as majorities in societies that are multi ethnic and multi cultural in nature. Assimilation is a broader concept as described by sociologist Jean Piaget and refers to the manner in which people take new information. There are many people who think of the two concepts as same and even use them interchangeably. If you belong to a minority community in a country and retain your own culture but cannot remain isolated and are affected by the majority culture in such a way that you adapt to some aspects of the majority culture, the process is referred to as acculturation.

Assimilation is a process whereby people of a culture learn to adapt to the ways of the majority culture. There is a loss of one’s own culture as a person gives more value to the cultural aspects of the majority community in the process of assimilation.

What is the difference between Acculturation and Assimilation?

• Meeting of cultures always produces results in terms of changes in both the cultures, and acculturation and assimilation refer to two important and different changes in these cultures. • Assimilation refers to the process where some of the majority community’s cultural aspects are absorbed in such a manner that the home cultural aspects get mitigated or lost. • Acculturation is a process where the cultural aspects of the majority community are adapted without losing the traditions and customs of the minority community. • Minority culture changes in the case of assimilation whereas it remains intact in the case of acculturation.

7. Patterns of cultural Pluralism or Ethnic Diversity

Cultural pluralism refers to the coexistence of different racial or ethnic groups each of which retains its own cultural identity and social structural networks, while participating equally in the economic and political systems. (Light, 1985) In pluralistic society, each group retains its own language, religion and customs, and its members tend to interact socially primarily among themselves. Yet all jointly participate in the economic and political systems and live in harmony and peaceful “coexistence”. A prime example of such an arrangement can be found in Switzerland. There, people of German, French, and Italian heritage preserve their distinct cultural ways while coexisting peacefully and equally. No one group enjoys special privileges or is discriminated against.


Ethnic groups in the Philippines are classified according to certain physical, cultural, linguistic, religious and geographic criteria.

A. According to distinctive physical traits
1. The Negritoes who are regarded as the aborigines of the Philippines.
2. The Indonesian- Malayan stock which is predominant among the Filipinos.
3. The Chinese who make up the largest national group.
4. The Americans and the Spaniards, and a few other Europeans who came as colonizers.

B. According to cultural standpoints
1. Cultural minorities or cultural communities
2. Muslims
3. Christian groups

C. According to linguistic groupings

PANAMIN reports that there are about 87 ethno linguistic groups in the Philippines-e.g., Tagalog, Ilokano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Kapampangan, Ilonggo, etc. D. According to religion
1. Roman Catholics
2. Muslims
3. Aglipayans
4. Protestants
5. Iglesia ni Cristo
6. Buddhists
7. Jehovah’s witnesses
8. Other religious sects.
E. Muslims of Southern Philippines

The Muslims make up the largest single non-Christian group. They have nine ethno-linguistic groups, namely:

1. Taosug
2. Maranao
3. Maguindanao
4. Samal
5. Yakan
6. Sanggil
7. Badjao
8. Molbog
9. Jama Mapun

From the Spanish regime to the present, Muslim and Christian intergroup relationships have been characterized by animosity and suspicion. This has been expressed in the Muslims’ ongoing resentment of Christian settlers and attempts at secession to form an independent Mindanao. Muslim revolutionary groups the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Bangsai Moro Liberation Front (BMLF) want Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan to secede from the Philippines.


The non-Christian Filipinos now known as cultural communities make up 10% of the total national population. They have maintained their culture in their clothes, art, religion, ethnic dialect, customs, traditions and other superficial differences. There are 77 major ethno-linguistic groups in the Philippines.


Within sociology, the terms race, ethnicity, minority, and dominant group all have very specific and different meanings. To understand the sociological perspective on race and ethnicity, it is important to understand the meanings of these concepts. An ethnic group is a social category of people who share a common culture, such as a common language, a common religion, or common norms, customs, practices, and history. Ethnic groups have a consciousness of their common cultural bond. An ethnic group does not exist simply because of the common national or cultural origins of the group, however. They develop because of their unique historical and social experiences, which become the basis for the group’s ethnic identity. For example, prior to immigration to the United States, Italians did not think of themselves as a distinct group with common interests and experiences. However, the process of immigration and the experiences they faced as a group in the United States, including discrimination, created a new identity for the group.

Some examples of ethnic groups include Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Mexican Americans, Arab Americans, and Irish Americans. Ethnic groups are also found in other societies, such as the Pashtuns in Afghanistan or the Shiites in Iraq, whose ethnicity is base on religious differences. Like ethnicity, race is primarily, though not exclusively, a socially constructed category. A race is a group that is treated as distinct in society based on certain characteristics. Because of their biological or cultural characteristics, which are labeled as inferior by powerful groups in society, a race is often singled out for differential and unfair treatment. It is not the biological characteristics that define racial groups, but how groups have been treated historically and socially. Society assigns people to racial categories (White, Black, etc.) not because of science or fact, but because of opinion and social experience.

In other words, how racial groups are defined is a social process; it is socially constructed. A minority group is any distinct group in society that shares common group characteristics and is forced to occupy low status in society because of prejudice and discrimination. A group may be classified as a minority on the basis of ethnicity, race, sexual preference, age, or class status. It is important to note that a minority group is not necessarily the minority in terms of numbers, but it is a group that holds low status in relation to other groups in society (regardless of the size). The group that assigns a racial or ethnic group to subordinate status in society is called the dominant group. There are several sociological theories about why prejudice, discrimination, and racism exist. Current sociological theories focus mainly on explaining the existence of racism, particular institutional racism.

The three major sociological perspectives (functionalist theory, symbolic interaction theory, and conflict theory) each have their own explanations to the existence of racism. Functionalist theorists argue that in order for race and ethnic relations to be functional and contribute to the harmonious conduct and stability of society, racial and ethnic minorities must assimilate into that society. Assimilation is a process in which a minority becomes absorbed into the dominant society – socially, economically, and culturally. Symbolic interaction theorists look at two issues in relation to race and ethnicity.

First, they look at the role of social interaction and how it reduces racial and ethnic hostility. Second, they look at how race and ethnicity are socially constructed. In essence, symbolic interactionists ask the question, “What happens when two people of different race or ethnicity come in contact with one another and how can such interracial or interethnic contact reduce hostility and conflict?” The basic argument made by conflict theorists is that class-based conflict is an inherent and fundamental part of society. These theorists thus argue that racial and ethnic conflict is tied to class conflict and that in order to reduce racial and ethnic conflict, class conflict must first be reduced.

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