March 2, 2023

PART ONE of When Race Matters: A Discussion About Ethnic Identity

By Article

As I attempted to write my story, I started and erased the beginning of that blog so many times. I struggled trying to figure out the best way to begin a conversation on the formation of racial identity, since it’s so…what’s the word…tricky. It’s important to me that people I meet can walk away with a greater sense of their own racial and ethnic identity development. With that in mind, before I jump into to my individual story, let’s take some time to outline a few crucial notes on ethnic identity.

Does My Racial Ethnicity Matter If I’m In Counseling?

First, I believe that your racial, ethnic, and cultural experiences matter in the work we do together in counseling. It matters in how your communities view struggles with emotional health and who it’s safe to communicate those struggles to. It impacts your openness and vulnerability with a counselor. And I have seen it impact your choices in dating, work, schooling, where to live, spirituality, and overall values, beliefs and expectations. It’s important to me that you feel comfortable to discuss these to the degree that you feel that they are impacting your life.

Furthermore, I am deeply aware that while it’s not about me the counselor, my race does matter in building a therapeutic relationship with you. It matters in increasing your sense of safety and connection. Particularly if you find comfort in working with someone that looks like you, my race matters. It matters as I consider the communities that I reach out to and write about in my blogs. And it matters as a person who has been given different opportunities to represent and navigate in diverse settings.

Identity Is For All

Racial, ethnic, and cultural identity development is not just for people of color. If you are a part of the white community, know that your racial and ethnic identity matters! I highly recommend checking out this article or this book for examples of your stages of development.

Helpful Terminology

Lastly, there are some terms that you’ll hear me use throughout my story. Academics in the psychology and sociology world spent quite a bit of time in the early 2000s reflecting upon the formation of our racial and ethnic identity development. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, psychologist and educator (writer of a great book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?), and William Cross, cultural psychologist and educator (Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity), both express that there are five stages in our racial and ethnic identity development: pre-encounter, encounter, immersion/emersion, internalization, internalization-commitment. I also value Dr. Harry H L Kitano, scholar and educator and Roger Daniels writer and historian, (Asian American: Emerging Minorities) perspective on ethic identity development because they incorporate the experiences of assimilation into the dominant culture that first generation or immigrants often relate to. I will use these terms throughout the telling of my story.

Other Helpful Resources

I recommend checking out Natalia Kohn Rivera, leader and trainer, Noemi Vega Quiñones, professor and ministry director and Kristy Garza Robinson, cofounder of 58 a ministry that supports churches and communities in “becoming racially reconciled,” book Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence which reflects on how latinx women can navigate their bicultural identities to be leaders in their communities and the world. Lastly, The Native American Experience by Jay Wertz, utilizes pictures and words to capture the historical context of Native Americans and how this history has richly shaped their identity.

In Closing

It feels much more natural having a brief discussion about what ethnic identity is and how it can impact the way you see yourself in general and in therapy before laying out my own story, because we are all different! The way you approach self-discovery and cultural identity might be so opposite of how I did, and that is okay. Overall, I’m sometimes surprised at how many people I meet who have never taken time to consider their own ethnic identity, but also encouraged as I can see a former version of myself who stood from that same place and has grown considerably in this area. Thank you for reading through these notes, and if you’re interested you can read my own personal account of building my confidence in my ethnic identity as a African-American Christian woman who is also a counselor in Part Two of When Race Matters: A Counselor’s Personal Story in Developing Ethnic Identity.

Written by therapist Pamela Larkin

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