please note: this is a two-part classification scheme, which neglects to describe "other" identities...regardless of your ethnicity, please categorize yourself into the stage(s) that most appropriately describe you...




1. CONTACT: At this stage, individuals lack awareness of cultural and institutional racism and of their own White privilege. They have a naive curiosity about or fear of people of color based on stereotypes from friends, family, or the media. Those Whites whose lives are structured so as to limit their interactions with people of color, as well as their awareness of racial issues, may remain at this stage indefinitely.

2. DISINTEGRATION (Cognitive Dissonance): At this stage, individuals' bliss of ignorance or lack of awareness is replaced by the discomforts of guilt, shame, and sometimes anger at the recognition of their own advantages of being White and the acknowledgement of the role of whites in the maintenance of a racist system. Attempts to reduce discomfort many include denial (convincing themselves that racism doesn't really exist, or if it does, it is the fault of its victims), avoidance of people of color or the topic of racism, and the attempt to change significant others' attitudes towards a positive view of people of color which usually meets with rejection by Whites as well as people of color.

3. REINTEGRATION: The societal pressure to accept the status quo (racism) may lead individuals to the desire to be accepted by their own racial group, in which the overt and covert belief in Wbite superiority is so prevalent, that it may lead to a reshaping of their belief systems to be more congruent with an acceptance of racism. Fear and anger may again be redirected toward people of color, wbo are now blamed as the source of the discomfort. Many Whites become stuck at this stage especially if avoidance of people of color is possible.

4. PSEUDO-INDEPENDENT: At this stage, a catalyst for self-examination occurs, and Whites seek information about people of color, racism, etc., and begin to question their previous definition of Whiteness and the justifiability of racism in any of its forms. They begin to abandon beliefs in White superiority, but may still behave in ways that unintentionally perpetuate the system. Looking to those targeted by racism to help understand racism, White people may try to disavow their own Whiteness through active affiliation with people of color. These individuals experience a sense of alienation from other Whites who have not yet begun to examine their own racism, and may also experience rejection from persons of color who are suspicious of their motives, especially those moving from the Encounter or the Immersion phase of their own racial identity development, which makes them particularly unreceptive to Whites attempts to connect with them.

5. IMMERSION/EMERSION: Uncomfortable with their Whiteness, yet unable to be truly anything else, they may begin to search for a new, more comfortable way to be White. Just as students of color seek to redefine positively what it means to be of American ancestry in the United States through immersion in accurate information about their own culture and history, White individuals seek to replace racially related myths and stereotypes with accurate information about what it means and has meant to be White in U.S. society. Learning about Whites who have been antiracist allies to people of color is a very important part of this process since it provides Whites with important role models for change.

6. AUTONOMY: For Whites, the internalization of a newly defined sense of self as White is the primary task of this stage. The positive feeling associated with this redefinition energizes their efforts to confront racism and oppression in their daily lives. Alliances with people of color can be more easily forged at this stage of development than previously because their antiracist behaviors and attitudes will be more consistently expressed. While autonomy might be described as "racial self-actualization" it is best to think of it as an ongoing process wherein the person is continually open to new information and new ways of thinking about racial and cultural variables.



(Cross, 1971,1978,1991)


1. PRE-ENCOUNTER: At this beginning stage, individuals have absorbed many of the beliefs and values of the dominant white culture, including the notion that "White is right" and "Black is wrong." Though the internalization of negative Black stereotypes may be outside their own conscious awareness, they seek to assimilate and be accepted by whites, and actively or passively distance themselves from other Blacks. They are also heavily into denial that race has anything to do with how they live their lives and that they can succeed in the U.S. system of meritocracy.

2. ENCOUNTER: Movement to this stage is usually prompted by an event or series of events that forces them to acknowledge the impact of racism on their lives, e.g., instances of social rejection by white friends or colleagues, or reading new personally relevant information about racism. These instances may lead them to the conclusion that many Whites will not view them as equals. Faced with the reality that they cannot truly be White, they are forced to focus on their identity as members of a group targeted by racism.

3. IMMERSION/EMERSION: At this stage, individuals desire to surround themselves with visible symbols of their racial identity and to actively avoid symbols of Whiteness. At this stage everything must be Black or relevant to Blackness. This stage is also characterized by a tendency to denigrate White people, simultaneously glorifying Black people. Individuals actively seek out opportunities to explore aspects of their own history and culture with the support of peers from their own racial or cultural background.

4. INTERNALIZATION: Secure in their own sense of racial identity, there is less need to assert the "Blacker than thou" attitude often characteristic of the immersion stage. Pro-Black attitudes become more expansive, open, and less defensive. While still maintaining their own connections with Black peers, internalized individuals are willing to establish meaningful relationships with Whites who acknowledge and are respectful of their own self-definition. They are also ready to build coalitions with members of other oppressed groups.

5. INTERNALIZATION-COMMITMENT: There are few differences between this stage and the previous one except for the fact that those at this stage have found ways to translate their own personal sense of Blackness into a plan of action or a general sense of commitment to the concerns of Blacks as a group, which is sustained over time. The person, anchored in a positive sense of racial identity, is able to both perceive and transcend race proactively. Blackness becomes the point of departure for discovering the universe of ideas, cultures, and experiences beyond blackness in place of mistaking blackness as the universe itself.

The process of racial identity development should be viewed, not as a linear process, but rather as a spiraling process, where individuals move from one stage to the next, yet revisit other stages as the result of new encounters and experiences, thus transforming still further, the later stages that are arrived at once again. Research has also identified these stages of identity development as being valid for under-repesented groups and people of color (Black) and for groups in power (white).