The Complexities of Race and Ethnicity: Understanding Diversity in the American Context

By Cheri L. Philip, Beverly Araujo Dawson and Tanisha I. Burford.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

One of the remnants of the founding of the United States (U.S.) is a continued focus on race and how to categorize individuals based upon an ascribed membership in a particular racial group (Harrell, 1999; Jones, 1997; Sellers, Shelton, Chavous, Rowley & Smith, 1998); rather than an emphasis on how these individuals categorize or self-identify themselves based upon their own lived, social experiences. For example, in the American context race and ethnicity have been defined as separate entities (Cokley, 2007), and further, individuals are expected to choose one or the other as their primary form of identification (Prewitt, 2004). In this way race and ethnicity are often intertwined and tangled with their corollaries: racial and ethnic identification (Trimble, 2007). Further, it is important to note that a racial identification or designation by the state (e.g., Census) is distinct from individuals’ racial or ethnic identity and how they might make meaning of the significance and relevance of such identities in their lives (Philip, 2007). Despite the fact that in the U.S. race and ethnicity (and racial/ethnic identity) are treated as separate entities, many immigrants view them interchangeably, entering the U.S. with their own notions of race and ethnicity that they may continue to use despite the prevailing categories used in the U.S. (Itzigsohn, 2004). In order to be inclusive of the experiences of all Americans, it is imperative that social scientists examine the notions of race and ethnicity, and racial/ethnic identity with sensitivity to the ways that immigrant populations make sense of these terms (Foner & Fredrickson, 2004; Itzigsohn, 2004). The present paper explores the existing literature on race and ethnicity, as well as racial and ethnic identity to gain a better understanding of how these terms help define diversity in contexts where individuals are challenging existing constructs.

Keywords: Race, Ethnicity, Diversity

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp.69-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1019.468KB).

Dr. Cheri L. Philip

Research Director, Research, Planning and Development, The Robeson Group, Fairfax, Maryland, USA

Dr. Philip has worked as a research associate and consultant in both the public and private sectors for clients such as the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, and several universities. Her research focuses on racial/ethnic identity and more recently on unique, applied approaches to education in diverse communities. Dr. Philip has coauthored several journal articles and also published a book in 2007 entitled, “Asian American Identities: Racial and Ethnic Identity Issues in the Twenty-First Century”.

Dr. Beverly Araujo Dawson

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, USA

Dr. Araujo Dawson is an Associate Professor at Adelphi University School of Social Work. Her research focuses on the impact of psychosocial stressors such as discrimination and language barriers on the mental health of Latino immigrants, as well as the development of culturally competent interventions for Latino communities. Currently, she is working with other researchers on exploring diversity and family capital among minority families.

Tanisha I. Burford

Postdoctoral Scholar, Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Program, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Dr. Burford is a Post-doctoral Scholar in the Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Broadly, her research is focused on understanding individual differences in exposure to psychosocial stress and the association between psychological stress and cardiovascular health among racial/ethnic minorities. Additionally, she employs a mixed method approach to examine the link between experiential (autobiographical accounts) experiences of race and the development of various racial identity profiles.


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