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A Study of White Racial Identity Development, Meaning, Experience, and Expression in Elite, White Males Open Access

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AbstractA Study of White Racial Identity Development, Meaning, Experience, and Expression in Elite, White MalesOver the past four decades, White racial identity development has been examined relying primarily upon theory and constructs that measure awareness of social privilege and power. As an alternative approach, this qualitative, narrative study examined racial identity development in a select group of elite, White men in the Washington, D.C. area applying Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. White men comprise 31% of the American population, yet hold 65% of elected offices and dominate leadership positions in virtually every professional sector. Given this influence, understanding how these men develop, perceive and experience being White is important to understanding their impact on shaping our increasingly diverse nation. In semi-structured interviews, participants recalled relationships, events, and factors shaping the development, understanding and expression of racial identity from childhood through contemporary experience. The study also explored the participants’ feelings and views regarding the process of examining racial identity. Raised in racially homogenous communities with little discussion around race, the participants recalled and reflected on the impact of their race over their lifespan. Findings suggest models of power and privilege do not fully nor accurately characterize the feelings, thoughts, and experience of the study’s participants. The study found the legacy of experiences, relationships, values, and beliefs developed in childhood and adolescence significantly influenced contemporary attitudes, feelings, and the expression of White racial identity. The limitations of this study suggest areas of future qualitative research might include the meaning, expression, and experience of other subgroups (e.g., gender, socio-economic status, religious, regionally based) to determine common and divergent features of White racial identity development and expression. Prejudice, discrimination, and inequality are critical issues in current social discourse. Understanding the salience of Whiteness and how members of the current majority culture operationalize their views offers a path to improving both that discourse and human development.

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