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What is white racial identity?. Background This presentation is based on the work of Dr. Janet E. Helms of Boston College

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what is white racial identity1


    • This presentation is based on the work of Dr. Janet E. Helms of Boston College
      • Helms’ work focused specifically on Whites and Blacks so in most cases I’ve kept that language, but believe that White Racial attitudes towards Blacks are also applied to other people of color.
    • Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality
      • Race is skin color
      • Ethnicity is cultural identification: Italian-American, Greek-American, etc
      • Nationality is location: A citizen of the United States
      • Racism = Racial Prejudice + Power
What is White Racial Identity?
what is white racial identity2


    • Move beyond guilt, fear, shame, and fragmentation/compartmentalization
    • Recognize the damaging aspects of racism to White people
    • Achieve a positive White racial identity
      • A positive recognition and understanding of how Whiteness as a social construct and cultural entity affects one’s sense of self
What is white racial identity?
helm s stages of white racial identity
Helm’s Stages of White Racial Identity

Phase One

Phase Two

Dr. Beverly Daniels Tatum, President of Spelman College (1992):

“Though the process for racial identity as been presented in linear form, in fact, it is probably more accurate to think of it in a spiral form…[a person may] revisit an earlier stage as a result of new encounter experiences, though the later experience of the stage may be different form the original. “

contact active or passive involvement with the notion of other
Contact: Active or Passive involvement with the notion of other


  • Naïve curiosity or timidity and trepidation toward Blacks
  • Limited White Consciousness
  • No awareness of systemic or cultural racism
  • Focus on colorblindness


  • “I don’t see race.”
  • “I’m not White, I’m just a person.”
  • “You don’t act like a Black person.”
disintegration a conflict of self
Disintegration: a conflict of self


  • Recognition of racism
  • Recognition of moral dilemmas associated with racism (conscious or subconscious)
  • “Incongruence” or “dissonance” results from needing to adapt self or reconcile conflicting ideas

Examples of dilemmas

  • Sense of morality vs. immoral system that asks Whites to treat Black people immorally
  • Belief in freedom and democracy vs. belief in racial inequality
  • Desire for love and compassion vs. need to keep Blacks ‘in their place’
  • Desire to treat others with dignity and respect vs. belief that Blacks are not worthy of dignity and respect
  • Belief that White person should be treated according to individual merits vs. belief that Blacks should be evaluated as a group
disintegration two faced racism

Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage (2007) by Leslie HoutsPicca and Joe Faegin

626 White students

28 colleges (the same institutions our students continue on to)

Journal every day for 6-8 weeks to record racialized events

7500 blatant racist actions recorded

Disintegration: two-faced racism
disintegration two faced racism1
DISINTEGRATION: TwO-faced racism

FRONTSTAGE – multi-racial spaces

  • White students demonstrate a desire not to be seen as racist.
  • They claim to be “colorblind”.
  • They act politely and cordially around people of color.
  • They usually avoid overtly racist language, emotion, and behavior (But, be sure, overt racism still exists).

BACKSTAGE – all White spaces

  • Whites participate in racist discussions, jokes, and viewpoints – either as the main actors (protagonists), assistants, bystanders, and, rarely, dissenters.
  • Whites demean the very groups and people of color with whom they are cordial or even claim to have friendships.


  • Looks for remedy
      • Finds ‘normalcy’ in White Culture
    • OR
    • Over-identification with people of color (Acting paternalistically)


  • From Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible
reintegration retreat into white culture
Reintegration: Retreat into white Culture


  • Fear of and anger toward Black people
  • A retreat from situations involving race
  • Defensiveness about White Culture


  • “I sometimes get angry and feel like I am being attacked. I guess my anger toward a minority group would enter me in to the next stage of Reintegration, where I am once again starting to blame the victim. This is all very trying for me and has been on my mind a lot.”
reintegration movement into anti racism
Reintegration: Movement into Anti-racism


  • Examination of White self living in racist society
  • Resistance of racism
  • Anger at self and White society


  • From Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible
pseudo independence1


  • Consciously act to combat racism externally while working internally to recognize beliefs shaped by White Privilege
  • Redefine what it means to be White
  • Acknowledge responsibility to end racism


  • “I can clearly remember the resentment I had for people of color. I think I am finally out of the Retreat stage. I am beginning to make a conscious effort to seek out information about people of color and accept their criticism…I still feel guilty about the feeling I had about people of color and I always feel bad about being privileged as a result of racism.”
immersion emersion1


  • Seek out accurate information from White people and people of color
  • Learn about White historical, political, and cultural contributions to develop a positive White identity


  • A self-actualized sense of White identity
  • Work with other Whites and people of color to change systemic system


  • From Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible

Black and White Racial Identity: Theory, Research, and Practice edited by Janet E. Helms

White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training by Judith H. Katz

Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism by Durman Sparks and Branson Phillips

Preventing Prejudice: A Guide for Counselors and Educators by J.G. Ponerotto

Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstageby Leslie HoutsPicca and Joe R. Feagin