The Role of Context in Ethnic/Racial Identity Among Minority Youth

Youth is a time of exploration and consolidation of one's identity. One important aspect of this identity is an understanding of one's ethnic/racial background. Ethnic/racial identity is the significance and meaning that individuals ascribe to their ethnic/racial group. As our population becomes more diverse, the understanding of what shapes ethnic/racial identity, and how this aspect of identity contributes to youth development, becomes increasingly important.

This special section of Child Development, edited by Drs. Eleanor Seaton, Stephen Quintana, Maykel Verkuyten and Gilbert Gee, adds important information to the research in this area. It includes articles from national and international scholars on how policies, relationships, and locations can influence the development and content of ethnic/racial identity among youth.

The articles in the special section, "Peers, Policies, and Place: The Relation between Context and Ethnic/Racial Identity," underscore the importance of social context, specifically policy, peer and family contexts. Regarding policy context, a study by Dimitrova and colleagues examined the relationship between ethnic, religious and familial identities among Roma youth living in four European counties. The authors found that among this discriminated Roma youth, a strong familial an religious identity were associated with more well-being, but this was not the case for national and Roma identity. Considering the role of peer groups, a study by Gonzalez and colleagues found that in Chile, the more that indigenous (Mapuche) and non-indigenous (generally European descent) youth believed their friendships were supported by the broader society, the more likely they were to support Mapuche culture. Studies in the United States by Rivas Drake and colleagues, and by Santos and colleagues, examined the impact of friends on ethnic/racial identity. One study found that males with a strong ethnic/racial identity were more likely to explore their individual ethnic/racial backgrounds and have a diverse peer group. Another study conducted in multiple middle school sites, found that youth tend to befriend peers with similar racial and ethnic backgrounds, and that some dimensions of youths' ethnic-racial identities became more alike over time.

"Identities linked to one's race or ethnicity have been shown to be a positive influence on minority and immigrant youth's mental health and academic achievement as well as a deterrent for risky behavior," said Seaton. "Thus, it is imperative for future research to assess how context influences identity, and how identity influences context."

Specifically, recommended future research includes understanding the relations among multiple social identities; online contexts; biracial and multiracial children and adolescents; ethnic/racial identity among white individuals; temporary identities; fluctuations in ethnic/racial identity; motives and identity enactment among immigrant youth; social identities in different national contexts; the dynamic relations among racism and ethnic/racial identity; and the ethnic/racial identity of white individuals in resistance movements against racism.

"We hope this research deepens the understanding of the impact social context has on the development of ethnic/racial identity among youth," said Seaton. "While these articles explore the influence that policies and peer relationships have on development, it is our hope that this special section inspires future research that will further explain the impact of contextual experiences on the ethnic/racial identities of children and youth."

Journalists interested in speaking with any of the authors listed above or gaining access to the complete special section of Child Development should contact Caitlin Kizielewicz at [email protected]

SRCD was established in 1933 by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The Society's goals are to advance interdisciplinary research in child development and to encourage applications of research findings. Its membership of more than 5,700 scientists is representative of the various disciplines and professions that contribute to knowledge of child development. In addition to Child Development, SRCD also publishes Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Child Development Perspectives, and the SRCD Social Policy Report.


Media Contact

Caitlin Kizielewicz
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