Beverley Tatum’s Theory of Racial Identity Development
My close friends Kelsey identifies herself as a female Canadian of German descent. She grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and later moved to California during high school. She currently attends University of California, Davis. During my interview with her I learned about several experiences she had with racism including experiences where she felt she was the cause of the racism. I will reflect on her experiences by trying to explain her racial identity in terms of Beverley Tatum’s theory of racial identity development. The theory for white people consists of six steps: Contact; disintegration; reintegration; pseudo-independent; immersion/emersion; and autonomy.
Kelsey was born and raised in Canada in a middle class family. Her father was a truck driver and her mother was an accountant. She lived in an all white neighborhood and attended a majority white school. There were also a few Asian and Asian-Indians in her school but she would only have a maximum of one in her class. At this point Kelsey remembered that she had all her class pictures on Facebook and decided to show me. Up until eight grade Kelsey had a total of eighteen non-white students in her classes. There were a few Asians, one Indian, and the rest were Native American students. This stage of Kelsey’s life can be attributed to the contact stage of the racial identity development theory because she was unaware of racism and prejudice. She provided an excellent example of this. “It didn’t really occur to me until now, but in many of my classes the teacher would place the only white kids in the advanced and intermediate reading groups, and the beginners group would have the slower kids and the colored kids.” She was completely unaware of her teacher’s racism at the time, but reflecting back on the situation, Kelsey felt it was wrong of her teacher to do so.
Kelsey later went on to high school where she was exposed to a larger population of Native American Students. Her high school was majority white with Native American students being the second biggest group on campus. But her exposure to them never lasted long because, “they would come to class for a couple of weeks and then stop showing up; or they would come to class every so often, but no enough to ever get to know any of them.” She explained the reason they would do this is because their parents would get money from the government as reparations, and their kids knew that when they grew up, they would also be entitled to the same money. They felt like they never had to receive a proper education in order to make a living. Kelsey stated that she remembered making racist remarks in her head that Native Americans were “lazy and uneducated.” This completely shocked me because she has never shown any signs of being a racist or prejudiced person. She then went on to say that she felt lucky to be white and educated rather than being uneducated. This phase of Kelsey’s life can be explained by the disintegration phase because she became aware that she was privileged to be white. But, she didn’t feel guilt or shame about her white privilege at the time. She was proud of her white privilege, which is probably what lead to the reintegration step of her racial identity.
Right before high school, Kelsey moved to California. She was hesitant at first to be attending a mixed race school because a majority of her past experiences had been with white people. While in high school, she was exposed to even more people of different race including Mexicans, Blacks, and Asians. Unfortunately though, “many of my first friends were white which lead to an entire clique of white people.” Kelsey believes that she her reasoning for doing this at the time was probably her negative experiences with other races. She had always seen white privilege and it was difficult for her to associate with people other than her own skin color. She claimed that she wouldn’t know how to act around them. This is obviously seen in Tatum’s reintegration step because she felt a sense of white superiority. She even avoided people of color by not “associating” with them. Luckily though she didn’t get stuck in this stage as Tatum states is possible to do.
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