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The stages of microcultural identity development

Updated on April 29, 2016

While cultural identity development is something you may only learn about in multicultural psychology or communication courses, it is extremely relevant to the lives of anyone in a multiethnic society.

Microcultural identity development is that of any minority that comes in contact with a macroculture, or a group that serves as the majority. People of color are the microcultures in the United States. They develop their identities in reference to the macroculture, and in the following stages.

The first stage in unexamined identity. This is often when people are younger and don't really realize the differences between different races or cultures. They are also not terribly aware of their own backgrounds. This was like when I was a child and would play with my family, who of course knew I was different in race but never made reference to it.

In the next stage, the conformity stage, people internalize dominant group perspectives and attempt to be more like that group. The messages spread by the media, certain members of a population, and so on subjugate minorities and make them seem inferior compared to the dominant group. From macrocultures, minorities get the idea that they are inferior. These result in the emotions Banks observed: self-rejection and low self-esteem. They may also result in attempts at acculturation, to be more like the dominant group.

An example is Malcolm X in his young adult years. He internalized the negative stereotypes and messages about blacks, and as a result, he dyed his hair and immersed himself in European-American culture, such as dancing and being romantically involved with White women. It’s easy to fall into this process because one tends to believe what one hears, and is influenced by the people surrounding them. If they are friends with someone of a macroculture, it’s easy to be influenced by what they prescribe to, as they are likely to talk about it and make it seem logical.

I admit that I have fallen into this stage of the model as well. Growing up with a White family and with White friends, I have learned the ways they put on makeup and dress. My White friends have a crease over their eye. Most Asian people don't have this crease, so I'd always get confused as to how my friends would get the top of their eye to look dark it was easier for them to know where to put their eyeshadow because the crease was the place to stop applying it; I just had flat eyelids). Also, their eyelashes were longer than mine, and I always grew up thinking longer eyelashes are more beautiful (makeup commercials do the same thing). Therefore, I'd apply dark makeup to make it look like I have a crease above my eye, and longer eyelashes. I still do it because I've never learned any other way to apply makeup, and I try to go on websites to see the "Asian" way of applying eye makeup.

Stage 3 is resistance and separation. In this stage, individuals find difficulty in trying to understand their identities in the contexts of microculture and macroculture. People often look deeper into their own histories, and will emerge with more pride for their heritage. I feel I am in this stage now because after going to college, I am realizing what my race really means and how it really impacts me. I am trying to learn more about Korean culture, and deciding how much of an impact it really has on my life.

The fourth stage is integration. Individuals achieve an identity that they are comfortable with, not so much what others are comfortable with. They are much more aware of their backgrounds and cultures, as well as those of others.

Where are you in the development model?


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    • ocoonocoon profile image

      ocoonocoon 8 years ago

      Very well written and I agree with the different stages, esp. the conformity stage. People try different things when they are young, including trying on different identities. It is more complicated for multiethnic people, I imagine, who will take a longer time to find out where they fit in the world.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      I loved your personal story relating to this topic! Thanks so much for including it... I'm glad he's having a great time in Australia :)

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I enjoyed reading this, as I live in Australia and have an adopted Chinese son.

      Our society is very welcoming and broad-minded about identity and we experience little trouble with integration

      He has been in Australia since he was six, is now nineteen and although he looks very Asian and I am obviously caucasian we experienced approval mostly as we already have a strong Asian community. I believe the processes you describe were greatly assisted by this inclusive society. He enjoys his individuality and claims both cultures have contributed to his strong self worth.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      You're right, Tony! Sorry to leave the partial reference. It is James A. Banks, who has done much work on multiculturalism. Check out this link:

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for a very informative Hub on this important subject. Living in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country myself I can see and have experienced how important the issues of identity are to individuals.

      This is so important for parents, teachers and managers in the workplace to know and take cognisance of in decision making.

      You refer to Banks but don't give any reference or the full name. Could you please provide that so I can explore further?

      Love and peace