"I Wish I Was White"

The Desire to Fit In

Posted Feb 20, 2016

Source: Photopin

Whenever I address issues of diversity in my public speaking or trainings, I will educate audiences about the minority identity development model that walks participants through the process of how an ethnic minority member processes his/her identity from this lens.

One of the first phases ethnic minorities enter is one of conformity where there is a strong desire to assimilate into the dominant culture.  While at first this may seem like a goal to aspire towards, minorities in this first phase are so skewed towards trying to fit in, they often develop negative attitudes towards themselves, disparage others of their race and their culture.

A healthy individual grows through this phase known in psychological circles as the “pre-encounter stage” (i.e. meaning individuals have yet to “encounter” or get in touch with their minority selves) and enters into the encounter stage where they learn to appreciate their ethnic heritage.  Some can get so absorbed into their culture to the point of rejecting mainstream culture altogether known as the “immersion” phase.

The goal in psychological circles is to help minorities eventually come to a sense of balance known as the “internationalization” stage where ethnic minorities can develop a sense of security in who they are in their own skin yet are also able to integrate their experiences into larger mainstream society.

In my work as a psychotherapist specializing in multicultural issues and addictions, I often see adult clients stuck in the first phase of “pre-encounter”.  They hate who they are in large part because of their racial identity.  They would like nothing more than to separate themselves from their Black, Asian, or other ethnic identity so they can blend into society.  Comments such as, “I wish I was white” are not uncommon.

This is one the perennial issues that is rarely discussed when it comes to race relations.  Mainstream America is quick to jump into hotbed topics without taking a step back to see the larger context.  Since minorities face tremendous pressure to adapt, conform, and fit into America, you don’t hear the voices of those who are subjugated to not only external racism but their own internal self-critic.  It’s a tragedy to see ethnic minorities stuck in this phase where they hate who they are due to their myriad experiences of discrimination, teasing, or other incidents of feeling like they’re unwanted or don’t belong, simply by the color of their skin.  So before race relations can improve and move forward, we need to take a step back and acknowledge there is a profound difference facing ethnic minorities living in a dominant culture other than their own.

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