The color of Black: Professor explores racial identity in college students

The color of Black: Professor explores racial identity in college students

Scope: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education
Stanford University

Barbara McKenna

There are lots of different ways to be Black and to have a strong Black identity,” says Camille Charles. But, she adds, research and social definitions of Black identity don’t generally consider those multi-faceted dimensions.
Charles discussed her research on identity in Black college students on October 3 in a talk titled, “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud?): Understanding the Racial Identities of Upwardly Mobile Black College Students.” The talk was the first SCOPE Brown Bag Seminar of the 2011-12 year.
Charles, the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Africana Studies, says that traditional academic theories on Black identity have changed in the face of shifting demographics and politics. Throughout the 20th century, the one drop rule was the measure of race; any person with one drop of Black blood was socially and legally Black. More recently, Black racial identity was generally based on one’s political views. Black individuals were labeled as either assimilationist (for those who valued integration into the larger American society) or nationalist (for those who renounced efforts to integrate with white peers or institutions). “When, in fact,” Charles says, “one can hold aspects of both at the same time.”
Ironically, she notes, in recent times the one drop rule has been flipped to bring into question the authenticity of mixed-race people identifying as Blacks—a conversation heard often during the 2008 presidential campaign.

But this “unidimensional” definition is out of step with both current demographics and mindsets, she says. According to the 2010 Census, 10 percent of the Black U.S. population was immigrant and there was an increase as well in those identifying as mixed-race Black. “Two fields of study challenge the traditional unidimensional definition of Black identity: studies of multiraciality and of Black ethnic identity,” Charles says. These changes have helped broaden definitions of identity somewhat, but both academic and lay depictions of black identity continue to apply outdated unidimensional definitions of black identity…

Read the entire article here.  View the slideshow presentation here. View the video of the lecture here.

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