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When Who I Am Impacts How I Am Represented.

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When Who I Am Impacts How I Am Represented.

Addressing Minority Student Issues in Different Contexts Racial Identity in Context for the Gifted African American Student

The role of race in the lives of gifted African American students is an understudied phenomenon. The discourse in the literature regarding the influence of racial identity on academic achievement has been relatively narrow, often ignoring such important conceptual issues as the fact that racial identity is dynamic across situations; that race is not important to all African Americans; that the individual's assessment of what is African American is most important; and that racial identity cannot be understood without examining the social context. This critical review of the literature draws on both developmental and social psychological research to suggest that these assumptions are shortsighted and lead to unnecessarily simplistic recommendations for intervention and policy.

Although much of the current literature on gifted students of color is focused on increasing identification of these students, there is growing attention to social and psychological issues related to their development and achievement (Ford, Harris, & Schuerger, 1993; Grantham & Ford, 1998; McIntosh & Greenlaw, 1986; Patton & Townsend, 1997). Ethnic identity development in gifted African American students is one such psychological factor that researchers have recently begun to explore (Ford, Harris, & Schuerger, 1993; Grantham & Ford, 1998; Patton & Townsend, 1997). The general literature on development in African American students suggests that ethnic identity plays a protective role in their lives (Miller, 1999); students who identify strongly with their ethnic group are better able to negotiate potentially negative environments, to deal with discrimination and prejudice, and to have high self-esteem. While there is empirical support for this contention (see Miller for a review), relationships between racial identity and more general outcomes tend to be modest to moderate, suggesting that the complexity in the function of racial identity has not been adequately captured. The present paper will explore the complexity of racial identity in the lives of gifted African American students. It will be argued that the adaptiveness of identity can only be understood through an ecological and multidimensional view of racial identity that takes into account the individual, the social context, and personal coping styles.

Racial Identity and Achievement for African Americans

There are two primary views of the relationship between racial identity and academic achievement of African American students. The first view, the dichotomized view, suggests that high achieving African American students are hopelessly torn between social acceptance by lesser-achieving African American peers and strong academic performance. According to this perspective, African American students view high achievement as "acting White" (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986). The second view, the bicultural view (Banks, 1979; Clark, 1991; Valentine, 1971), asserts that African American students' identities are diverse and complex. Thus, bicultural gifted African American students may feel as comfortable within the gifted classroom as they do with African American peers who may not be identified as gifted. In addition to reviewing the literature related to these two perspectives, the present paper will also incorporate theoretical aspects of more general models of racial identity that provide a broader view of the role of racial identity in the lives of gifted African American students.

The Dichotomized View of Race and Achievement

The literature on racial identity and achievement in gifted or high achieving African American students has been largely built on the notion that such students are forced to choose between a pro-African American, anti-achievement identity and a pro-White, pro-achievement identity. According to this perspective, gifted African American students are often pulled by two social forces: one in the direction of social acceptance of African American peers and another towards mainstream cultural values and norms (Blackwell, 1975; Chimezie, 1985; Lindstrom & San Vant, 1986; Townsend & Patton, 1995). Gifted African American students may have difficulty integrating social ties to nongifted African American peers and academic ties to other high-achieving classmates. However, identifying solely with either of these groups while neglecting the other may be detrimental to students' psychological (e.g., self-esteem and sense of belonging) and academic lives. Therefore, identifying successful configurations of these two seemingly opposing identities is important to the study of gifted African American students.

A great deal of theoretical and empirical work has demonstrated links between racial identity and positive psychosocial adaptation (Blash & Unger, 1995; Jagers & Mock, 1993; Miller, 1999; Smith, Walker, Fields, Brookins,& Seay, 1999; Rowley, Sellers, Chavous, & Smith, 1998; Taylor, Casten, Flickinger, Roberts, & Fulmore, 1994). In general, researchers have found that African American students with a positive racial identity are better adjusted. Unfortunately, these findings do not necessarily hold in the case of high-achieving and gifted African American students. While a strong pro-African American identity may be beneficial for students in a broader social context, it may undervalue education and intellectual development (Ogbu, 1988, 1994). Identification with lesser-achieving African American peers may lead to underachievement and marginalization from high-achieving non-African American students and teachers (Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992).

While African American students with pro-African American orientations may be sacrificing academic achievement, African American students with strong pro-White attitudes may be isolating themselves from African American peers and culture. This perspective suggests that African American students with a pro-White identity reject their own culture in order to achieve academic, financial, and social success in mainstream America (Boykin, 1986; Fordham, 1988; Tatum, 1992). Gifted students may benefit from this orientation to the degree that they maximize their intellectual promise. Some critics, however, describe a pro-White identity as maladaptive for African American students (Baldwin, Brown, & Rackley, 1990; Cross, 1991). These researchers highlight the confusion that may ensue when African Americans depend on the dominant culture for self-definition (e.g., Smith, 1989; Thomas, 1971). Even more

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