In 1971, Black psychologist William E. Cross, created the Nigrescence model. The Nigrescence model is a racial identity scale created to assess how Black Americans come to understand and appreciate what it means to be Black. According to Cross, every Black American must go through a series of five stages in order to develop a clear and healthy understanding of what it means to be Black in America. Cross argues that an individual must progress through each stage of the Nigrescence model in chronological order, and although one cannot skip a stage, he or she can regress.
According to Cross, every Black American begins their life in the Pre-Encounter Stage. In the Pre-Encounter stage, individuals consciously or subconsciously reflect pro-White and anti-Black attitudes. The Pre-Encounter Stage is linked to the term, “Black Self-Hatred.” Black Self-Hatred can be defined as a Black person’s hatred of the self because of race. Black Self-Hatred is the result of serious miseducation. Cross indicated that it is extremely hard for Blacks not to be miseducated at some point in their life; being that America’s formal educational system and pop culture displays negative notations about Africa and African Americans. People in this stage generally display shame or a level of discomfort regarding the physical, cultural, and social characteristics of Black Americans.
People in the Pre-Encounter Stage typically fall into one of two clusters: the Anti-Black cluster or the Assimilation cluster. Those who fall into the Anti-Black cluster hold extremely negative views about Black people, and identify with White standards of beauty and behavior. Individuals in the Assimilation cluster often demonstrate a poor understanding about what it truly means to be Black. Possessing such a low salience for race, people in the Assimilation cluster prefer to be identified with a special ethnic group or class of Black folks. Although people in the Assimilation cluster are not anti-Black, they often prefer to be seen and identified as something else. Altogether, individuals in the Pre-Encounter Stage tend to judge “Whiteness” from the top down, and “Blackness” from the bottom up. They associate the positive and most successful elements of the broader White community to “Whiteness,” and the least successful of the broader Black community to “Blackness.”
People usually transition into the Encounter Stage after being exposed to something or a series of events overtime that make them aware that they are Black. Soon after accepting and realizing that they are indeed Black, individuals become interested in knowing something about what it means to be Black in addition to the typical stereotypes of the race. The “encounter” can be a positive experience such as meeting American social activist and academic Cornel West or a negative experience such as being racially profiled by the police. Whatever one’s encounter may be, it acts as a wake up call.
The Immersion Stage is often times deemed as the most intense of all five stages. Most people in this stage tend to be overtly pro-Black, proposing that everything “White” or Eurocentric is bad, and everything “Black” or afrocentric is good. Individuals who have a tendency to criticize White people and White culture can possibly develop a Black racial identity based on the hatred of White people. This tends to be the time period when everything noteworthy must relate to Blackness and being so, individuals will hungrily consume Black literature. People in this stage deem other Blacks who are not in this stage as “sell-outs” or dumb and blind to the true essence of Blackness. It is during this stage that some people become upset with White-controlled society and deem it responsible for deceiving them and their people for so many years. Some people in the Immersion Stage do not display anti-White attitudes and conform to White standards, they simply exhibit that they neither love nor hate White people.
Black Americans transition into the Internalization Stage when they become proud of being Black, and gain the ability to function comfortably in society at large. Putting aside the anger and guilt found within the Immersion Stage, individuals now accept themselves as Blacks without romanticizing Blackness or hating Whiteness. People in this stage have profoundly challenged stereotypical notions of Blackness and through meticulous study and action, they have developed a more accurate idea of what it means to be Black. Individuals learn to love Black culture, and can continue to learn about their race without being jealous or envious of other cultures. Black people can now acknowledge that Black folks do messed up things and it is not the White man’s fault that some Blacks make bad decisions. Black people develop diverse cultural lenses to see the beauty in Black, White, and other cultures.
Black people should ultimately strive to reach the Internalization Commitment Stage. Individuals in this stage see themselves as belonging to the human family and view people as people regardless of race. A Black person will assert that while they are proud of being Black; they are not restricted to Blackness and being so, they choose to deal with a wide array of people and fight for a wide array of causes. People in the Immersion or Internalization Stage may fight against racial profiling, while an individual in the Internalization Commitment Stage may see it more important to join activist organizations that are not directly oriented toward securing the rights of Black folks. Individuals usually unite with one another around the perspective of a humanist or universalist.
All Black Americans should strive to develop a deep and true understanding of what it means to be Black in America. Those with anti-White attitudes should make great efforts to reach one of the two Internalization Stages and avoid developing a Black racial identity built on hate toward White people. Individuals who reach one of the two Internalization Stages should feel great about deeply challenging stereotypical notions of Blackness.
Though the Nigrescence model is designed to assess how Black Americans come to understand what it means to be Black in America; does it apply to White people and other ethnic groups? Are we people of the same struggle? Is it only Black Americans that grow up with an unhealthy and unclear understanding of their race and place in the world due to miseducation? Should Black Americans be the only ethnic group that unite with one another around a humanist and universalist perspective?