What does it mean to be Black in America?

Black history month #2In 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?

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8 thoughts on “What does it mean to be Black in America?

  1. I agree. Well written Manny. This is both, clear and concise. I enjoyed this article very much. This is an issue that not just the African AMERICAN man deals with, but even the African man.

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  2. Manny, Great article. Everything you wrote was articulate and accurate. Our brothers and sisters are suffering from a physiological condition which is know as the “willielynch letter”. Some argue that he never existed. Rather this is true or not his methods exist. In his letter he wrote The Black slave after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self re-fueling and self-generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Don’t forget you must pitch the old BLACK vs. the young BLACK male, and the young BLACK male against the old BLACK male. You must use the DARK skin slave vs. the LIGHT skin slaves and the LIGHT skin slaves vs. the DARK skin slaves. You must use the FEMALE vs. the MALE, and the MALE vs. the FEMALE. You must also have your White servants and overseers distrust all Blacks , but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on US. They must love, respect, and trust only US. Gentlemen, these Kits are your Keys to control. Use them. Have your WIVES and CHILDREN use them, never miss opportunity. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain PERPETUALLY DISTRUSTFUL. As your article proves, these methods are still destroying the black communities and families.

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    1. While I really enjoyed the article, I have lived long enough (60 years), and studied African and African-American History (Masters Degree), I have come to know that Black people don’t always progress through each of the listed stages. Actually, I would argue that doing so can be detrimental to one, as a person identifying as Black, given our treatment across the globe.

      To illustrate my first point…look at Clarence Thomas. Although he is a Black man, and a lifetime appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s obvious that he was stuck in one of the early stages. Contrast him to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who did progress through the stages, bringing many a brother and sister with him…including Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik Shabazz). One was preceeded by (Hon. Thurgood Marshall), the other followed by his protege` (Malcolm). Which of the four do you think were more iconic and beneficial to our community? I’ll leave that up to the reader to decide.

      My point here, is to be instructive. You can’t make blanket statements about the need for people to progress through any set of stages that are arbitrarily created by someone else, because people will develop and grow, or not, depending on their individual life circumstances. Dr. Na’im Akbar wrote a landmark book nearly 30 years ago entitled, “New Visions for Black Men”, where he equates the stages of Black male development with that of a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly – and what being stuck in any of the stages means, and how that meaning is manifested in behavior. Very interesting read, which I suggest for all.

      I said all this to say, that we must come to OVERstand that while aging is something that no one can stop, maturing (moving through growth stages) is not! Be proud of your (our) Blackness, know how it fits within the global time continuum (history), and how it has and continues to shape our culture, and impact those things outside of it.

      Also, keep in mind that those of us in the human race are 99.5% identical, genetically. Yet, we have used the .4% to treat people in some very different and inhumane ways at times…in every corner of the globe…ever since the dawn of man. Comprehending how your Blackness fits into the historic continuum, is much more important, than believing you know what “stage” of Blackness you’re in.

      Creator and Ancestor Blessings and Luv!

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  3. Being “black” in America means being destitute, hated by every other nation (Nehemiah 5:9), and being oppressed in the land of our captivity. Yet, we are the greatest people on the planet. You “Blacks”, “Hispanics”, and “Native Americans” are Israelites. The truth is, we were never meant to be “black in America” anyways. We were meant a holy people ruling over ever land. Visit http://www.israelunite.org/who-are-the-israelites-today/ to learn more.

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  4. Great expression. More people should speak out more like this on topics such as this. Becoming more aware and attaining as much knowledge as you can is key. Keep teaching and preaching to those who are unaware. Help those that are blind and lost so we can ALL BE SET FREE!!!! Bless your mind body and spirit Manny take care.

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