White American Identity

Identity Development

The following framework has been adapted from the work of Janet Helms:

Contact Status

  • Has minimal experiences with people of Color.
  • Is unaware of racism.
  • Believes in level playing field.
  • Professes to being color-blind.
  • Has a lack understanding of prejudice and discrimination.

Disintegration Status

  • Beginning to become aware of racial injustice, and start to experience conflict.
  • Person becomes aware of their Whiteness and begins to experience dissonance and conflict resulting in guilt, depression, helplessness, shame, alienation, and maybe excitement.
  • There is a breakdown of the denial of systemic racism, which provokes anxiety and pain that can be difficult to face.

Reintegration Status

  • A regression to the most basic belief of White superiority and minority inferiority.
  • Idealize the White Euro-American group and the positives of White culture and society.
  • There is an intolerance of other minority groups. Ethnic minorities are blamed for their own problems.

Pseudo-Independence Status

  • Person is often propelled into this phase by a painful or insightful encounter.
  • Has an awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color and advantages that come with Whiteness.
  • Journey at this point is very intellectual.
  • Conscious decision to interact with minority group members.
  • May distance self from own Whiteness.
  • Desire to help other races.
  • May unintentionally perpetuate racism when trying to be socially conscious and helpful.

Immersion/Emersion Status

  • Explores themselves as a racial being and what it means to be White and begins to develop a positive conception of White identity.
  • More of an emotional journey. Includes changing self, not others.
  • A willingness to confront own biases at deeper level.
  • Becomes more active in directly combating racism and oppression.

Autonomy Status

  • Increasing awareness of one’s own Whiteness, reduced feelings of guilt, acceptance of one’s role in perpetuating and benefiting from racism.
  • Internalizes a positive definition of Whiteness.
  • Knowledgeable about racial, ethnic and cultural differences.
  • Is no longer fearful, intimidated, or uncomfortable with confronting racism.
  • Can explore the issues of racism and personal responsibility without defensiveness.
  • Engages in activities to resist all oppression.

Racial Equity Tools posts another explanation of Helms’ work here.

They are also summed up well in this interview with Dr. Chap in Recording and Resources: Understanding Racial-Ethnic Identity Development:

“Looking at Janet Helmes’ white identity model … As I stated at the start, this model is distinctly different than the people of color models [because in the latter] the goal is to get to an achieved personal sense of who one is and identity.

Janet Helms created a model where there are two phases. The first phase [in three stages] is dismantling one’s identity as racist. Reformulating one’s identity as not being associated with race and racism. And so there’s that colorblind ideology where again, similar to William Cross’s model where, race doesn’t matter, race is not a big deal. I don’t see you as a person of color. Oh we’re just the same. That’s the contact stage. But even that white person is having repeated experiences with race and racism. At some point, sometimes this is a really good friend of color who helps this White person make sense of what’s happening. Sometimes it’s the circumstances that that person is living in, perhaps a college experience, moving to a different part of their childhood surroundings, gets them to see race and racism in operation.

And that’s where a person either disintegrates and says, wow I didn’t realize that all of this was happening, I didn’t realize race was so prominent. But I don’t know what you do I feel really bad about my people and being white. Or reintegrates with …. the state of, this is not my problem. I didn’t create this. My parents didn’t own slaves. My relatives didn’t own slaves. That’s not a part of my legacy. I was raised to see all human beings as equal. So the reintegration of, this is not my problem. I don’t know how to fix this even. And sometimes blaming people of color for the problems that they’re in is resonant of that reintegration. And all of that has to get worked through.

So when a white person then encounters race and racism again, or another racialized moment, they go through like, OK I see what’s happening here. I want to do something about it. I want to figure this out. And that starts the next phase… now I need to know, how is it that I’m supposed to make sense of myself as a white person? This phase is a redefinition of one’s identity as a white person. What does it mean to now be a white person with a new identity that’s not related to white supremacy or white privilege but really is an anti- racist white person?”



A Conversation With White People On Race, from The New York Times

Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin Di Angelo, from GCORR

White People, from MTV


Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For, from Medium

No, I Won’t Stop Saying White Supremacy, from The Good Men Project

So You Want To Fight White Supremacy, from The Establishment

The Sugarcoated Language Of White Fragility, from The Huffington Post

White People Will Always Let You Down, from The Establishment


Under Our Skin: Under Our Skin grew out of conversations about how we at The Seattle Times cover race at a time when national and local events — the furor over police shootings, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, protests on college campuses and charged campaign rhetoric — dominate headlines.In our newsroom, we’ve found ourselves talking more candidly about race and racism, subjects that simmer beneath the surface even when they’re not on the front page. As a news organization, we’ve covered the local events as they’ve occurred, but we have a desire to probe the issues more deeply. And there have been instances when our stories have caused offense or led to misunderstandings. This project is just one effort under way in the newsroom to do things differently.

White Nonsense Roundup: White Nonsense Roundup (WNR) was created by white people, for white people, to address our inherently racist society. We believe it is our responsibility to call out white friends, relatives, contacts, speakers, and authors who are contributing to structural racism and harming our friends of color. We are a resource for anti-racist images, links, videos, artwork, essays, and voices. These can be used by anyone for a DIY white nonsense roundup, or by the WNR team to support people of color upon their request.

Whiteness Project: Whiteness Project is an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white, or partially white, understand and experience their race.


Return to 11-Step Guide to Understanding Race, Racism, and White Privilege.

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