What are self concept and self esteem?


Self esteem is the opinion one has of oneself. Rosenberg described self esteem as consisting of reflective appraisal, social comparison, and self attribution (Allen 2001: 48). Reflective appraisal is defined as “the notion that people’s feelings are informed by their judgements of what others think of them” (Allen 2001: 48). Social comparison involves individuals differentiating themselves from others, and self attribution involves individuals identifying the significance of their actions.

Self concept consists of the beliefs that one holds about oneself. It is different from self esteem because it is not solely a measurement of self worth. Scholars Porter and Washington describe self concept as consisting of personal identity and collective identity (Allen 2001: 52). Personal identity consists of the ideas one holds about their traits and characteristics. For instance, a person may be describing their personal identity when they mention that they are kind.

On a different note, collective identity involves an individual’s sense of belonging to a group. Collective identity could consist of “the concept of group identity as well as racial identity, racial awareness..race image, and race satisfaction” (Allen 2001: 52).

How would you describe the level of self esteem and self concept among Blacks?:

Newer studies have found that Blacks have high levels of self esteem and self concept. However, previous studies have frequently described Blacks as having low levels of self esteem and self concept. These studies tended to be flawed in their methodology.

One famous psychological work titled The Mark of Oppression: A Psychosocial Study of the American Negro explained that “the self concept of the Negro is contaminated by the central fact that it is based on a color caste system” (Belgrave et Allison 2019: 67). In turn, Scholars Kardiner and Ovesy cite that lower self concept contributes to increased crime and lower levels of education among Blacks (Belgrave et Allison 2019: 67). While this study is well intentioned, it is problematic because it assumes that African Americans cannot cope with racism. It also implies that African Americans will automatically behave destructively because they cannot handle the pressures of society.

Newer psychological studies have found that many African Americans hold high self esteem and high self concept because they develop buffers against an oppressive society. Scholars Crocker and Major found that African Americans may “give negative feedback to prejudiced attitudes to their group” (Allen 2001: 58). This study was significant because it disproved the previous theories about African American self concept and self esteem by providing available data and research. In turn, it disproved the belief that “life experience and culture must have deleterious effects on the black psyche” (Allen 2001: 58).

What is racial identity? How is racial identity different from self esteem?:

Racial identity measures one’s beliefs about themselves in regards to their racial group and in comparison to other racial groups. Racial identity is different from self esteem because it provides a clear methodology. While self esteem can measure many different concepts, racial identity identifies models that describe the processes in which African Americans discover the meaning of Blackness in America.

One model of racial identity is the nigrescence model. This model presents that there are five stages of racial identity. During the Pre-Encounter stage, African Americans hold a bias towards Whites and “feel ashamed and embarrassed about being African American” (Belgrave and Allison 2001: 71). Later in the dissonance phase, African Americans discover an event that changes their perception about the position of Black people. In the immersion and immersion phase, Blacks refuse to affiliate with Whites. Last, African Americans develop a strong awareness of their identity free from anxiety in the internalization and internalization-commitment phase.

Do Blacks have a strong racial identity? What factors seem to influence racial identity among Blacks? 

The nigrescence model was helpful because it portrayed that not all African Americans have high racial identities. The NEPS survey found that 44% of Blacks were in the pre-encounter stage, and 40% were in the internalization phase (Belgrave and Allison 2001: 75). This demonstrates that Blacks have both positive and negative images about themselves in regards to their race.

Scholars found that racial identity was influenced by levels of well being (Belgrave and Allison 2001: 75). Academics Pierre and Mahalik in 2005 found that “pre-encounter and immersion racial identity attitudes were associated with higher psychological distress “ (Belgrave and Allison 2001: 75). From this study, I interpreted that there is a relationship between negative feelings about racial groups and psychological functioning.

Additionally, Scholar Cokley found that there may be a relationship between racial identity and internalized racism, “the degree to which individuals internalize both negative and positive stereotypes about their race” (Neville et al 2009: 289). This suggests that models of racial identity may predict whether African Americans understand the effects of White culture on their self concept.

On a different note, levels of educational achievement did not appear to have a relationship with racial identity. Scholars Davis, Aronson, and Salinas in 2006 found that there was no relationship between GRE scores and racial identity (Neville et al 2009: 289). Thus, racial identity differs from self esteem because it does not correlate with educational performance.