Negotiating Race, Culture, & Identity in
Community Settings: An Introduction
L. Jackson II
Pennsylvania State University
special issue of the Journal of Rural Community Psychology evolved from an
article I wrote in the Journal of Counseling and Development in 1999.
The article was a critical autobiographical chronicle concerning race and
identity. After the article was
published, I received numerous email messages and one of them was from Pamela
Mulder, editor of this journal. She
challenged me on a couple of issues I wrote about and we had a genuine
conversation about the intricacies of negotiating cultural identities in a
national context where race is tied to so many other factors.
From there, she stated that she was planning an issue on culture and
identity and invited me to be a part of it.
special issue is primarily concerned with identity negotiation as it is
mitigated by such factors as education, class/economy, employment, environment,
and politics of empowerment. This
topic began for me with the publication of my first book in 1999, The
Negotiation of Cultural Identity. I
have found it stimulating and exciting to read the pieces included here, which
can be characterized as critical studies, empirical studies and theoretic works
and which engage the special issue theme from varying perspectives. By adding
rural psychology and other disciplinary perspectives to the equation, this
volume becomes much more interesting than an average compilation of identity
effects studies. This mammoth
project was completed with the support of a strong set of patient reviewers who
were always willing to serve, even when that meant reading the same article
after each revision. The reviewers
are noted elsewhere, but I want to acknowledge them here as well.
They were Richard Wright (Howard University), Tiffany Townsend and
Michelle Miller-Day (both at Penn State University), Tyrome Smith (Fielding
Institute), Tina Harris (University of Georgia), Eric Watts (Wake Forest
University) and Rhunette Diggs (Denison University).
Last but certainly not least, I must thank Celnisha Dangerfield for being
the faithful, supportive and arduous editorial assistant.
of the arguments made here is that much of indigenous cultural values still
remains in rural communities fairly unchanged by novel conventions and concerns
for technological innovations and contemporariness; yet, that presents some
issues of its own. However, the
beauty of rural cultural continuity is the interest in preservation of cultural
identities. This is certainly true
of Native Americans, inhabitants of Appalachia, and speakers of the Geechi and
Gullah dialects. There is a
richness that is maintained and it appears almost as a museum relic to those who
reside in urban centers.
special issue begins with an article by Jackson & Stewart that sets the tone
for the thematic issue. It is a
theoretic overview of the concepts of rurality, culture, and identity
negotiation. The authors explain
how contemporary psychological models of identity facilitate understanding of
personhood as not just a public, but also a private phenomenon.
It is processual and yet non-static and non-modal.
Identities are conceived as self-definitions, communicatively defined,
contracted, negotiated, and still solvent.
The authors conclude their piece with a discussion of Jackson’s
cultural contracts approach and incumbent identity effects among rural African
Commer, Lindstrom & Meisen are next and they discuss the results of their
study of Latino parent members of “Parents Helping Parents” (PHPs) self-help
groups in one of seven rural counties in Kansas.
A 40-item questionnaire was distributed to 119 Latino parents.
The study was sponsored by the Kansas Self-Help Network.
The results indicated that Latino parents involved in the state’s 33
PHPs felt a sense of family strengthening, improved communication skills,
enhanced disciplinary skills and program satisfaction.
This essay offers a valuable literature review of Latino family
communication patterns and identity negotiation issues in rural communities in
addition to findings supporting the importance of community intervention
Wilson, Edwards, Alston, Harley & Doughty authored the next essay concerning vocational rehabilitation and the dilemma of race in rural communities. This conceptual-theoretic article notes the historical, social, and psychological issues affecting the cultural identity development of rural African Americans. The authors claim that complete and equitable vocational rehabilitation service delivery to rural African Americans with disabilities is hindered by three major factors: severity of disability, low educational status and limited transportation. These factors have led to a lag in earning potential and contribute to a growing underclass among rural African Americans as well as other minority communities.
single-authored essay is a nice compliment to the others in the volume,
especially Wilson et al’s. Dangerfield
maps antebellum segregation activities of a rural community in Mississippi, her
hometown of Woodville. She utilizes
newspaper articles from the local paper, the Woodville Republican, to assemble discourses of separation and
racism from slavery to the 1960s and beyond.
She then notes the effects this hegemonic political action and discourse
has had on rural African Americans. Some
of the listed factors which impact rural African Americans are as follows:
limited educational achievement, stunted emigration activity, limited land
ownership, eclipsed voting rights, sustained unemployment, and limited economic
resources within the community.
study is an in-depth theoretic exploration of what he has coined
“hyper-suburbs”- suburbia-like enclaves that exist in rural communities
throughout the United States. After
having explored education, desegregation, economic redlining, and vocational
rehabilitation, it is only appropriate that this special issue begin to conclude
with a thinkpiece that coheres these constituent parts into a cogent dialogue
about residential choices, poltical and economic distancing, and obviated human
separation. Rodriguez speaks eloquently and passionately about the incumbent
effects of “spatial fragmentation” on market values like empathy,
compassion, love and caring. He
problematizes this emergent cleavage by addressing four factors: shifting
population patterns, redrawing of electoral districts, conservative voting
tendencies and suburban political advocacy. By boldly questioning what is meant
by normalcy and deviancy, Rodriguez calls into question our humanity, our sense
of connectedness, indeed our lives.
Wulfhorst, Luloff, Albrecht & Lopez’ essay completes the thematic issue
with an exciting discussion of economic development, environmental protection
and rural Native American Indian identities.
The mixed methods approach this study takes is important as they
supplemented the administering of surveys with a few key-informant extended
interviews. There were 127 surveys
completed and the results indicated that many rural Indian inhabitants of the
Fort Mojave Indian reservation near the Colorado river, felt excluded from the
surrounding community and that feeling isolation had an effect on their
identities. The respondents also
reported perceptions of limited economic opportunity and limited institutional
concern for environmental protection or an unpolluted environment.
While their primary concern was for increased environmental protection,
economic opportunity was a close second. The
environmental threat being imposed on the Fort Mojave community stimulated “an
unprecedented and cohesive fight for justice and social sustainability of their
Indian community” (in this volume). The
Fort Mojave residents indicated that they will not move from their community and
so they will stand and fight for a natural and environmentally safe place to
live. The cultural significance of
the environment is symbolic of their connection to land and spirit. As one respondent is reported saying, “Since the 1950s, we
rely on ourselves-for transportation, education, livelihood.
Before, we relied on the creator-for crops, food, rain.”
This is not to suggest that the Great Spirit is no longer important to
their daily survival, but that community support is critical as identities are
negotiated as some “ecological Indians” come in contact with western
cultural ideals. It is only when
the Great Spirit, the environment, and resources are aligned that community
solidarity is at its best. Until
then, the Fort Mojave Indian community remains intact, but troubled by factors
that may ultimately threaten their survival, their social sustainability.
The essays in this volume are contributory to the literature in rural community psychology, communication, economics, international development, rural sociology, history and literature. The interdisciplinarity of this special issue is marked by a sophisticated blend of empirical research and theoretic conceptualizations of cultural identities. Truly, new ground is broken in this volume with cultural contracts theory being developed, the feasibility of rural support groups explored, and vocational rehabilitation of persons with disabilities being assessed. The special issue concludes with a nuanced mapping of school segregation and media reinforcement of racial separatism and finally, a triangulated examination of environmental protection, economic opportunity and perceptions of community identity. African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are among the most underprivileged rural inhabitants in the United States and this special issue explains why. Here is a unique compilation of original essays that speaks directly about the immeasurable decline of resources to suffering communities and the resultant effects on their cultural identities. Although it appears unfortunate that the essays here actually prove that cultural communities in rural America are negotiating their cultural identities, the good news is that these communities are among the most cohesive and culturally connected communities in America. They have been confronted with challenges and threats to their survival, but they remain resolute and courageous. Remember, courage is not about having the strength to go on, but going on when you do not have the strength. This volume is a tribute to the courageous ones!
Ronald L. Jackson II (Ph.D., Howard University), Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication Theory, Department of Speech Communication, Pennsylvania State University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ronald L. Jackson II, Department of Speech Communication, Pennsylvania State University, 234 Sparks Building, University Park, PA 16802. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to email@example.com.