Communication 372 – Theory and Research in Intercultural Communication

John R. Baldwin

School of Communication

Illinois State University

Updated 28 May 28, 2013

Theories of Identity


Objectives for UNIT on Identities

Intro: In the first set of note for this unit, you read about social and personal identities. Even there, we began to move into theories about identity. In this webpage, I will summarize three theories of identity (moving some material from yesterday’s webpage to complete this page!). We will then begin to apply some of the concepts from these pages to specific identities. Objectives (and Quixam Review):

·         What are the main approaches of the communication theory of identity and co-cultural theory (in terms of humanistic, scientific, critical). How might each see something like “gender” identity? Racial identity?

·         How would traditional social scientific, humanistic, or critical (e.g., feminist) scholars look at something like sex/gender and communication or interracial communication?

·         Social identity theory: What are the main assumptions of SIT as they apply to intergroup communication? What is the 3-step process that occurs in communication (know the difference b/t the terms).

·         What are the 3 influences on any interaction, according to Baldwin’s model of intercultural comm (B& Hecht, 2003)

·         CTI: Be able to define and apply the four levels (plus 2 Baldwin adds) of identity from CTI (personal, dyadic, relational, communal, mediated, policy/law)

·         CTI: List and describe some of the main aspects of identity (salience versus centrality, scope, intensity, content versus relationship, avowal versus ascription).

·         CTI: Be able to describe an identity you hold in terms of some of the assumptions of CTI. Nice application essay topic!


After this unit, Students will be able to:

v  Describe Berry’s model for identity development

v  Tell the main perspective of social identity theory and describe the “3-stage” process of perception. This will also entail the ability to distinguish between categorization and stereotyping (more on this in the next set of notes!).

v  Outline the characteristics that an identity has. Some of these echo the main points of cultural theory of identity (CTI refers to communication theory of identity. See separate notes. Hecht, Collier, & colleagues); e.g. avowal v. ascription, aspects, nature of cultural identities, intercultural communicator competence [class notes]

o   Strength (= salience + centrality)

o   Salience

o   Scope (CTI)

o   Centrality

o   Intensity (CTI)

o   Regard (CTI: “relationship” aspect: feelings associated with an identity)

o   Content (CTI: “content” aspect—thoughts, behaviors associated w/identity)

v  Explain the main ideas of communication theory of identity: [Note: There is a nice on-line reading, but Milner site is down so I cannot access the URL. I will summarize this Tuesday morning or so, but the above link gives a rough idea about the theory.]

o   Approach to research

o   Views of reality


Theorizing Identity

[Transition]: Beyond the basic terms, many writers have taken to describing the different approaches and feelings of identity. As noted in my own presentation above, many recent writers do not expect people to act according to a given identity at any given time. However, just as there are different approaches to culture and to intercultural communication, we can expect that there are different ways to think about identity as it pertains to research. Let me illustrate these with the notion of gender and sex identities (the same could be applied to the notion of African American, Filipino-American, Southern Baptist, or Tau Kappa Epsilon identities).


I.                   Metatheoretical approaches to Identity

As we think about identity and how to understand it, we must first realize that there are several different ways that we can understand identity, and different scholars tend to treat it differently. Borrowing language from our unit on “paradigms” in communication research, we can see that scholars might take one of three (or four) approaches to an identity, be that “sex/gender,” “race,” or some other identity.


Finally, we will see that the approach one takes to identity is linked to the way one sees intolerance, because identity-based intolerance is inherently linked to how we see our own identities and the identities of others. That is, to understand intolerance, we must first understand identity.



A.  Scientific: Treats identity as a variable that can other variables such as communication style or response to mediated messages. For example:

Ø  Men and women differ in terms of the types of interruptions they use in conversations (sex is IV; type of interruption is DV)

Ø  Women’s self-image is more affected by magazine advertisements than that of men (sex is IV; self-image is DV)

B.  Humanistic/interpretive: This view is more likely to either interpret the perspective of a different group or might even interpret a specific manifestation of identity. It would tend to see gender as a social construction (also, would focus more on “gender” than “sex”).

Ø  How do teen girls construct the notion of femininity through telephone “boy talk”?

Ø  How does the representation of women in South American telenovelas change through the decades?

C.  Critical: This perspective treats the social construction of gender (and sometimes even race, as in Rakow & Wackwitz, 1998) as a struggle between groups or as marginalizing some over others. Again, the actual research can be either scientific or humanistically focused.

Ø  How are women portrayed in Christian, rap, country, and rock videos (IV: sex; DV: categories of representation)

Ø  In what ways does organizational communication expectations marginalize women’s speech patterns?

Ø  How new (“empowering”) modes of female relationship does the movie Thelma and Louise offer?

D.  Postmodern identities: This view would assume that any given identity is not only a “site of struggle” or “contested site” (critical), but that there are different, competing visions of any identity. This has two important implications for seeing identities. First, we should not assume that there is any such thing as an “African American” or a “gay” identity, but that each of these is fragmented, with different ways of being “Black” or “gay” (the problem, as we shall soon see, arises when people within the group assume that all Blacks or all gays should act and behave in a certain way and begin telling others how to act!). That is, each identity is “fragmented.” The second implication is that each person’s identity (let’s say, gender identity) is also fragmented. The PM view would not simply say that “gender” has changed over the last 100 years, but that there is (and have been) different “discourses” of what it means to be a woman. Any woman will be a result of those discourses, some telling her to get a career, and others telling her to be a good mom, and others telling her this, or that. In essence, PM would argue that the self, itself, is fragmented and inconsistent because of these different discourses.


BTW, there had been a great debate among scholars in different ethnic and sex groups. For example, among Blacks, Stuart Hall, an Afro-Caribbean in Britain, has argued that we should not think of Black ethnicity, but Black ethnicities, as there are many different ways of conceptualizing and acting out one’s own Blackness—that is not simply that individuals are different, but that there are different discourses within the Black community of what “Blackness” should be like or about. Molefi Kete Asante, director of Black Studies at Temple University, strongly disagrees with this approach, feeling that it hides the commonality among all Black people (not only in the U.S. but in the worldwide African diaspora). More importantly, he feels that this fragmented approach works against the political unity Blacks could achieve by binding together.


II.  Specific Theories: I will here introduce three specific theories of social identity. These could apply to gendered identities, sexual orientation, ethnic identitites, or even those of smaller scope, like organizational or departmental identities. Please think “broadly” about your definition of culture as you read these:


A.  Social Identity Theory (Wikipedia link): This theory, developed largely by Henri Tajfel & John Turner, forms the basis of much of what Gudykunst states, as well as the basis for almost every other intergroup theory we consider in this course, so you should know the basics of the theory. In essence, it states that:

      1.   Our self-concepts are tied intricately to the groups to which we belong. Ex: If I were to fill out the sentence “I am…” about 20 times, many of the indicators would be the groups of which I am a member). If my “collective” self-esteem is low, this will impact how I see myself. To deal with it, I will either distance myself from my group or make efforts to improve my collective self-esteem.

      2.   We tend to see others on a continuum from intergroup to interindividual. Ex: The first time Marla comes to my office, I am likely to see her primarily as a member of a group (graduate student, non-traditional student, educator). As we interact over the semester or over several semesters, I will see her more and more on individual terms. Notably, in some cases, we want to think of others in terms of group membership only. The military, for example, might use phrases or terms to de-individuate others—to see them only as members of the outgroup. It is much easier to bomb them to pieces that way. But Tajfel and Turner argue that group belonging is, even in the most personal of relationships, present at least to some level. The more I see someone on intergroup terms, the more likely I am to treat the person using stereotypes or group-level expectations.




Description: Description: student and teacher      3.   When we meet someone, we go through a 3-stage process of cognition that allows for intergroup comparison (I would like you to learn these as I learned them—not as reflected in the Wikipedia site):

            a.   Categorization: The differentiation of people (or things) into groups with similar characteristics. Categorization is a natural part of life—we have to use it or we would go crazy. We would be eating tables and dating flowers, because we would have no categorization for edible products or potential romantic partners. At this level, when Marla comes into my office, I first see her and place her into one or more categories (student, non-traditional student, education major). There is nothing at this level inherently good or bad about the category!

            b.   Evaluation: I identify with some groups, but not others, and part of this pertains to how I feel about my group (collective self-esteem). This is influenced by other groups. In this case, I might have particular feelings, good or bad, about education majors. If I have had negative experiences in the past (or if media paints education majors in a positive light, or if I grew up with my parents telling jokes about education majors), then I make a negative evaluation of Marla’s disciplinary identity.

            c.   Comparison: Finally, I will compare Marla’s group (education) and my group (communication) on some relevant dimensions, such as value of scholarship, marketability, or income gained by graduating majors. Typically, I will make the comparison in such a way that my group looks better and Marla’s looks worse, because if (in my mind) I can make her group look worse, then I will feel better about my own group.

      4.  When we belong to a group that is put down by society (a marginalized or devalued “out-group,” we tend either to seek to “pass” if possible—to belong to the outgroup, or to redefine aspects of our own group to give it value (since that protects our self-esteem). (See, e.g., Braithwaite & Braithwaite, 2012, on “redefinition”).



B. Berry’s Model of Cultural Assimilation: J. W. Berry introduced a model regarding acculturation to apply to immigrant groups within a culture. The former model proposed a single dimension (unidimensional) model, in which an immigrant moved from her or his own culture, unacculturated to the new culture, through “enculturation” to full acculturation.


Description: Description:


Berry’s model—the one on the bottom of this figure (, suggests that one should see both culture of origin and new culture on two dimensions. I usually envision the two sides reversed—like this:



Host Culture

Own Culture










Thus, one can be “bi-cultural”—highly adjusted in both own and host cultures, or can be “marginal”—adjusted in neither. This model has been applied in different ways by authors to both White and minority identities in the United States (see Nance & Foeman chapter in the MN&F reader if you want to know more detail or see citations to original authors). Authors have come up to measure Black, Latino, and White identities, often proposing a series of steps from initial contact to a point at which the person can integrate skills and communication behaviors from both cultures equally. (We will revisit this notion tomorrow! This model has the greatest relevance for what we will do with it!).


This model, based in social psychology, has tended to be used very scientifically. Specifically, what variables might predict if one is segregated, assimilated, etc.? Some variables might include social economic status, the social integration or segregation of groups within a society, the permeability or solidness of boundaries between groups, the linguistic strength (ethnolinguistic vitality) of a group (which would discourage assimilation), and so on.



C.  Communication Theory of Identity [for corresponding Power Point, go here]

An optional on-line reading: If you want to know more about the theory, you can read the first part of this chapter for a coverage of CTI (formerly called CTEI, for communication theory of ethnic identity). The last part extends the study of identity to the notion of intolerance—our ultimate point. But we will consider the two halves of the chapter separately:


Citation: Baldwin, J. R., & Hecht, M. L. (2003). Unpacking group-based hatred: A holographic look at identity and intolerance. In L. A. Samovar & R. E. Porter (Eds.), Intercultural communication: A reader (10th ed, pp. 354-364.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth


Introduction: Some other authors, starting with the independent work of Michael Hecht and Mary Jane Collier (who later worked together on the theory), have developed another perspective that is now growing in popularity, especially in the communication field. The main focus of this theory is not on how to predict communication with identity, but how groups create an identity through communication. That is, the theory suggests that identities are both negotiated within a group—to determine what a particular identity means, and negotiated within interaction between people of different identities.


An example of the first case is that “Black” identity is not static or unchanging, but the African American community continues to use messages (mediated, interpersonal, rhetorical) to shape what it means to be “Black.” Further, some would take the theory one step further (a postmodern view—a direction the theory itself does not go) to contend that even with the “Black” (or Latino, or Gay, or Deaf, or Amish) communities, there are different discourses of what it means to be “Black,” with groups of African Americans disagreeing with each other about what “Blackness” is or should be. Non-Blacks also create discourses to determine what “Blackness” is or should be. In this sense, identity is created communicatively, rather than simply a “variable” to predict behaviors. The approach is more humanistic, though Hecht often adopts neither humanistic nor scientific approaches in his work, but blends them.


But identity is also negotiated in the particular interaction, either between individuals of the same identity group, or individuals of different identity groups. In the same identity group, two individuals might see Blackness (etc.) differently. Both may feel that they are being “Black” and living out their Black identity as they see fit. But one disagrees with the other and tells her, “You’re just not Black enough,” or calls her an “Oreo” (Black on the outside, White on the inside). That is, the two individuals are “negotiating” their mutual identities in interaction. So also, a Black woman might go to the workplace and see herself first and foremost in her role identity as a business professional. But a co-worker can “frame” her through some comment either primarily as a woman (“You sure look hot in that dress, today!”) or more specifically as a woman of color (“What do you people think about the change in Affirmative Action laws?”). Either one disrespects the identity the woman seeks to claim in the interaction.


With this in mind, we can see that this theory treats identity much more fluidly than a traditional social scientific perspective. Here, briefly, are some assumptions and definitions


      1.   Assumptions: A full list of assumptions, from Hecht, Collier, and Ribeau’s 1993 text, African American Communication, appears below. This work is now in 2nd edition (Hecht, Jackson, & Ribeau), and the theory has been updated as recently as 2005. Please see me if you want a bibliography on this theory!

o   Ontology: Reality—specifically, the meanings and norms of social identities, are “intersubjective.” That is, they are neither purely subjective (“each person has her own view of gender”) nor strictly objective (“We can predict people’s behavior with biological sex), but are, rather, created between people through the exchange of messages (both mediated and face-to-face). This echoes what you may have learned in early theory classes as the “symbolic interactionist” approach. You will note in the “assumptions” of the theory below that there are no predictive statements (A causes or leads to B). Because of this, more traditional social scientists might not like to call this a “theory.”

o   Epistemology: Because identities have both a subjective and an objective component, scholars use either traditional social scientific methods (surveys, open-ended questionnaires that are quantified) or open-ended data collection (communication diaries, interviews) to collect data. Data in some studies is analyzed statistically, and in other studies with thick-description. We see an example of Hecht’s work in the MN&F reader, where he applies the theory to the cultural identity of Jewishness to a rhetorical analysis of Northern Exposure. An example of Mary Jane Collier’s work can be seen at this link. Still, most research begins at some point by asking people about their identities through some open-ended means.

o   Human nature is seen as largely voluntary. People make choices as to how they will enact their identity.

o   Axiology: The theory does address social inequalities in a couple of senses:

o   Hecht and his colleagues (1993) argue that we must understand Black/White communication within the social/historical/economical context of 400 years of history.

o   Mary Jane Collier, and later Hecht et al., talk about the tolerance of accepting people in the identities in which they see themselves (see “competence) below).

2.   Some Key Terms:

o   Values, meanings, norms: A key focus of this theory has been understanding the values and norms of a specific group of people. For example, the Hecht chapter suggests a strong value of “community” for the Jewish community. Norms in this theory are interchangeable with rules—different from the definition we have accepted so far (okay—so different authors define terms different ways!)

o   Symbols, core symbols, labels:  Identity is negotiated and shared through symbols (e.g., see Dwight Conquergood’s work on the “representing” practices of Chicago street gangs). These can be visual symbols, like logos, colors, and so on, but can also be key words central to a culture’s ethos, such as “freedom” for mainstream American culture. Cultures often revolve around two or three very central themes or symbols, which the authors call “core symbols.” Importantly, the authors note that the labels one chooses may say something about how those people see themselves. Thus, one who sees oneself as Latina/o may have a different set of values, meanings, and norms for expected behavior, than someone who calls her or himself Mexican American, or Chicana/o, or Hispanic.

o   Intercultural Competence has been defined two ways. One way is the ability for people in interaction to successfully negotiate competing cultural values, meanings, and norms. The second, related to this, is when the identities that someone ascribes to others matches the identity that person chooses (avows) for her or himself.


3.   Characteristics of identity

A key contribution of this theory has been to bring under one umbrella a variety of terms or dimensions upon which we can think about our identities. Some of these include:

o   Strength (= salience + centrality): The role an identity plays in one’s self-perception and behavior (my own def). Very important: Centrality refers to an identity that is always or usually important to someone’s self-perception. Salience refers to the contextual importance. Thus, someone who is Christian might carry that identity with her or himself into every interaction, keeping it “in the front of one’s mind” so to say; for that person, the identity has high centrality. For another person, the identity might have low centrality, but when meeting a Jewish or Muslim person, or when someone brings up a religious issue, the identity (among the many the person might have in an interaction!) comes “to the front,” or becomes “salient” in the interaction. It is important to note that each of us has multiple, overlapping (and sometimes contradicting) identities: nationality, organizational, sex or gender, race or ethnicity, political, religious, interest or hobby group, etc. These are all understood to be shared or social identities—not whether I see myself as shy or friendly.

o   Scope (CTI) : The number of people that share an identity. For example, the identity of Americans with a physical disability is much greater than the identity of Hmong manicurists of Manitoba.

o   Intensity (CTI) : The degree to which one expresses ones identity publicly. The theory suggests that we can experience our identity at different levels: Personal (how we feel about the identity); dyadic (or interaction—how we express the identity through our norms of speech or through talking directly about it); relational—how we express and negotiate our identities in ongoing social contracts like romance or work relationships; and communal—how we remember an identity in our collective “cultural” memories, such as through ritual. If one has high intensity, one might express one’s identity quite openly—be “out” about one’s identity. Someone in the same classroom or workgroup might have the same identity, but prefer to keep it quiet, or even to “pass” as a member of the dominant group. For an example of these, applied to Jewish identity, read Golden, Niles, & Hecht (2002) in the MN&F reader.

o   Content and Relationship Components: Following the same scholars who said that one “cannot not communicate” (Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967), the authors suggest that our identities have both content—the specific norms or behaviors associated with an identity, such as how men are supposed to cuss, belch, and fart—and a relationship component (sometimes called “regard”): how we feel about our identity. Thus, two people might see themselves as “geeks.” Both may agree what the identity means as far as characteristics (content), but one might embrace the identity (positive regard) and the other might dislike the identity (negative regard)

o   Avowed and Ascribed identities: Not only do we have an image of our various identities, we also have an image of the identities of others. One’s avowed identity is the one that one claims (avows) in an interaction. An ascribed identity is one that we give to someone else. A woman might come to the workplace and see herself as a professional. But then if a man makes a harassing comment, he is treating her in her identity as a woman (specifically, a sex object). So also, among people of a given identity, one African American might enact her identity one way, and another might say she is not “Black” enough. This simply means that one person ascribes one Black identity the other person, but the person avows a different Black identity. Competent Communication occurs when the identity we avow to others matches the identity that they claim in an interaction.


A final point: The final point here is that the authors feel that in any given interaction, some identities may be present most of the time (if they are more “central”), but by what the people say in the interaction, other identities may become “salient” while others recede. In addition, how each group conceives of its own identity is created through ongoing communication, and is, thus, dynamic—always changing.


Abstract of dissertation using CTI:

Abstract of Northern Exposure article using CTI:


Assumptions of the Communication Theory of Ethnic Identity


Identities have individual, enacted, relational, and communal properties


Identities are both enduring and changing


Identities are affective, cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual


Identities have both content and relationship levels of interpretation


Identities involve both subjective and ascribed meanings


Identities are codes that are expressed in conversations and define membership in communities


Identities have semantic properties that are expressed in core symbols, meanings, and labels


Identities prescribe modes of appropriate and effective communication


Identities are hierarchically ordered meanings attributed to the self as an object in a social situation


Identities are meanings ascribed to the self by others in the social world


Identities are a source of expectations and motivations


Identities are emergent [in interaction and context]


Identities are enacted in social behaviors, social roles, and symbols


Identities emerge in relationship to other people


Identities are enacted in relationships


Relationships develop identities as social entities


Identities emerge out of groups and networks

From Hecht, Collier & Ribeau (1993, pp. 166-168).


Summary: This theory served as a pivotal link in the communicative study of identity. Many of our authors in the MN&F reader and beyond cite this theory, as it turned us from a strictly variable analytic approach to identity (e.g., predicting behaviors based on sex, “race,” or some other identity) to a focus on how we create the identities through communication. Further, it treats identity more fluidly and emergent, rather than static, addressing a critique many had of prior studies of culture and identity. One writer who used this approach as a bridge to his own theory of identity and communication was Mark Orbe (1995).


Thought box:

§  How do the different characters in the opening scenes of Crash ( negotiate their identities? Discuss in terms of specific aspects of identity, levels of identity, avowal and ascription, emergence of identity in interaction, and so on. That is, explain a segment of the video in terms of the communication theory of identity.

§  OR Tell about an interaction in your own life when your identity became salient. Discuss the incident using CTI.



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III.       Applications of the Theories to Specific Identities


A.   African American Values & Communication


Introduction: Already during the identity unit, we have had a chance to read or think about a variety of identities. In the remainder of this page, we will consider racial and ethnic identities and  and communication


African American Communication: We must  be careful not to conflate “race” with African-White American differences. Many authors have argued against the dichotomization of “race.” And the whole problematic notion of the term “race” is Description: Fern Johnsonbeyond the scope of this webpage! Here, I just want to introduce an article for your reading enjoyment…


Fern Johnson, (2002) in her book Speaking Culturally, includes chapters on several main co-cultural groups in the United States and issues regarding their linguistic usage. As a professor of English, she is more focused on social linguistics of the groups, but some of what she says regarding African American culture and communication will be very useful for our understanding of the co-cultural group. You will not read the whole essay on African American communication in close detail, but focus on those parts highlighted in this Power Point Presentation:\372\African American Communication.ppt.



A.   Overview

The chapter is long, so skim parts and read parts more deeply! Johnson, for example, talks extensively about the various levels of language (something we will talk about in a later class) as these apply to AAVE, specifically:

1.      African American Cultural Themes (pp. 120-127)

2.      African American institutions & cultural artifacts (pp. 127-131) (less important for our quiz—our space is limited!)

3.      Discourse patterns! Some of this will only make sense after we have had a chance to look at different levels of language (next unit!). The main thing you should be aware of is that “African American Vernacular English” (AAVE, or “Black English Vernacular (BEV), or Ebonics) is much more than “slang” or simply pronunciation (saying “strenth" instead of “strength,” “axe” instead of “ask”). It is a “dialect” of English, suitable for certain people for certain functions in certain contexts, complete with a systematic grammar. This grammar probably has roots in African language structures.


Johnson gives us useful background on “creoles,” showing a mixture of English with African influences, with example from Gullah (pp. 132-140). You should know the main idea behind the creolization hypothesis, and that this opposes a former deficiency  hypothesis (that is, that “Black English” is simply incorrectly or inefficiently spoken White (American) English (we will call this Mainstream American Vernacular English (MAVE). Contrary to proper belief, MAVE is not “proper” English! Just ask the English! (Of course, there are many varieties of English even in England, as we learned if we every watched My Fair Lady). Professor Henry Higgins sings, of Americans, “They haven’t spoken English for years!” Rather, MAVE is just a mainstream dialect that has privilege in the workplace and places of education within the United States as the dominant accepted form of English. The main thing you need to know from these pages is the primary explanations of the creolization and deficiency hypotheses. We’ll say more about pidgins and creoles in a future unit.


Johnson moves on to discuss specific details of pronunciation (“phonetics” & “phonology”; pp. 141-143) and grammar (“syntax,” pp. 143-148). These will give you a good idea of the breadth of difference between AAVE and MAVE, though they usually receive much more emphasis from linguists than from communication researchers. Some important notes:

·        These are only general types of difference. They won’t apply to every region equally.

·        Many African Americans do not speak AAVE at all, based either on upbringing or on deliberate choice not to speak it (yes, Ebonics has some controversy even in the Black community). And many who do speak it speak some aspects and not others. We would probably do better to see the boundaries between AAVE and MAVE as fluid and changing, with some African Americans using only some elements of AAVE (such as certain pronunciations) and others many other forms. Indeed, you probably have known some Whites who also use some of the elements of AAVE. Don’t Description: African American Photodiss” them!

·        Most African Americans, especially those who continue to advance in their education, have learned to “code switch”—to AAVE if they grew up speaking MAVE, or to MAVE if they grew up speaking AAVE. To further illustrate the fluidity of AAVE, they might use some elements all the time, but use more elements when speaking to other African Americans (and even this code switching is probably based on context—the age of the people, whether they are peers or supervisors, friends or strangers, and so on).

·        Modes of Discourse. These are the most important part of the chapter for us. Communicative forms or rituals that use language to achieve certain persons in certain contexts (the pragmatic level of language). Johnson outlines 7 (pp. 148-156; see summary p. 149).


Thought Box: Johnson and others have written about the role of communication style differences among ethnic groups in the classroom. One essay (in the Baldwin et al., culture defs book) by García and Guerra argue that the achievement gap in educational scores in grade schools is not due to cultural or family “deficiencies” as much as it is to a cultural mismatch between teachers, who reflect or are trained in mainstream English and teaching styles, and students who come to the classroom with different cultural styles. One day, my daughter, then in the 2nd grade, came home and said that one of the African American boys was saying something that I knew (reading Johnson) reflected AAVE. The teacher explained to the boy that “that was wrong and he should say it this way.”


Thought and debate questions abound! Take your pick!

Ø  Should we be discouraging Ebonics and other Englishes in the elementary classrooms or encouraging them. What policy or teaching implications would you suggest?

Ø  What are the implications of Whites, like Eminem, adopting Black communication styles? Should we all be able to choose any style to communicate that we want, or are there political implications for Whites using Black music and art forms?

Ø  What are the social reasons that forms like “rap” and Ebonics have persisted? What functions do you feel these serve for the African American community?



1.   Wynne: “We Don’t Talk Right. You Ask Him.” (pp. 119-126). This essay describes the personal experience and hurt people experience through attitudes of “language supremacy,” especially as that pertains to mainstream U.S. culture attitudes towards Black English vernacular. The essay would be a great fit here, but we will join it with the Cargile essay (pp. 464-472) and discuss “language attitudes” in our unit on verbal communication.


2.   Pratt, Pratt, & Dixon (2012): American Indian Identity: Communicating Indian-ness.

·        What does it mean, among Indians, for someone to be genuinely “Indian” (or a “culturally competent” Indian)?

·        What are some issues in representation of Indians? In research about Indians? The authors suggest a revision in how mainstream culture understands Indian-ness that involves a communicative approach. They don’t spell this out, but what do you think it means?

·        Alas, the essay is more about these things than any information about the behaviors and attitudes that are appropriate for particular Indian nation cultures. See the work of Carbaugh and many others to find more more about this.


3.   Warren (2012): Living within Whiteness: A Project Aimed at Undermining Racism

·        What is whiteness? How does it show itself in both social structure and personal experience.

·        Warren states, “Whiteness exists in the small repated ways we do our lives, complete our speech, and live our lives” (p. 109). What are some examples Warren gives of experiencing “Whiteness”?

·        How does Whiteness compare (or intersect with) other bases of “privilege”? Can you think of other “invisible centers” that we use to define and look at the rest of society?

·        Is Warren’s approach scientific, humanistic, or critical (hint: Note his 3 points for future research, pp. 109-110)?

Text Box: Thought Box: What are some benefits you have experienced or seen Whites experience based on being White? What are other possible “centers” of privilege (give evidence)? What do you think are strengths and limitations of the “critical” approach of Whiteness to understanding communication? Consider Peggy McIntosh’s essay on Whiteness (Youtube: What new insights does the essay give you, if any?

Read Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” and/or watch videos on Whiteness, to better understand how it is framed:



Some Video References on Whiteness, Orientalism, and Race:

·         Tim Wise on how America talks about Race:

·         Peggy McIntosh: Unpacking the invisible knapsack:

·         Mirrors of Privilege: [This is trailer. There are 4 other parts to the documentary]

·         James Baldwin: Stranger in the village: [dramatization:] Original essay:

·         Michael Jackson: Black or White:

·         Edward Said on Orientalism:; abbreviated version:


Some sources:

Allport, G. (1954/1979). The nature of prejudice (25th ann. ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33-47) Montery, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Baldwin, J. R., & Hecht, M. L. (2003). Unpacking group-based hatred: A holographic look at identity and intolerance. In L. A. Samovar & R. E. Porter (Eds.), Intercultural communication: A reader (10th ed, pp. 354-364.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth

Hecht, M. L., Collier, M. J., & Ribeau, S. L. (1993). African American communication: Ethnic identity and cultural interpretations. Newbury Park: Sage.

Hecht, M. L., Warren, J. R., Jung, E., & Krieger, J. L. (2005). A communication theory if identity: Development, theoretical perspective, and future directions. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 257-278). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Herbst, P. H. (1997). The color of words: An encyclopaedic dictionary of ethnic bias in the United States. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.