Theories of African American personality: classification, basic constructs and empirical predictions/assessment.

Author:Kambon, Kobi K.K.
  1. Introduction

    Perhaps no other area of African/Black Psychology has such a legacy of controversy and strident intellectual debate than the area of Theories of African American (AA) personality (Belgrave & Allison, 2006; Cross, 1991; Kambon, 1992, 1998, 2006; Thomas & Sillen, 1972; Wilcox, 1971). This has not only been because of the legacy of the notorious contentiousness of the literature on AA intelligence, but also the subsequent literature on AA self-concept/racial identity and self-esteem, as well as the focus on AA motivation (i.e., achievement motivation) and antisocial behaviors such as drug abuse, delinquency, violence and criminality (Belgrave & Allison, 2006; Cross, 1991; Jones, 1972, 1980, 1991, 2004; Kambon, 1992, 1998; Pettigrew, 1964; Wilson, 1993). Each of these areas of the psychological study of AA personality has brought to the table their own set of controversial theoretical models, methodologies, data bases, analyses and conclusions. Through the years and as a result of the accumulation of a relatively large amount of research data and theoretical constructs, a distinct area of study called AA Personality has emerged within the African-centered psychological literature (Baldwin, 1976; Kambon, 1992, 1998) that commands serious consideration in any social policies respectful of cultural diversity that focus on truly improving the lives of all of the population. Thus, the growing body of psychological literature focused on African American personality will be discussed in this article in terms of the following considerations: (1) Classification of Basic Theoretical Paradigms, (2) Core Constructs and Empirical Predictions and Assessments, and (3) Future Directions of this important area of focus in African-Centered Psychology.

  2. Classification of Theories of African American Personality: Basic Theoretical Paradigms

    What then have emerged as the basic theoretical paradigms in this area of study and knowledge? Azibo (1990) has used such classifications as Positivists versus Negativist-Pejorativists to categorize these paradigms, whereas Kambon (1992, 1998) has proposed the categories of Africentric versus Non-Africentric as more appropriate to capture the distinguishing features of these paradigms. Kambon's (1992, 1998) work has been the primary guide in the development of classification schemes relevant to this area.

    More similar to Kambon, but incorporating many features from Azibo's scheme as well, we propose that three distinct approaches or paradigms seem to have emerged and have come to characterize contemporary work in this area. They might best be designated as (1) Eurocentric Models, (2) Transitional Africentric Models, and (3) Africentric Models. This schematic is summarized in Table 1.

    1. Eurocentric and Pseudo-Africentric Models

      Following Kambon's (1992, 1998) earlier scheme, theories whose racial-ethnic and philosophical orientation is of European/European-American descent and thus asserts the European Worldview (EWV)-cultural reality are

      classified as "Pure Eurocentric" because of its Caucasian authorship and exclusive emphasis on the EWV as the conceptual framework (i.e., the absence of the African Worldview). And in a related vein, we define the Pseudo-Africentric Models as those theories whose ethnic--philosophical orientation is of AA descent, yet asserts the European Worldview-cultural reality as the conceptual framework of analysis (Kambon, 1992, 1998).

      In the case of the Pure Eurocentric Approach, it, of course, has represented one of the oldest traditions in Eurocentric social sciences concerned with such theoretical formulations of AA personality (Kambon, 2006). These theories therefore are distinguished philosophically and ideologically from other approaches by their imposition of the European Worldview (being their natural cultural orientation) as the appropriate conceptual framework for explaining AA personality or some important aspects of it. While no independent models in the Eurocentric tradition have ever been proposed as a definitive model of African American personality (Kambon, 1998, 2006; Thomas & Sillen, 1972), a variety of seemingly highly eclectic theoretical perspectives derived from Eurocentric speculations and stereotypes about Blacks drawing from psychological, bio-physiological and medical, sociological and anthropological knowledge bases (Ferguson, 1916; Kardiner & Ovesey, 1951; Pettigrew, 1964), came to represent a kind of general-eclectic paradigm. This paradigm, as articulated by Kambon (1998), posits a generally negative psychological picture forming the AA personality profile. The negative constructs of AA self-hatred, low or exaggeratedly high self-esteem, negative reference group identification, low intelligence and low-achievement motivation, low frustration-stress tolerance (inability to delay gratification) and faulty coping skills, high anger, aggression and hostility, anti-social and criminally bent behaviors, low sense of personal causation/fate-control (high externality), among many others, have all been articulated either separately or in combinations as the core content emphasis of such theories (Dreger & Miller, 1968, 1972; Kambon, 1992, 1998, 2006; Pettigrew, 1964; Thomas & Sillen, 1972).

      The Pseudo-Africentric Models, on the other hand, represent those theories of AA personality developed by AAs and others of African descent (Fanon, 1967) who manifest a seemingly unwitting allegiance to the basic paradigms of Eurocentric Psychology and behavioral science as their basis for interpreting the self-concept, identity and motivation of Black people (Azibo, 1990; Kambon, 1992, 1998, 2006). This group has been led in large part by such notables as Kenneth B. Clark (1965), Frantz Fanon (1967), Alvin Poussaint (1972), James Comer (Comer & Poussaint, 1982, 1995),William Cross' (1971, 1991) earlier works on Black racial identity, Janet Helms (1985), and a host of others (Azibo, 1990; Kambon, 1998, 2006). This paradigm, as articulated by Kambon (1992, 1998), also posits a generally negative cultural-psychological picture of the AA personality profile.

      For example, they fail by and large to address African cultural reality as a positive presence (protective factor) in the psychology of AAs. Rather, they accept the monolithic cultural paradigm of Eurocentric psychology and thus see AA personality as driven by the same Eurocentric motivational forces as White Americans, such as achievement driven, individualism, materialism and power-dominance driven, assertiveness-aggression as optimal motivation, along with an emphasis on differences, competitiveness, violence, victory-driven, conflict, strife, anxiety avoidance, shame and guilt all as critical psychological elements in normal personality operation (Azibo, 1990; Kambon, 1992, 1998). As a result, such theories assert great emphasis on attempting to explain negative constructs of African American personality like self-hatred, low or exaggeratedly high self-esteem, negative reference group identification, low intelligence performance and low-achievement motivation, low frustration-stress tolerance (inability to delay gratification) and faulty coping skills, high anger, aggression and hostility, anti-social and criminally bent behaviors, low sense of personal causation/fate-control (high externality), etc. (Kambon, 1992, 1998, 2006).

      1. Common Theoretical Components of Eurocentric and Pseudo-Africentric Models

      Some of the major emphasis and key constructs articulated in this approach are the following:

      Core Elements/Factors/Psychological Infrastructure (Structural and Motivation-Functional Emphasis): Chief among the Core factors emphasized in the Eurocentric models are Negative racial identity (Negative Personal and Reference Group--racial/ethnic--identity)--Black self-hatred, Envy of Whites/White Preference, low self-esteem and/or exaggerated (compensatory) high self-esteem, and a host of other anti-Black values and beliefs, and pathology-leaning psychological and emotional traits.

      Peripheral Elements/Factors (Attitudinal and behavior patterns resulting from response to oppression or European American cultural reality forces): The Peripheral factors, or those behavioral factors presumably generated by or emanating from the Core factors, represent a composite theme of "Anti-Black" attitudes and behaviors among other dysfunctional-maladaptive, anti-social and ineffective behaviors.

      Psychological Dynamics: The primary motivational emphasis associated with these theories stress psychodynamics reflecting a psychological dissonance over negative racial identity/status (negative social status) in American society. It emphasizes tension reduction/being driven toward achieving emotional-psychological comfort with self-identity (personal identity) by rejecting Black racial-cultural identity (reference group) and by identifying with/adopting White Identity, or at least a Non-Racial/Universal--Human Identity, as normal-natural African American identity/personality (Kardiner & Ovesey, 1951; Penn, Gaines & Phillips, 1993; Thomas & Sillen, 1972).

      Developmental Issues: The primary developmental emphasis of these models has focused on psychologically transitioning from an Anti-Black to Non-Black--racially neutral or Universal Human identity. Other constructs like Individualism/Individual Human Identity (achieving an Individual identity independent of race and culture) have been emphasized and are generally thrust toward the need to transcend racial identity to achieve an optimal individual-personal human identity within the framework of European/European American cultural reality.

      Outcome Emphasis: Optimal African American personality development and functioning, according to these models, is viewed as synonymous to achieving a personal identity indistinguishable from normative (if not "optimal") European/European American personality. The individual level adaptation/internalization of a European...

To continue reading