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By Wendy L -
This essay will begin to define ethnic identity and discuss how children learn about their ethnic identity; it will contain information on theorists as well as examples of evidence.
Ethnic identity can be thought of as awareness of one’s own ethnicity; it is belonging to a group which has a common origin or culture. Contrary to what some people believe it is not only about race or skin colour there are ethnic groups relating to religion for example; Muslim, Jewish or Christianity to name but a few, neither is it about nationality if we look at Northern Ireland we will find two main ethnic groups defined by religion these are Protestant and Catholic both groups see themselves as having different cultures and political traditions. Ethnic groups do not just relate to minority groups the fact is we all have an ethnic identity or identities. Once we begin to understand about ethnicity we can start to see where children learn about their ethnic identity.
Primarily it is the family and home life that start this learning process as the family are usually the one’s to give their child their first experience of being a member of an ethnic group. It is not only the family and parents, ethnicity is about groups of people often communities which share a cultural sense of history and belonging, therefore children’s sense of ethnic identity will be influenced by events around them happening in their local community and by what is seen on television and how ethnic differences are portrayed.
Studies have shown that by the age of 4 years children can identify someone from their own ethnic group, they can tell the basic discriminations for example between black and white. This is usually assessed by using dolls or photographs and asking the children to point out the one that most looks like them.
It is said by the time a child reaches the age of 8 or 9 years they understand that ethnic identity remains constant despite changes to clothing or age (Aboud 1988). This development is similar to that of gender awareness and gender constant although it occurs a year or so later.
The conceptual framework of Erikson’s theory that each child moves through a sequence of tasks each central to the development of a particular facet of identity has more recently been applied to identity development in minority adolescence by a number of authors such as Rotheram – Borus 1989, Aries and Moore Head 1989 Phinney 1989.
In conclusion to this essay research has shown that children acquire or construct many important aspects of their identity and dispositions through their earliest experiences in their home environments for example (pollard and Filer 1996); (Siraj – Blackford and Clarke 2000) and that these identities are structured by the beliefs and practices of family members. Research also shows that children between the ages of 2-5 years when entering a group setting are able to identify the socially accepted behaviour and expectations for males and females and for different ethnic groups in their own society, as presented through the media as well as through their own daily experiences of roles and relationships.
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