Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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Published in Multicultural Assessment in Counseling and Clinical Psychology, edited by Gargi Roysircar Sadowsky and James C. Impara (Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 1996).


Copyright © 1996 by Buros Institute of Mental Measurements. Digital edition copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing.


Janet Helms in "Toward a Methodology for Measuring and Assessing Racial as Distinguished from Ethnic Identity" proposes (a) theoretical advancements in the Black and White racial identity models, (b) a nontraditional psychometric understanding of the White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale (WRIAS), and (c) assumptive differences in the constructs of racial identity and ethnic identity. Helms has introduced new concepts, such as, "sociorace," "racial assignment," "societally defined racial classification system" and "societally regulated racial group," to argue that one cannot classify people in the U.S. according to genetic origins and phenotypes. Rather, race-defining characteristics are chosen by the White dominant group, the group that holds the political power. Thus, race is sociopolitically defined, and racial identity of an individual is the internalized consequence of imposed societal categories.

Originally Helms had conceptualized racial identity as a linear, hierarchical developmental process. She used the construct of "stages" to describe the respective processes of U.S. Blacks and Whites who progress from negative and hateful attitudes to positive and healthy attitudes towards both the Black and the White racial groups. Helms has now suggested that "ego statuses" be used instead of "stages" when understanding a person's "racial self-conception."

An intrapsychic status process is caused by a person-environment reactivity. But statuses' are hypothetical constructs, which cannot be measured. What can be measured is the individual's information processing strategy, as related to one's currently predominant status. However, different information-processing strategies may underlie each status. Thus, two individuals governed by the same status may actually express themselves through different information-processing strategies (for example, in the Black Preencounter status, denial by one and individualism in another). One cannot conclude that any single sample of race-related behavior, as indicated by scale responses, reveals all of the statuses that are potentially accessible to a person. That is, because a status has differentiated to some extent in the person's ego does not mean it will govern all of the person's responses on a measure. Helms uses a circular diagram to represent the status profile of a person. The circle is used to emphasize that racial identity statuses are not hierarchical, in the sense that the use of one status does not preclude the use of another.

These ideographic and dynamic aspects of racial identity have challenged Helms to rethink how to use her objective, Likert-type scales. Helms argues that the basic tenets of classical measurement theory (e.g., items need to be linearly related as in the case of internal consistency reliability) are probably not directly applicable to the measurement of racial identity statuses. Helms says that relationships among items may be underrepresented if one uses unadjusted linear methodologies to evaluate such relationships.