Racial awakening: Epiphanies and encounters in Black racial identity

Helen A. Neville, William E. Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: The current study was guided by Nigrescence theory (Cross, 1971, 1991) and explored the phenomenon of racial awakening or epiphanic experiences of Black adults. We were interested in describing the context and perceived outcomes of the epiphanies in participants' understanding of what it means to be Black. Method: Sixty-four adults participated in racial life narrative interviews. There was an equivalent number of men and women who participated from 4 sites: Australia, Bermuda, South Africa, and the United States. Results: Findings from dimensional analysis highlight the turning points, triggers, and awakening or epiphanies in one's racial identity. Specifically, in this study racial awakening or increased awareness about the meaning of being Black was spurred by personal experiences and/or observations, education, and activism. Participants discussed increased racial activism, racial pride, and possible-selves after the process of racial awakening and continued exploration. Only 1 participant described disappointment and despair after a racial epiphany. Conclusions: Findings extend our understanding of the process in which people develop a sense of racial consciousness. Insights may help inform future researchers in terms of identifying racial awakening prototypic stories and counselors in terms of providing opportunities to assist individuals in the meaningmaking process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-108
Number of pages7
JournalCultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Black
  • Epiphany
  • Multinational
  • Racial identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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