Ethnic-Racial Identity in Action: Structure and Content of Friends’ Conversations about Ethnicity and Race

Ursula Moffitt, Moin Syed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Among emerging adults, peers are central to ethnic-racial identity (ERI) exploration, acting as primary interlocuters in discussions about ethnicity and race. Although ERI development is understood as adaptive, particularly for young people of color, ethnicity and race related conversations are often highly charged, and can consist of both positive, self-affirming exchanges, as well as negative experiences of identity denial, disinterest, and discrimination. The valence of such conversations, and their role in ERI development, may relate both to what is being said and how the conversation is structured. The current study examines in vivo, unguided conversations between 36 friend pairs coded for mention of ethnicity and race (N = 64 individuals; 56% women, 75% born in the United States, M age = 20.54, SD = 2.73; ethnic composition: n = 11 ethnic-racial minority (EM)-EM, n = 14 EM-White, n = 9 White-White). Based on a two-step qualitative analysis, we found wide variation in conversation content and structure. Despite no differences in the length of ethnicity and race related discussion, the types of stories told were shaped starkly by ethnic-racial inequality, discrimination, and the largely segregated experiences of White students. We discuss our findings in light of the little investigated link between ERI exploration and maladaptive psychosocial outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-88
Number of pages22
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to Paolo Cercola and Christina Topalidou for their assistance with coding, and Linda Juang for support and mentorship throughout the project. Completion of this article was supported by a University of Potsdam KoUP Cooperation Funding Award to Ursula Moffitt.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Ethnic-racial identity
  • conversation
  • emerging adults
  • identity exploration
  • qualitative analysis


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