Cross and Fhagen-Smith’s Model of Black Identity Development

Brief Overview

Dr. William Cross (1971) adopted the idea of nigrescence, the process of becoming black, as the foundation for the later sector model develops with Fhagen-Smith. The model looks at the progression of identification of individuals as they move towards a healthy black identity.

About the Author

William E. Cross Jr., Ph.D. is a leading theorist and researcher in the field of ethnic identity development, specifically Black identity development. He is best known for his Nigrescence Model, first detailed in a 1971 publication, and his book, Shades of Black, published in 1991.

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Printable Summary (PDF)

Previous cohorts of FSU students have developed these printable summaries and used them to prepare for test and papers.  We hope they’ll be of help to you too.


Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory:  

  • Cross and Fhagan-Smith (2001) conceptualized the life span model of black identity, six Sectors compromise the development model:
  • Sector One: Infancy and Childhood in Early Black Identity Development
    • Contributing factors such as families, social networks and historical events all play a role in the early socialization of black children
    • Parents, guardians and those who are present in a child’s life have routines and norms that emulate the black culture and an individual is consistently being socialized into the Black culture, almost through osmosis.
  • Sector Two: Preadolescence
    • Development in this sector is influenced by the parents; high or low race salience or internalize racism
    • High Race Salience – instillation of importance of being black, black culture is most important
    • Low Race Salience – Place no emphasis on race, although they are aware
    • Internalized Racism – Experience negative issues with black community, thus develop self-hatred and hesitance to identify as black
    • Cross and Fhanagan-Smith suggested that an individual who has high race-salience is most likely to develop the post positive self-concept, in terms of his or her Black identity
  • Sector Three: Adolescence
    • Begin to develop a black self-concept, authenticating one’s own beliefs is key to an achieved identity
    • Individuals may confirm or redefine their salience in this sector
    • Adolescence is a turbulent time, as is, developing a self-concept may be affected by an individual’s peer group, community, and/or school environment. i.e. Are you Black enough?
  • Sector Four: Early adulthood
    • Low/High Race Salience and Internalized Racism reemerge in this stage
    • Low Race Salience is characterized by the construction of diverse identities and see race unimportant
    • High Race Salience is characterized by the establishment of a group of peers with the same values as black culture
    • Internalized Racism perceive black culture in the same light as sector two, however there are moves to modify and solidify a healthy self-concept
  • Sector Five: Adult Nigrescence
    • Four Stages accompany Nigrescence:
      • Preencounter – Low race salience individuals will assimilate into mainstream with an appreciate of black culture, while internalized racism individuals will become anti-black
      • Encounter – Event will cause conflict and a questioning of their black identity
      • Immersion-Emersion – Immersed into black culture become black nationalist or pro-black and entrench themselves in the culture and issues of the group, Emmersed individuals
      • Internalization/Internalization Commitment – has three specific resolutions to dissonance
        • Black Nationalist – Individuals believe being black is the most salient identity, use as political and social platforms to ignite change
        • Bicultural – Individuals integrate their black identity with the dominant culture
        • Multicultural – Individuals identify as black, but have explored other identities as a reference group orientation.  Also serve in a key social justice role
  • Sector Six: Nigrescence Recycling
    • Sector is characterized by nigrescence recycling
      • Nigrescence Recycling – Individual encounters an event, which calls into question their black identity.  Those who have truly achieved a healthy self-concept will reach wisdom, which is a firm understanding of black identity from in all facets of life.
Application of Theory to Practice

This section is designed to provide student affairs professionals, staff, and faculty members with tips and tools to apply theory to practice.

In Cross and Fhagen-Smith’s Model, administrators encounter students as early as sector three. If not, definitely the encounter occurs in sector. The most important influence we can have in an individual’s journey to a healthy self-concept is providing them with the space to explore and find their own place. This is not limited to the Black Student Union, this filters into academics and courses offered as well as integrating faculty, staff and administrators who have a positive self-concept as a Black individual. Students are definitely willing to open up about their experiences when they think there is already a shared struggle or journey.


Annotations of Associated Literature

Students have provided information to assist you in learning more about the theory.




Information submitted by Alethea Kilgore, Courtney Pearson, and Rod Kelley – 2017 Student Development Theory Doctoral Class.








Original Citation

Cross, W.E., Jr., (1971). Toward a psychology of Black liberation: The Negro-to-Black conversion experiences. Black World, 20(9), 13-27.

Additional Resources

The following Prezi reviews Cross and Fhagen-Smith’s Model of Black Identity Development, Helms’s Model of White Identity Development, Ferdman And Gallegos’s Model of Latino Identity Development, Kim’s Asian American Identity Development Model, and Horse’s Perspective on American Indian Identity Development. The prezi includes critiques, application, and an activity. The prezi also includes a short preview of the movie Crash (2004) which displays many examples of racial identity development, though the prezi does not state them explicitly. The activity includes an extension of the video, which asks students to identify a fictional or a real character who portrays racial identity development. This is useful in providing alternate, tangible understandings of the various theories.


Information submitted by Hollie Daniels.


This page was written and created by Ashlie Baty. Please use the comment section below to ask questions, provide reflection, discussion and/or feedback. This website now maintained by Dr. Brad Cox (, Jesse Ford (, and Amanda Peerce (