"Are they one of us or one of them?" : Cognitive dissonance and collective identity formation in the American republic
Akkauy, Rafael Ronen
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In this paper I will extend the conventional use of cognitive dissonance theory to investigate the processes of collective identity formation of Americans in the early republic. Understanding the processes of collective identity formation in the United States in coordination with cognitive dissonance theory is particularly appropriate because without the benefit of ancestral communal classes, the delineation of identities relied on the internal differentiation between in-groups and out-groups. Beginning with the formation of the American national identity through its early struggles against the British, the paper will subsequently focus on the gradual formation of the white racial identity as it gradually differentiated itself from the black racial identity. The periods discussed begin with the first documented slaves in 1619 to the post-Reconstruction era. Throughout this extended historical span, I discuss an evolution in which the categories of race are at first abrogated to the distinctions between free and enslaved, and gradually give way to increasingly racial distinctions between a black and a white race. Special interest is placed on the cognitive dissonance arising from individuals of mixed racial ancestry, whose gradually worsening treatment and eventual absorption into the black race - regardless of their equal or greater amounts of white ancestry - demonstrates the great importance that preserving an unambiguously white racial identity has had in defining the national character of the United States. Throughout this paper, I will be applying Festinger's original formulation of cognitive dissonance theory to situate the strategies that Americans have used to confront cognitive dissonance.