This study presents information about the development and performance of a new African American audience segmentation tool, the Black Identity Classification Scale (BICS). Although grounded in prior research on Black racial and ethnic identity, the BICS augments the roster of currently available Black identity measures by enabling telephone administration and allowing the discrete classification of respondents into ethnic identity segments.
Use of the BICS in a randomly selected sample indicates that the measure has good internal consistency for the Black American, Afrocentric, Bicultural, Multicultural, and Racial Salience subscales (0.67-0.80). Although there is room for improvement, particularly for the Multicultural (0.67) and Bicultural (0.72) subscales, these reliability indicators compare similarly to those of pre-existing Black identity subscales, which range from 0.60-0.79 for the MIBI (Sellers, Rowley, Chavous, Shelton, & Smith, 1997
), 0.78-0.89 for the CRIS (Worrell, Vandiver, & Cross, 2000
), and 0.53-0.81 for the SBL (Resnicow & Ross-Gaddy, 1997
; Resnicow, Soler, Braithwaite, Selassie, & Smith, 1999
). However, the low reliability for the Cultural Mistrust scale (0.34) indicates that this subscale needs further development. This subscale includes the only reverse-scored item in the BICS, since all others were weaned out during pretesting, and participants may have had difficulty with this item. The confirmatory factor analysis results indicate that the deletion of the reverse-scored item should be considered in future applications of the BICS. Deleting the reverse-scored item and adding the mistrust of fast food item to the Cultural Mistrust subscale increases its internal consistency reliability to 0.47. Adding more Cultural Mistrust items, such as those from the CMI, should also be considered. However, we recommend including this subscale, since the Cultural Mistrust identity component yielded borderline significant results in the Eat for Life
intervention trial despite obvious measurement problems and the relatively small size of this subgroup in the trial. These findings suggest that Cultural Mistrust may be a particularly influential identity component and warrant additional efforts to improve its assessment.
The BICS subscales demonstrated low to moderate test-retest reliability (0.33-0.59) using the full subscales at baseline, with the lowest reliability resulting from the Bicultural subscale (0.33). However, only a subset of items from each subscale was included in the follow-up survey. Since a lower number of items will usually lower reliability statistics, these results should be interpreted with caution. The follow-up data may also have been impacted by the baseline survey and intervention materials, which may have prompted participants to think differently about their identities. Additional research is needed to explore the reliability and state-vs.-trait aspects of the BICS.
Validity analyses provide some evidence in support of the construct validity of the BICS as an audience segmentation tool. Those identity types with the strongest pro-Black orientations (Afrocentric and Black American) demonstrated higher agreement with the food choices and soul food items, while those identity types with weaker pro-Black orientations (Bicultural and Assimilated) evinced lower agreement with these items. As predicted, respondents with Cultural Mistrust were significantly more likely to report a mistrust of the fast food industry, suggesting that the Cultural Mistrust subscale taps some dimension of mistrust of corporate America and White society.
The distribution of identity types obtained in this sample indicates that the majority of African Americans have more than one identity component. These results imply that culturally homogeneous, group-targeted health communications may inadequately address the multidimensionality of ethnic identity in African American populations. This may be particularly true for smaller audience segments and for those whose racial and ethnic orientations deviate the most from the African American population as a whole. For example, despite being in the same age range as members of the other groups, the Eat for Life data suggest that African Americans with an Assimilated identity component are the least prevalent and may be more likely to live alone, be less educated, have healthier weight and cardiovascular indicators, and be less motivated than African Americans with other identity orientations to engage in dietary behavior change. Participants with a Cultural Mistrust identity component comprised the second-smallest group in the Eat for Life sample. This group had the highest prevalence of hypertension, lowest satisfaction with their health care plan, and least proclivity to try new foods. The Cultural Mistrust group might be better characterized as having more health issues (e.g., hypertension) than the Assimilated group but less willingness to make behavior changes or to trust their health care providers in assisting with such changes. Thus, while health communication messages to an Assimilated population might focus on strengthening motivation for behavior change, messages to a Cultural Mistrust population might emphasize message trustworthiness and in reassuring recipients about the process of behavior change.
Other groups were similarly characterized by differences that may impact the design of health communications. The Afrocentric group was the most educated and had the highest extrinsic motivation to eat more fruit and vegetables, suggesting that health communication messages focused on extrinsic motivators might have more impact on this audience than on other groups. The Black American group had the lowest preference for the term “American”. Thus, this group may be the least likely to be responsive to a general health communication campaign targeting a generic American audience. Participants with a Bicultural identity component reported the highest satisfaction with their health care plan. In contrast with the Cultural Mistrust group, doctors and other health care plan representatives might serve as appropriate and trustworthy message sources for the Bicultural group. The Multicultural group differs from the others in reporting the highest proclivity for trying new fruit and vegetables and highest intrinsic motivation. Effective health messages for this population might capitalize on individuals’ willingness to make behavior changes while strengthening their intrinsic motivation to make such changes.
Simply asking respondents to choose which ethnic self-labels they prefer would be far less resource-intensive than measuring ethnic identity. However, this research indicates that ethnic identity type is not interchangeable with self-identification labeling (e.g., “Black”, “African American”, “American”, etc.). Participants in our solely African American sample did not evince strong or distinctive associations between the four labels queried by ethnic identity component. For example, “African American” was the strongest preferred label for participants across the Afrocentric, Black American, Multicultural, and Cultural Mistrust identity component groups. And, within each identity component, no more than 43% of respondents indicated a preference for any single label. These findings support earlier research by Marsiglia and colleagues (2001)
, who found that ethnic identity and ethnic labeling functioned as interacting but distinct constructs. The present data indicate substantial individual variation in self-labeling, which, particularly for African Americans, may vary in accordance with other factors such as generational status more so than by attitudinal identity affiliation as measured in the BICS. Health researchers should therefore be wary of modeling associations between within-group ethnic self-labels and health behaviors and beliefs as a substitute for ethnic identity within African American populations.
This research has several limitations. The BICS was developed with African American adults from Atlanta and Detroit. Other populations may differ in their reactions to BICS items and yield different identity type distributions with different health-related characteristics. Health professionals are advised to explore their target population’s receptivity to the BICS and to collect appropriate background data when designing health communications. Due to Eat for Life resource limitations, the current BICS was created for use with African Americans who are not Hispanic or multiracial. Future refinement of the BICS should consider expanding the number of subscales to account for additional ethnic and racial identities beyond those currently included. These additions would broaden the applicability of the BICS to a wider African American audience. Other researchers using the BICS likely have different goals that those of the Eat for Life trial and, as a consequence, should also consider combining the subscales in different ways to yield their own preferred number of final identity types. It is possible that higher survey response rates would have yielded different findings. However, the rates that were obtained were considered acceptable for a telephone survey about a potentially sensitive topic. There are no indications that nonresponse in the pilot or Eat for Life surveys produced nonresponse bias in the data. It is possible that receipt of the Eat for Life intervention may have influenced may have increased participants’ racial consciousness and affected the test-retest reliability of the BICS. The revised BICS is a 34-item measure and may be too long for many practical applications. Efforts to identify a predictive shortcut item, such as the sole use of the newsletter preference item, have not been successful; however, it is hoped that further research will uncover a shorter method of classifying respondents. Future work with the BICS should explore the validity of the measure in more detail and assess the state-vs.-trait aspects of the subscales. Research using the BICS to date has focused on dietary behaviors. More research is needed to explore the applicability of the BICS in communicating with audiences about other types of behavior change. Researchers should also consider demarking a single-identity Afrocentric identity type if this identity type is expected to be particularly prevalent or meaningful in their study populations. Due to concerns of customer dissatisfaction with the healthcare plans from whom participants in this research were being recruited, survey items with a high potential of causing offense were not used in the pilot or Eat for Life intervention surveys. These deletions primarily included items from the Cultural Mistrust and Afrocentric subscales. Future revisions of the BICS should consider adding more Afrocentric and Cultural Mistrust items, as these additions may result in different distributions of BICS subtypes.
This paper aimed to provide an effective audience segmentation tool for health professionals engaged in designing health communications for African Americans. The data presented contribute further evidence for the presence of great cultural variability among African Americans and support the use of segmenting African American audiences for effective health communication interventions. The BICS appears to have adequate reliability properties, with the exception of the Cultural Mistrust subscale, and is seemingly valid. It is hoped that the BICS will not only prove useful to health professionals committed to improving health outcomes among African Americans, but also that its development will inform those health professionals seeking to guard and promote the health of other racially and ethnically defined populations.