Racial Identity Struggles Among Multiracial Families and Children

1 January 2017

Many children commonly experience the social isolation of not belonging to a defined group. I will examine which factors influence these families to identify racially, the psychological effects of their well-being, and the importance of the education systems approach towards relating to multiracial children in the classroom. A major difficulty mixed-race families and children face are assumptions and misconceptions about their racial identity. One of the most common misconceptions is derived from the area of sports and its direct correlation between that of whites and blacks.

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The problem is that such scientific misconceptions about the “natural” athleticism of black person’s body feeds directly into the stereotypes common in racial differences. In the movie “White Men Can’t Jump”, Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes portray a good example that these stereotypes die hard yet linger in subtle competitions still today. In terms of racial identity, we should not have to ask blacks what special genes they possess that enable faster running or higher jumping, but rather why a general consensus regarding sports is so in-tuned with it not being of equal latitude or athletic ability with whites.

How mixed children racially identify can depend on a number of factors, including physical features and family attachments. To a degree, a person’s feelings and behaviors are in fact a direct representation of the ethnic group they have identified themselves with. Therefore, it is critical for parents to have a positive outlook and a perceived general sense of acceptance about their child’s ethnic identity and realize it is an essential part of the developmental process (Herman 2004). Parents can however, influence children to understand that ethnic identity is more than what a person can see on the outside.

The attitudes of multi-racial children are predominantly influenced by parents, teachers, peers, and extended family, all of whom have a major role in facilitating a child’s acceptance and pride in his or her racial identity. Children, who are subjected to a lack of education regarding their ethnic culture or find themselves in an attempt to acquire more time with one parent or the other, can lose an identity and become `stagnant (Wardle 2000). Members of specific multi-ethnic groups often share common culture, traditions, values, and/or beliefs.

Theories are developed through various ethnographic studies, in addition to conducted interviews amongst bi-racial and multiracial families (Herman 2004). Multiracial families have come to realize that it is quite difficult to fit into a specific ethnic group. Maintaining an ethnic identity is particularly relevant when one’s ethnic group is the minority group in society (Herman 2004). Most commonly individuals begin to identify with their “master status”, which is their primary identities that overshadow their other status’. U. S. hildren of black and white parentage have additional difficulties due to the polarization of blacks and whites (Wardle 2000). In societies that fail to acknowledge their ethnic and racial backgrounds, biracial children often struggle as they attempt to merge their dual heritage without compromising either one. In the U. S. the extensive backgrounds and heritage of many multi-racial children is almost inconspicuous. It has been theorized that this invisibility occurs because society attempts to keep the races “pure,” in spite of the fact that such purity does not exist.

Most often, children of multi-racial parentage are identified with whichever race their physical features most reflects (Wardle 2000). Unfortunately, children of multi-racial parentage suffer from the same racism and prejudice that taunts those of unmixed minority heritage (Herman 2004). Society often pressures mixed-race individuals to choose just one race because of the outdated “one-drop rule” which mandated that Americans with any African heritage be classified as black(Wardle 2000). This sort of colorism has long been an issue for mixed-race people and renders the individual incompetent of his/her complete heritage.

Achieving a full sense of identity is an important psychological task for children at best, but forcing them to choose one or the other is a deliberate attempt to disregard the diversity and multi-cultural experiences they are entitled to. In such cases, second generation children born in America who only speak English, may find it challenging to communicate with relatives who speak their foreign tongue. In addition, children may lose an identity when significant areas of their heritage are not visited or explained to them in detail.

Children who are culturally interconnected with significant makeups of their genetic heritage are very fortunate and less sanctioned than those who have not had the privilege. Identity development is a never-ending process. Many of the toughest problems multi-ethnic individuals and families face is choosing which part of their identity they want to emphasize. Ethel Branch, whose mother is Navajo and whose father is part Spanish-Mexican, part Basque and part French, went to an all Native-American grade school in Arizona.

According to Branch she was referred to as a “white Indian” in her younger years due to this culmination of backgrounds she possessed. As she states, “It’s really hard coming to terms with your own identity, you just don’t have that validity that other people have” (Colby 1999). Sociologists have developed the term biracial children as “marginal man,” this is when an individual has to live in two types of worlds, not so much different, but two very opposing cultures.

Biracial children’s ascribed statuses are scrutinized by society and scientists, their dual status is looked at as being in two parts. The scrutiny leaves children to choose or identify with, one race over the other. This uncomfortable circumstance is quite uneasy for biracial children to maintain. Research has shown that biracial children may be disregarded from single racial group categories and events. Campbell and Eggerling-Boeck (2006) have pointed out that biracial children are left isolated because they have no tools to use in learning how to assimilate within a specific group.

According to Harris and Thomas (2002), have referred to “external race” as the race that an observer assigns to the individual’s identity, and “expressed race” refers to the “articulations of an individual’s identity through words and actions” (2004:4). Poor mental health and social adjustment are mere reflections of this stigma. Society labels biracial children by their outside appearance by associating their skin tone to a particular single race category despite the child being biracial.

The rejection caused by social communities from both racial groups of the child may lead to poor mental health and inadequate social interaction. The constant challenge of being asked routinely who they are, where do they belong, who do you identify with, becomes stressful for biracial children (Campbell and Eggerling-Boeck 2006). The struggle to identify with who they are becomes confusing for multiracial children and individuals (Campbell and Eggerling-Boeck 2006). Society sets these roles for multiracial children, to choose a status and stick to that status.

Multiracial children deal with constant role conflict as they are expected and at times forced to choose from only one of their specific races. Many biracial and multiracial children may have been raised on one particular side of their family and have become familiar with the ways and lifestyles of that race, ethnicity, and culture but society assumes that multiracial children will immediately also identify with the lifestyles, trends, and ways of their other half based on the physical characteristic stereotypes of their hair type and skin tone.

Many schools celebrate specific events designed to highlight various minority cultures: Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month for African Americans, Hanukkah for Jews, Chinese New Year for Chinese Americans and so forth. The effort to include and celebrate the ever-increasing diversity of the student population in this country as well as others is slowly being reflected in curricula, content, practices and celebrations. Education plays a pivotal part in the way multiracial families are being recognized through these multicultural celebrations.

Many educational tools such as diversity workshops, multicultural celebrations, multicultural children’s books, and curriculum content all help multicultural children to find their place in society. Curriculum provides information pertaining historical multiethnic Americans and multicultural antibias activities, in addition to the uniquely designed diversity workshops. With regards to biracial and multiracial children and families, their challenges of fitting into any single category of race continue.

In order to keep up with the demand of racial categorization from society these families fight the battle by educating and exposing their children to traditional common cultures, beliefs, and religious spiritual upbringings. By passing on these traditions, it is less likely for multiethnic and multiracial children to struggle with the challenging and frustrating stigma and scrutiny brought upon by society. With a deeper understanding of identity, biracial and multiracial children’s capabilities to maintain pressure strengthen.

With more community based projects and events that cater to multiracial children, resources for counseling for biracial and multiracial children, and opening doors to multiracial families will alleviate some of the challenges these families face. Forming biracial and multiracial support groups, within communities, for these families would also aid to strengthen and build the identities of biracial and multiracial children. In conclusion, the United States remains a racially divided and unequal society.

Prejudices in society will not be lessened until people become more tolerant with regards to racial equality and the uniqueness each of us share as individuals. Contemporarily, we are trying to navigate a very complex racial terrain where multiracialism is discussed and debated, where race and racism is denounced and supposedly diminished, where, in the end, race still matters as an axis through which goods, services, opportunities and life chances are distributed unequally to members of the same society.

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