An Understanding of Biracial Identity Formation for Special Topics 3321 Presented to James Boyleston by Jennifer Walne December 10, 2008 Abstract What are you? A question that seems simple enough, but when dealing with biracial identity, it is a question that has spawned political movements, fields of study, and even more questions. This paper is aimed at dissecting different aspects of the biracial identity process to gain a better understanding about this subject from the research available.
The identity construction of a biracial person is quite complex and it involves many different factors and those topics will be covered in this paper. Definitions For the purpose of this paper I will only be looking at cases in the United States. Biracial will only refer to those with African black and European white decent unless otherwise stated. History During the days of slavery, when black women had mixed progeny that a skin tone was lighter than those people of pure African descent and this grew to be an asset.
The lighter skinned biracial people were afforded more privileges than that of people with dark skin and were often able to live in the house of the slave master. This afforded them the privileges of not having to work in the fields and they were often educated. Other white European physical features that were inherited also gave biracial people an advantage over the other darker skinned African featured slaves. The idea that biracial people have more privilege has continued into today’s culture, but affects the black culture more than the white culture.
Politics and Demographics Identity Development Models: Past and Present In order to understand how an individual constructs their identity, there has to be uniformity in the measurement of identity development through models. There is a lot of literature that is written on this subject. Biracial identity construct models have changed throughout history, reflecting society’s views of the time. Different Identity Classifications As stated above, biracial individuals are found to identify differently according to different situations.
There are basically five different ways in which Biracial individuals indentify: monoracial identity, black or white; multiple monoracial identities, black and white, shifting according to the situation; multiracial identity; extra racial identity by not identifying with any race; situational identity, identifying differently in different contexts (Renn, 2008). This gives researchers a more alive understanding about biracial identity, which is it is more aligned with how a Biracial individual sees themselves. Research Socio-economic Impact Parental Factor
Gender Factor Environment The environment on which a biracial person is surrounded has a tremendous effect on how they identify. Twine’s points out in her study that the girls being raised in the suburbs, identified as white or biracial because her environment was white. Other studies have also shown that biracial people raised in a black environment usually identify as black. Identity Development of Children Societal Definitions vs. Self Definitions If a biracial identifies as white, that is a self-definition that may not be upheld by society.
Although society’s view of minorities is slowly changing, we have not come so far as to ignore skin color. Shih and Sanchez claim that there is a “conflict between private and public definitions. Multiracial individuals frequently encounter inconsistencies between how society defines them and how they define themselves. ” This leads to a choice to identify either as black or as biracial leaving white identification out of reach, at least in society. Discussion On a macro level analysis of biracial identity, the environment important factors to consider when trying to understand how biracial identity is formed.
Racism is starting to wane in this society, but prejudice is still alive. If a biracial individual decides to identify as white, society may not validate that identity because our society still has the “one drop” mentality. This makes it difficult for biracial people to be truly free to identify as anything that they wish, though not impossible, but probably will not be validated by society. Many biracial individuals learn, either from their parents of from their own experience, to change they way they identifyin order to suit the situation. This is the uniqueness to being biracial.
They are a sort of chameleon in that they have the ability to blend in with whatever racial situation is put before them. However, many still hold one identity (black, white, biracial) or not racial identity(race is not even an issue). Earlier theories that biracial people are marginal or doomed to psychological and behavior problems have been discounted with new research. On thing that must be understood about earlier research is that is was only carried out on a clinical sample and not on people from the normal population and this skewed the information presented in the earlier literature.
This is demonstrated in the resent research of Shih and Sanchez where they found that most of the negative psychological problems were observed only in a clinical population sample. Conclusion There is a lot of literature accumulating on this subject and the library of literature and studies will continue to grow. Observing this population, I believe we will learn more about identity formation in general. Biracial individuals living in this day and time are living in an exciting era because for the first time in the history of this country, they are starting to be accepted by society as a viable racial group.
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