Seven essential facts about multiracial youth

A psychology grad student shares what she's learned from her research on multiracial adolescents and adults.

Author: Astrea Greig

I have learned a vast amount of information about the multiracial population while completing my dissertation on multiracial adolescents and young adults. Some of these things I did not previously know even though I am multiracial myself. The following are seven vital topics that may interest all who work with this population.

  1. Until federally overturned in 1967, most U.S. states banned marriages and relationships between White and non-White people. Biracial and multiracial children were thus once considered illicit results of such illegal marriages and relationships (Root, 1996).
  2. The multiracial child and adolescent population in the U.S. is growing rapidly with a 32 percent increase in 2010 since the previous U.S. census (Humes, Jones, & Ramirez, 2011). Multiracial children are now the largest demographic group among U.S. citizens under the age of 18 (Saulny, 2011). This tremendous growth is because mixed marriages and families are at an all time high (Chen, 2010).
  3. Multiracial youth and mixed families often experience unique types of discrimination and microaggressions. Among the multiple types, one is exclusion or isolation in which multiracial people are excluded due to their mixed status. For example, an Asian and white biracial child may not be treated as equally as his or her monoracial siblings or cousins at family gatherings by disapproving distant relatives. Another type is assumption of being monoracial or mistaken identity. For example, a child at a school telling jokes targeted toward black Americans to a biracial black and white child. The child assumes the biracial child is white and therefore feels it is "okay" to say the jokes, which are actually offensive to the biracial child (Johnston & Nadal, 2010). These unique stressors can affect the well-being of a multiracial person (Salahuddin & O'Brien 2011; Sanchez, 2010; Shih & Sanchez, 2005).
  4. Multiracial children are also often subject to institutional discrimination from government, private and public organizations. Many schools do not permit multiracial students to choose more than one race on demographic forms (Renn, 2009; Sanchez, 2010; Townsend, Markus, & Bergsieker, 2009). This lack of control in being able to properly self identify has been shown to affect one's mental health (Sanchez, 2010; Townsend, Markus, & Bergsieker, 2009).
  5. Despite large growth, the multiracial population still comprises a very small fraction of the U.S. population (Humes, Jones, & Ramirez, 2011). Moreover, multiracial people in the media are often depicted as monoracial (CNPAAEMI, 2009; Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). As a result of the small population and lack of media representation, multiracial youth may feel that they do not have a multiracial community and lack role models to help them understand their mixed identity (Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Multiracial role models are thus extremely helpful for mixed children and teens (Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Moreover, having a community of others with a mixed racial and/or ethnic background has shown to help improve psychological well-being (Iijima Hall, 2004; Sanchez & Garcia, 2009).
  6. Children and adolescents may benefit from developing positive views of their multiracial identity as research with adults show that an integrated multiracial identity is a protective factor that helps psychological well-being (Jackson et al., 2012). Adolescents who do not have a stable racial identity show lower self-esteem (Sanchez et al., 2009). As such, it is vital for mixed race families to speak to their biracial or multiracial children about their mixed race and foster pride in their background. Likewise, if parents cannot or do not provide this support, clinicians, school counselors and mentors can be of great service to multiracial children by helping them feel proud of their identity. Additionally, it would be helpful to provide multiracial children education on different identity stages and/or stressors they may face and how to cope with difficult situations.
  7. Multiracial children and adolescents are resilient. Researchers show that multiracial identity increases an appreciation and empathy for cultural diversity among others (Shih & Sanchez, 2009). Moreover, multiracial adolescents and young adults are less likely to be subject to stereotype threat that causes poor performance on tasks. This may be because the multiracial participants are more likely to understand that race is not biological, but rather, is a social construct (Shih et al., 2007).

References

Chen, S. (2010, June 4). Interracial marriages at an all-time high, study says. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/06/04/pew.interracial.marriage/

Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests. (2009). Psychology education and training from a culture-specific and multiracial perspectives: Critical issues and recommendations. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dalmage, H. M. (2000). Tripping on the color line: Black-White multiracial families in a racially divided world. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Humes, K, R., Jones, N. A., & Ramirez, R. R. (2011). Overview of race and Hispanic origin: 2010. 2010 Census Briefs. U.S Department of Commerce. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau.   

Iijima Hall, C. C. (2004). Mixed race women: One more mountain to climb. Women & Therapy. 27(1), 237-246, doi: 10.1300/J015v27n01_16

Jackson, K. F., Yoo, H. C., Guevarra, R., & Harrington, B. A. (2012). Role of identity integration on the relationship between perceived racial discrimination and psychological adjustment of multiracial people. Journal of Counseling Psychology®, 59(2), 240-250. doi: 10.1037/a0027639

Johnston, M. P., & Nadal, K. L. (2010) Multiracial microaggressions: Exposing monoracism in everyday life and clinical practice. In D. W. Sue (Ed.), Microaggressions and marginality: Manifestation, dynamics, and impact (pp. 123-144). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Office of Management and Budget. (1997, October 30). Revisions to the standards for the classification of federal data on race and ethnicity. Retrieved August 20, 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg_1997standards/

Renn, K. A. (2009). Educational policy, politics, and mixed heritage students in the United States. Journal of Social Issues, 65(1), 165-183.

Root, M. P P. (1996). The multiracial experience: Racial borders as a significant frontier in race relations. In M. P. P. Root (Ed.), The multiracial experience: Racial borders as the new frontier (pp. xiii-xxviii). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Salahuddin, N. M., & O'Brien, K. M. (2011). Challenges and resilience in the lives of urban, multiracial adults: An instrument development study. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 58(4), 494-507. doi:10.1037/a0024633

Sanchez, D. T. (2010). How do forced-choice dilemmas affect multiracial people? The role of identity autonomy and public regard in depressive symptoms. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40(7), 1657-1677.

Sanchez, D. T., & Garcia, J. A. (2009). When race matters: Racially stigmatized others and perceiving race as a biological construction affect biracial people’s daily well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(9), 1154-1164. doi: 10.1177/0146167209337628

Sanchez, D. T., Shih, M., & Garcia, J. A. (2009). Juggling multiple racial identities: Malleable racial identification and psychological well-being. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15, 243–254. doi: 10.1037/a0014373

Saulny, S. (2011, March 24). Census data presents rise in multiracial population of youths. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/us/25race.html?_r=2&src=tptw

Shih, M., Bonam, C., Sanchez, D., & Peck, C. (2007). The social construction of race: Biracial identity and vulnerability to stereotypes. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13, 125–133. doi: 10.1037/1099-9809.13.2.125

Shih, M., & Sanchez, D. T. (2005). Perspectives and research on the positive and negative implications of having multiple racial identities. Psychological Bulletin®, 131(4), 569-591. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.4.569

Shih, M., & Sanchez, D. T. (2009). When race becomes even more complex: Toward understanding the landscape of multiracial identity and experiences. Journal of Social Issues, 65, 1–11. doi:10.1111/j.1540-560.2008.01584.x

Townsend, S. S. M., Markus, H. R., & Bergsieker, H. B. (2009). My choice, your categories: The denial of multiracial identities. Journal of Social Issues, (65)1, 185-204. 

Author bio

Astrea Greig, MAAstrea Greig, MA, completed her dissertation which examined substance abuse levels among multiracial and monoracial young adults in relation to their experiences with perceived discrimination. She recently finished her predoctoral internship at Yale School of Medicine working in an acute inpatient unit and will attend her commencement ceremony from the clinical psychology program at the University of Hartford this fall. She will also soon start a postdoctoral fellowship in psychosocial rehabilitation at the Edith Nourse Roger's VAMC in Bedford, Mass. She attends multidisciplinary conferences regarding the mixed race population and multiracial community.