The Psychological Advantages of Strongly Identifying As Biracial
As I reported in the most recent issue of New York, a new program at an elite private school in New York aims to combat racism by dividing young children, some as young as 8 years old, into “affinity groups” according to their race. The program has been controversial among parents, many of whom believe it is their job, and not the school’s, to impart racial identity to their kids. This feeling is particularly strong among parents who have multi-racial kids. Their identities, many of them say, don’t fit into any established racial category but instead live on the frontier of race.
These sorts of questions about racial identity are only going to become more prominent given ongoing demographic changes in the United States. Multi-racial births are soaring — to 7 percent of all births in the U.S., according to the last Census — a result of more inter-racial coupling and also a broader cultural acceptance of the tag “multi-racial.” (Only as recently as 2000 did the Census even offer a “multi-racial” category — for hundreds of years, stigma has compelled multi-racial people to choose one or the other of their parents’ racial identities, both on government forms and in society.)
But even as multi-racial people take prominent and visible places in all the nation’s hierarchies — golf, pop music, cinema, finance, and, of course, in the executive branch of the United States government — very little psychological research has been done on what it means to have a multi-racial identity, and how that identity is different from having a “mono-racial” one. Now a new literature review, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science by Sarah Gaither, a post-doc at the University of Chicago (who is herself biracial), assesses the psychological landscape of multi-racial identity and points to new directions for research.
Here are some of the key findings:
More than “mono-racials,” multi-racial people have to answer the question, “Who are you?” This can lead to feelings of identity crisis and social isolation, especially if in answering the question people feel they have to choose between their parents. “By the age of four they understand skin color, and they tend to worry about rejecting one of their parents,” Gaither told me in a phone call.
But if they are raised to identify with both parents and to understand their complex racial heritage, multi-racial people can have higher self-esteem than mono-racial people. They are adaptable, able to function well in both majority and minority environments. “They are more likely to reject the conception that race biologically predicts one’s abilities,” which may, in turn, insulate them from the negative impact of racism or bias.
In studies, for example, “priming” a black person to remember he or she is black, or priming a girl to remember that she’s a girl, results in lower performance on tests, an internalization of negative stereotypes known as “stereotype threat.” But multi-racial people “may not believe believe the stereotypes applied to monoracials apply to them,” Gaither explained. The key point here is that multi-racial children should be raised with a full understanding of both their parents’ stories and be allowed, over time, to identify with both. “As long as the choice is left up to the individual, that’s where you see the more positive outcomes,” Gaither said.
Multi-racial people have flexible identities. As adults, they say they change their racial identity or affiliation more than they stay constant. As infants, they spend less time than mono-racial babies scanning familiar faces, a signal that they are confident as members of a number of different groups. Priming biracial children to affiliate with one of their racial identities makes them more responsive to teachers of that race, prompting questions — as yet unanswered — about whether multi-racial kids learn more easily from teachers and authority figures at different points along a racial spectrum.
Multi-racial people are proud to be multi-racial. This is especially true if they’re affluent. “Multi-racials who identify as multi-racial experience decreased self-esteem when asked to choose only one racial identity,” says the paper.
Multi-racial people tend to identify more with the minority part of their identity. “In general, the more minority you look, the more minority you self-identify,” Gaither told me.
As is clear from the review, researchers have begun to unpack the psychological complexities of having mixed racial heritage. But there are so many remaining questions. Most of the studies conducted so far have been done on mixed-race people of Asian and white or black and white descent — and the world of this research is exceedingly small. Gaither told me how happy parents of multi-racial children were to let her ask their kids questions, because there are so few resources out there for them, so little guidance for how to teach healthy identity. And almost no research has been done on people with two or more minority identities (black-Latino or Latino-Asian, say). How does a person navigate between two minority cultures?
There’s also a dearth of research on how gender cuts across questions of racial identity. Is a black-white person more inclined to identify as black if he’s male? And is an Asian-white person more inclined to identify as Asian if she’s female? These are questions at the frontiers of racial-identity research, and as the population of mixed-race kids explodes they’ll demand answers.
Illinois sperm bank wants judge to toss suit involving biracial child
DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. — A sperm bank in northeastern Illinois is seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit accusing it of mistakenly providing sperm from a black donor to a white Ohio woman, arguing that the baby was born healthy.
Lawyers representing Midwest Sperm Bank in Downers Grove say state law doesn’t allow for damages arising from the birth of a healthy child, the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/1PcxEcA ) reported.
Jennifer Cramblett became pregnant in December 2011 through artificial insemination using sperm donated by a black man instead of the white donor whom she and her partner selected. Cramblett learned of the mistake when she was five months into her pregnancy after calling Midwest Sperm Bank to reserve another sample from the same donor so her partner could have a child with a blood relation to the older sibling, she said.
The lawsuit filed last fall claims the mistake was made because the sperm bank keeps handwritten records, and an employee misread the donor numbers, giving Cramblett sperm from donor No. 330, instead of No. 380.
The sperm bank sent a partial refund check and an apology letter to Cramblett a month after she learned of the mistake, she said.
The couple’s daughter, who’s described in the lawsuit as “a beautiful, obviously mixed race, baby girl,” was born in August 2012.
Cramblett claims the sperm bank’s error caused her to live with “anxieties and uncertainty about her future and (her daughter’s) future,” because they lived in a predominantly white and intolerant town. Her lawsuit accuses the sperm bank of breach of warranty and “wrongful birth.”
Attorneys for the sperm bank argue in their motion for dismissal that wrongful birth doesn’t apply because the child wasn’t born with a hereditary or genetic disorder. They also claim the suit’s other allegation, breach of contract under the state’s so-called blood shield act, isn’t valid because the sperm wasn’t deficient or contaminated.
The case is due in court next week, but the sperm bank’s motion for dismissal isn’t expected to be argued until later this summer.
These Incredible Photos of the Same Woman Prove Identity Isn’t Black or White
Race is something more than meets the eye.
Born to parents from the West Indian island of Nevis, Canadian artist Stacey Tyrell grew up calling herself black. But her family’s heritage is also a mix of Irish, Scottish and English — identities others often overlooked because of her skin color.
Now, she has created a fantastic photo project, “Backra Bluid,” that delves into the quagmire of racial identity through a series of portraits in which Tyrell poses as white women — ostensibly representative of her ancestors — essentially performing “white face” to dismantle rigid conceptions of both “whiteness” and “blackness.”
“As a black child attending a predominantly white school there were often occasions where I would sit and listen to my classmates proudly lay claim to their Scottish, Irish and English heritage while I would silently acknowledge my own,” Tyrellwrote on her website.
“In many parts of my family on both sides you will find many men from Scotland, England and Ireland. As an adult on the odd occasion when I do mention this part of my heritage I am often met with uncomfortable looks from whites and knowing nods from blacks. I feel that this is due to the fact that with the very act of mentioning such ties I am inadvertently reminding them of the brutal system of colonial African slavery and its legacy that has brought about such connections.”
The portraits, Tyrell continued, “are an attempt to interpret and explore these relatives from the past and present that I know are out there.”
Thinking of the world in terms of simple black and white, Tyrell toldMic via email, “leaves little room for the reality that the majority of people in post-colonial societies are generally hybrids of its past and current inhabitants.”
Indeed, our skin color actually says very little about who we are.
Backra Bluid: “The term ‘Backra,'” Tyrell explained in her statement, “is an archaic Caribbean slang of West African origin meaning white master or white person and ‘Bluid’ is the Scotch word for the blood of men and animals as well as kin.”
The binary of “black or white” frames much of our general understanding of race, especially in America. The issue Tyrell addresses is not just that black and white oversimplifies someone’s identity but also that these categories, when you think about it, make no sense: They ignore complicating elements of individual’s racial, ethnic and cultural histories.
Tyrell’s project flips the racial binary on its head. “By merely changing my skin color and making subtle tweaks to my face I want to show how easily on a daily basis we all tend to go no further than skin color when we encounter other people,” she said.
In Ferguson, Obama missed his chance to transcend race
By Charles Michael Byrd Guest columnist
Pundits habitually wonder what happened to the post-racial America they believed Barack Obama’s election would herald. The president, however, has never indicated his willingness to lead the country out of the race-consciousness wilderness.
Many thought his multiracial inheritance would trump his proclivity to further the stale politics of racial identity — that individuals are forever tethered to the philosophy of a specific voting bloc that countenances no competition of views.
Group-think compels us to create mutually exclusive racial groups to determine how many chairs we need position at the table of government largesse. We convince ourselves that the only way to track racial discrimination is by keeping racial statistics, although using race to monitor race prevents us from ever seeing beyond race.
Ferguson, Mo.’s violence, spawned by the shooting death of a young black man by a white cop last August, continues to provide the media with a template to portray America as forever afflicted with a stark, simmering black/white racial schism. Witness Baltimore.
Most blacks have European ancestry, though, and reject Afrocentric dogma that whites are melanin-deficient “ice people,” lacking the ability to wholly embrace humanity. Many whites are part black or Native American and reject centuries-old supremacist doctrine that blacks are subhuman beasts of labor.
Whether Officer Darren Wilson is racist or not, the Justice Department’s report regarding its investigation into the shooting concludes that Michael Brown apparently did not have his hands raised in an effort to surrender. That never mattered, however, to those who immediately adopted the “Hands up, don’t shoot” mantra as a metaphor for some grand social movement in opposition to police violence — repulsively capitalizing politically on Brown’s death.
“Black Lives Matter” must apply not just when a black man is killed by a white cop but also when, as is more likely the case, that man is murdered by another black within the inner city. When will his life matter?
Against this exaggerated backdrop of black/white violence, who dares utter the truth that America is, essentially, a blended nation? Logically, the first mulatto president would not have merely worked to ratchet down the violence in Ferguson but also speak to commonality. Humans are far more similar than different.
Some have accused President Obama of not being black enough, though. Should he have flown to Ferguson and joined in the demonstrations with pants hanging below the crack in his butt, while holding a lit blunt in one hand with which to light a Molotov cocktail in a Colt 45 Malt Liquor bottle in the other?
Obama is the president of all Americans. Yet he has squandered a golden opportunity to articulate that external differences matter little when you consider we all possess the same flesh, blood and bone bodies that will age, decay and pass away. Does the president possess the requisite level of consciousness, though, to delineate differences between essence and form, soul and body?
The president de-emphasizes his European ancestry in favor of a philosophy advancing “black” or “of color” as appropriate identifiers for all nonwhites, including those mixed. This world view holds that until the last remnant of perceived white racism/privilege is verifiably eliminated, all nonwhites must lend their energy to maintaining a counterweight “of color,” an aggregate sociopolitical force designed to bring whiteness to its knees.
Activists point to racial disparities in joblessness, median household income and homeownership. Any significant change in a person’s life must begin with that individual, though. No politician can magically place folks in new homes, fill their bank accounts and position them in dream jobs based on group affiliation.
Instead of leveraging the immense power of the presidency to educate, Barack Obama has become the most high-profile personification of the one-drop rule extant. That “rule” holds that any degree of African ancestry makes one completely black. The pressure on Americans of partial African ancestry to deny their European lineage and identify solely as black is enormous.
The president is surely aware of the repugnance of identity politics. In the remainder of his administration, he can salvage a legacy of pointing the way toward a transcendent commonality, a transcendence of the race notion altogether. Does the president have the courage to plant the seeds of that change?
Charles Michael Byrd, a writer, is of black, white and Cherokee heritage. He lives in Queens, N.Y.
After Being Free Of Leukemia For Five Years, North Texas Boy Has A Relapse
KERA’s recent Breakthroughs series “Growing Up After Cancer” profiled a North Texas boy named Jude Cobler. He was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when he was 5 years old. Earlier this month, Jude’s leukemia relapsed.
Since Jude had gone five years cancer-free after chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant, there was very little chance of a relapse. So when Jude went to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas after not feeling well, the news that his cancer was back was a shock.
Even doctors like Laura Klesse were surprised.
“Most children with leukemia right now are cured of their disease long term,” she said. “I think one of the things we knew about Jude’s leukemia is that it was a little more resistant to chemotherapy. Our goal is to have children in remission that first month. His was a little slower. Why it is that the leukemia cells were quiet for five years before they came back? That’s a question none of us can answer.”
Testing shows Jude’s original cancer cells have overtaken the cells his brother, Joshua, donated years ago. Doctors have started Jude on intensive chemotherapy.
Jude’s parents, Boots and Keith, are camping out at the hospital that’s once again become a second home. They’re trying to stay awake — and optimistic.
“We feel like we’re at the base of Mount Everest, just getting ready to start the climb,” Keith Cobler said. “We’re starting chemo this month and that’ll go on, and then it’ll be the next step from there. But it’ll be a long and difficult climb over the next few months.”
The first plateau to reach is remission. That’s where the signs of leukemia are gone, even though cancer cells may still be in the body. Then Jude could need another bone marrow transplant. Scaling that peak is extra tricky.
Keith Cobler is white. Boots is from the Philippines. Being a mixed-race couple poses a challenge.
“The challenge of course is finding a match for Jude,” Keith Cobler said. “Finding that match is very difficult.”
There are around 16 million volunteer donors on the national Be The Match Registry. Of those, only 3 percent identify as mixed race.
Dr. Klesse says it may be possible to use bone marrow from Jude’s older brother Joshua again, but that there could be some benefit in looking for somebody else that also is a match. You want the donor cells to be similar enough to blend in, but not so similar they forget to fight off the leukemia.
The Coblers, and all of Jude’s friends, have already started the search.