Strategies for Racial Identity Development: Narratives of Black and White Women in Interracial Partner Relationships

By Hill, Miriam R.; Thomas, Volker | Family Relations, April 2000 | Go to article overview
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Strategies for Racial Identity Development: Narratives of Black and White Women in Interracial Partner Relationships


Hill, Miriam R., Thomas, Volker, Family Relations


Strategies for Racial Identity Development: Narratives of Black and White Women in Interracial Partner Relationships*

This exploratary qualitative study used individual interviews and a focus group to investigate how women in Black-White interracial heterosexual partner relationships retrospectively described their racial identity development over the course of the relationships. Racial identity development, social constructionist, and feminist theories guided the grounded theory methodology. Participants described a process of restorying constraining narratives of racial identity into empowering racial identities through three ll,pes of strategies: blocking strategies, transforming strategies, and generating strategies.

Key Words: feminism, interracial partner relationships, narrative, racial identity, social construction.

Racial identity refers to a person's identifying or not identifying with the racial group of his or her racial categorization (e.g., Black or White) and the quality or manner of this identification (Helms, 1990). With the exception of several recent publications (Luke, 1994; Reddy, 1994), literature to date on Black-White interracial heterosexual partner relationships has not addressed how women's racial identities may be affected by being in such relationships. We addressed this gap in the literature through a multi-method qualitative study that examined participants' retrospective reports of their racial identity development. We chose a qualitative research paradigm because it is well suited to situations such as this one, in which there is little existing research, the population is sparse or difficult to sample, and the purpose is description rather than verification (DePoy & Gitlin, 1993). The purpose of our study was to explore Black and White women's descriptions of how they were active in shaping their racial identity development over the course of their Black-White interracial partner relationships.

Interracial partner relationships are a minority among partner relationships in the U.S. (LT.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994), yet their numbers are increasing (Kalmijn, 1993). Data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census indicate that the number of BlackWhite interracial marriages nearly quadrupled between 1970 and 1993. The external opposition to interracial partner relationships in combination with the rapid growth of these relationships makes them an important and timely subject for family research.

Although in the U.S. and many other societies people are categorized according to race, race is not a typology of concrete, mutually exclusive categories. We can best understand it within a social constructionist framework as the negotiated interaction between a societal phenomenon of categorization based an physical markers (such as skin color and facial features) and a personal phenomenon of identity development.

Interracial partner relationships provide a unique window for examining this process of racial identity development. Not only do Black and White women in Black-White interracial partner relationships experience racism, but they also experience it in ways unique from those experienced by Blacks and Whites in same-race partner relationships. Blacks partnered with Whites often have their Blackness, ar racial identity, challenged by other Blacks (Hernton, 1965/1988; Mathabane & Mathabane, 1992: Rosenblatt, Karis, & Powell, 1995). Thus, their experiences of racial identity may vary from those of Blacks who are not interracially partnered. Whites partnered with Blacks, likewise, lose their White status (Luke, 1994; Mathabane &'z Mathabane; Reddy, 1994; Spickard, 1989), while simultaneously having their awareness of their Whiteness more heightened than ever before (Mathabane & Mathabane; Reddy; Rosenblatt et al.). At the same time, they are not given full status as a member of their partners' race (Luke; Mathabane & Mathabane; Reddy).

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