Coats of Many Colors: Serving the Multiracial Child and Adolescent

By Kato, Sharleen L. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Coats of Many Colors: Serving the Multiracial Child and Adolescent


Kato, Sharleen L., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


ABSTRACT

For the past several decades, the number of multiracial people in America has increased dramatically. Because family and consumer sciences professionals work to improve the quality of life for families, understanding the developmental needs of biracial and multiracial children and adolescents is critical. This article explores realities surrounding biracial and multiracial children and adolescents and reviews identity development literature and models. The article concludes by suggesting practical ways family and consumer sciences professionals can meet the needs of multiracial children and adolescents.

Thirty years ago, the United States Supreme Court declared laws prohibiting interracial marriages unconstitutional. Although interracial marriages have existed throughout time, the changing laws and more accepting societal attitudes of the last three decades have resulted in a steady increase of interracial marriages and multiracial offspring in the United States. According to the 1990 Bureau of Census, there are currently over two million children in America identified as multiracial. This estimate is probably low, as census forms do not provide a category for children of biracial or multiracial parentage (Wardle, 1987). Instead, families choose one racial category for their children, usually the minority category (Herring, 1992), thus reducing the number of multiracial children reported as such.

Developing a positive self-identity is an important task of children and adolescents. Positive racial identity plays a key role in the development of a positive self-identity, whereas negative or ambiguous racial impressions result in a contrary self-image (Erikson, 1968). Children as young as five years of age demonstrate racial awareness and preference (Davey, 1977; Goodman, 1964). For most children, both the family and societal institutions (i.e., schools, churches, etc.) play significant roles in selfidentity development (Barnes, 1980; Lyles and Carter, 1982).

The family is the centerpiece of the family and consumer sciences discipline. The purpose of this article is to explore ways in which family and consumer sciences professionals may better understand and meet the needs of multiracial children and adolescents. Specifically, this article explores the myths and realities surrounding multiracial individuals and self-identity development and suggests ways to meet the needs of multiracial children and adolescents. TERMINOLOGY, MYTHS, AND RACIAL

CATEGORIES

Traditionally, "biracial" was a term used to describe persons of black and white parentage. Today, the inclusive term "multiracial" is often used. For the purposes of this article, "multiracial" will be used unless referring to research specifically focusing on biracial children and adolescents.

Multiracial children and interracial families have been the subject of many myths and taboos beginning with the purpose of their parents' union. Suspected reasons for interracial marriages have included a desire to gain wealth or status, sexual perversion, inability to attract a mate of the same race, and a desire to reject a racist society. It has been commonly, but erroneously, held that interracial marriages end in divorce more often than single-race marriages and that multiracial children are more emotionally confused than single race children (Wardle, 1987). The most common myth concerning biracial or multiracial children is that in families of children of Caucasian and another race parent, the child must choose to identify with the racial heritage of the parent of color (Wardle, 1987). Wardle attributes this societal expectation to the commonly held belief that any child that is not "pure white" will be subjected to discrimination at the same level as any minority child.

In the United States, racial categories are a part of everyday life. Applying for employment, government assistance, financial aid, educational opportunities, and other such activities often require identification of racial heritage.

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