Academic journal article Childhood Education

"What Are You?" Biracial Children in the Classroom

Academic journal article Childhood Education

"What Are You?" Biracial Children in the Classroom

Article excerpt

Over the last 30 years, biracial individuals have become one of the fastest growing populations in the United States. Despite this rapid growth, these citizens are only slowly beginning to be acknowledged among monoracial groups and in academia ("New Way," 2001; Root, 1996; Wardle, 2007). Because biracial identities "potentially disrupt the white/'of color' dichotomy, and thus call into question the assumptions on which racial inequality is based," society has a difficult time acknowledging this section of the population (Dutro, Kazemi, & Ball 2005, p. 98).

Biracial heritage can mean mixed parentage of any kind. This can include, but is not limited to, African American, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American. "Biracial," "interracial," "multiracial," and "mixed-race" are used interchangeably and are often self-prescribed by individuals and their families (McClain, 2004; Root, 1996; Wardle, 1992). As this group increases in the general population, teachers are beginning to see more of these children in their classrooms. How are biracial children different from monoracial children? How do biracial children challenge us to think differently about racial identity and curricular issues in our classrooms?

Historical Glance at Biracial Children

Biracial children and their families are often marginalized by members of monoracial heritage, and specifically by leaders of minority communities (Root, 1996; Wardle, 2006). According to Brunsma (2005), biracial people have always been an issue for U.S. society, because they go against the structure of American's racial order and white privilege preservation. Many white slave owners and enslaved black women produced light-skinned offspring, known as "mulattoes," who sometimes looked more like the fathers than their mothers. Having a biracial heritage was not a choice at the time and these children were categorized not by their appearance, but rather by the "one drop rule," meaning if one had any known African ancestry, one was considered black both legally and socially (Tatum, 1997). The "one drop rule" was established by the U.S. Census Bureau. Before 1920s, the Census count categorized "mulatto" and "pure Negro." Between the 1920s and 1960s, the previous categories were dropped and replaced with "black," as defined by the "one drop rule."

In 1967, a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Loving v. Virginia overturned the remaining laws prohibiting interracial marriages (FindLaw, 2007). The ruling not only helped remove the legal taboo, it may have increased acceptance of, and therefore the number of, interracial marriages in the United States.

Not until the 2000 Census, however, were Americans given the opportunity to identify themselves as multiracial (CensusScope, n.d.; "New Way," 2001). About 2.4 percent of Americans (equal to about 6.8 million people) were able to validate all of their heritages. The four most commonly reported interracial categories were white and some other race-white and American Indian, white and Asian, and white and black. From the multiracial community's perspective, this was a giant step in the right direction. However, many minority groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, were not in favor of this new Census category because of the possibility of jeopardizing federal funds, civil rights laws, and voting rights issues ("New Way," 2001). Selecting more than one race can affect the number of people who previously checked one of the single minority boxes.

Biracial Identity

Experts recognize that biracial identity development is different from that of white and minority children (Tatum, 1997; Wardle, 1992). Multiple factors should be considered when racial identity is developing, including individual personalities and phenotype, familial relationships and racial identities, and geographical locations and local communities (Root, 1996; Tatum, 1997). …

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