Academic journal article Family Relations

Multiple Realities: A Relational Narrative Approach in Therapy with Black-White Mixed-Race Clients

Academic journal article Family Relations

Multiple Realities: A Relational Narrative Approach in Therapy with Black-White Mixed-Race Clients

Article excerpt


Notions of a racial identity for persons with one Black and one White parent have assumed the existence of only a singular identity (first Black and later biracial). Emerging empirical research on racial identity formation among members of this group reveals that multiple identity options are possible. In terms of overall health, the level of social invalidation one encounters with respect to racial self-identification is more important than the specific racial identity selected. Here a relational narrative approach to therapy with Black-White mixed-race clients who experience systematic invalidation of their chosen racial identity is presented through a detailed case illustration.

Key Words: biracial, interracial, mixed-race, narrative therapy.

The number of interracial unions has increased dramatically over the past three decades, creating a burgeoning multiracial population in the United States (Goldstein & Morning, 2000; Root, 1996). As this population increased, student organizations, support groups, and multiracial advocates have worked to change both the legal and the cultural understanding of multiracialism. Multiracial advocates' greatest success in gaining legitimacy was the inclusion of a "check all that apply" directive on the 2000 census that allowed individuals to indicate multiple racial categories to reflect their racial identity. However, the emergence of multiracial identity has not been without controversy. The lengthy and heated debate over the 2000 census pitted multiracial advocates against civil rights leaders who vehemently opposed the change due to anticipated adverse effects on political representation and resource distribution (Spencer, 1999).

A major challenge faced by mixed-race people involves the struggle to define themselves racially within a society that conceptualizes race in a rigidly dichotomous manner and that attaches differential values to each of these dichotomies. Although there are myriad ways in which mixed-race people may choose to identify racially, a common challenge faced by members of this group involves essentialist notions of a singular ideal racial identity. As a result, many mixed-race people routinely encounter social invalidation from others related to their chosen racial self-identification. This is particularly the case for Black-White mixed-race people, whose relationships are defined against the historical backdrop of slavery, the legacy of the one-drop rule, and the politics of skin color stratification that may contribute to social invalidation with respect to how they identify racially.

Currently there is no widely used or agreed on terminology in the social sciences to differentiate various racial combinations within the multiracial population. In this article, we use the broad term "multiracial" to describe individuals who have biological parents who self-identify as members of different races. We use the term "Black-White mixed-race" to refer specifically to those persons who have one self-identified Black biological parent and one self-identified White biological parent. Hence, Black-White mixed-race represents a subset of the broader category multiracial.

Human beings are relational by nature. It is through relational processes that we are conceived and born into the world and develop a sense of identity (Blumer, 1969). Our identities are shaped through our social interactions with others. This shaping process involves a multitude of experiences, but a crucial aspect of developing a strong, healthy sense of identity involves receiving validation from others. How others respond to us has a powerful impact on the types of people we become, how we feel about ourselves and the world around us, and our overall level of psychological well-being (Mead, 1934). Hence, biracial people whose chosen racial identity is consistently invalidated by others (especially from those who are emotionally significant to the individual) are at risk of psychological distress. …

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