Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Multiracial Kids Deserve Proactive Support for Racial Identity Development - Learning from Others
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Studies have explored how parents of various racial identities approach racial identity development. There are two elements of racial socialization - 1) discussing the negative aspects such as racism, colorism, and colonialism, and 2) elevating positive elements such as celebrating heritage, connecting with books, media, and role models of a shared racial identity and culture, and having representative artifacts (pictures/items/etc.) in the home.
It turns out, parents approach this topic very differently depending on their own identity.
Black/African American families often intentionally talk about racial bias and prepare their kids to navigate an unjust world and lean into positive socialization. Intentional support often comes in the form of discussing racism and colorism, including conversations about history, slavery, and safety. For Black families, these conversations are seen as important for basic survival, especially in our world when Black kids are often seen as a threat and murdered by police and vigilantes (Say Their Names - may their families get accountability and justice, and our lost brothers, sisters, and children rest in peace).
Black families also are much more intentional about exposing their kids to books, media, role models, and foods that celebrate and elevate Black culture. Intentional and proactive conversations around race and navigating the world help to connect kids to the beauty of their being and prepare them for encounters with racism and racists. Kids who receive intentional support develop language to understand their experiences, know they have safe spaces to discuss their experiences and related feelings, and likely better understand situational awareness (and so much more). In fact, when Black kids do not have this intentional support from family in the form of discussions of racism and injustice, they often feel anger and depressive symptoms when experiencing racial discrimination.
Latinx families often approach racial identity development through the communication of cultural pride. Many studies show that first-generation parents from Spanish-speaking Latin American, South American, and Caribbean countries frequently and intentionally instill connections with ancestors, heritage, and culture in their kids. This effect appears to diminish in one generation but is nevertheless prevalent in Latinx families who are second-generation living in the US. As anti-immigration sentiment and hostility rise in the US media and politics, Latinx parents are more often having conversations with their children about bias and safety. More research and understanding are needed to better understand this element of racial identity support in Latinx families.
Asian American racial socialization remains largely understudied as well, especially as the Asian Diaspora includes many rich and distinct cultures. However, a few studies suggest that Hmong parents offer intentional conversations with their children to prepare for bias and racism.
White families tend to approach racial socialization from a very different lens than Families of Color. Many White families discuss race from a ‘color-blind’ perspective, meaning that race is not specifically described and language like ‘not seeing race’ is often used. One study showed that White parents do not discuss race as “race did not come up in their household, therefore it was not a relevant conversation to have with their children”. (Yikes!!! However, this orientation is relevant for the White parents among us with multiracial kids, as this may be how race was approached, or not, in our homes growing up.)
When it comes to multiracial families, there is not a wealth of information on how our families advance racial identity development. Our families are diverse and unique, mixing and matching endless possibilities of racial and cultural intersection. This offers a unique challenge for research, though some dedicated scholars focus their work on supporting families like ours. (Check out Dr. Atkin’s ARISE (antiracism, resistance, identity, socialization, and equity) lab!). Research has shown, however, that how parents of multiracial kids identify our kids’ race is incredibly influential in how we offer racial identity development support. In fact, when parents view their multiracial kids as White, racial identity support is less frequent than when we define our kids as Black (these results were from Black/White families, and therefore using the term Black here). This is a grave injustice for our multiracial kids, as our kids deserve the support to identify themselves, for themselves.
What is the takeaway?
It is well understood that monoracial families approach racial identity support very differently based on the family’s identity. Many parents of multiracial kids come from monoracial families, so we need to reflect on how race was (or was not!) discussed in our homes and subsequently need to decide how we want to discuss race (not if!) in ours. Our multiracial kids deserve intentional support as they grow into their identities. (If this feels overwhelming or you don’t know where to start, the Samahra app offers daily reading and reflection on this very topic.)
Do I trust this research?
Literature reviews offer powerful insight into a wealth of research - the method behind a literature review is not to conduct an original investigation but to pull together everything that has been done to offer a summary and intersection of the findings of others. Researchers use pre-defined requirements to include articles in a literature review, such as key phrases, methodologies, and study locations. This paper reviewed 24 papers in-depth, which provides a rich understanding for the reader.
Citation: Simon, Carlisa. "The role of race and ethnicity in parental ethnic-racial socialization: A scoping review of research." Journal of Child and Family Studies 30.1 (2021): 182-195.
Photo by Andrew Rivera on Unsplash