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Tips for Multi-Racial Families

There are approximately 7 million people in the United States who identify as mixed-race with half of these being under the age of 18, and it is estimated that the mixed-race population in the U.S. will reach 21% by 2050. Yet, multiracial people and families remain marginalized and overlooked by mainstream U.S. society. As a result, the unique issues and struggles they face are often poorly understood by professionals, co-workers, friends and extended family, making it difficult to successfully manage challenges when they arise.

Racial Struggles in Multi-racial Families—

All families, regardless of race, encounter challenges and stressors, but there are a variety of unique racially-based issues and struggles that tend to confront multiracial families. To assess if your family may be grappling with any of these, consider the list of questions below.

"Who am I?"

A core struggle for mixed-race people is how to define themselves racially, which is influenced by a host of factors including physical appearance, family values, geographic location, etc.

Does anyone in your family, especially kids or teens, have difficulty defining themselves racially, and experience persistent confusion, anxiety, distress, or irritability when posed with this question?

"Whose side are you on anyway?"

Parental conflict sometimes creates "sides" that kids have to choose between, and in multiracial families, this pressure can be “racialized.” Kayla's father (whose is white) and her mother (who is African American and Native American) argue constantly and Kayla feels torn between them, including racially. According to Kayla, "I'm afraid if I'm too in touch with my black and Native roots my father will think I'm rejecting him and siding with my mother, and if I'm too white my mother will think I'm rejecting her and siding with my father."

Are there parental conflicts in your family that, directly or indirectly, create "sides" and do the "sides" extend to racial issues as well?

When the Misdeeds of One are Held Against All—

Sometimes the hurt that a loved one causes is generalized to an entire racial group. Teresa (who is white) and Jose (who is black and Latino) recently divorced after Teresa fell in love with another man. Their three kids, who felt abandoned, have generalized their hurt and anger with their mother towards all white people. As their daughter stated, "You just can't trust white people, they let you down every time."

Has anyone in your family used the hurt and anger caused by an individual as "proof" of stereotypes or negative beliefs about an entire racial group?

Racial Devaluation—

Racial devaluation occurs when negative attitudes and behaviors are expressed toward any of the racial groups represented in the family. This may occur directly when family members make denigrating racial comments, or indirectly through behaviors where lighter or "whiter looking" kids are treated more favorably than darker kids.

How might you or other family members express racial devaluation? How often does this happen? What effects might this have on the family, especially on kids?

Between Siblings—

While some sibling rivalry and conflict is natural, beware of when it becomes racial. Tensions among siblings around differences in complexion, hair textures, eye color, and facial features often are tied to painful wounds that can strain relationships and compromise healthy racial identity development.

Do any of the sibling conflicts in your family revolve around racial issues?

“Race doesn't matter in our family…”

Wanting to see everyone as "just human" and to not make race "an issue" leads some families to avoid talking about race altogether. Yet race and racism are inescapable realities in our society. Families who don't talk directly about race often fail to provide their kids with the racial socialization they need to understand and manage racial realities outside of the family. As Mr. Jones explained, "In this family, we're all people, so we don't dwell on the race stuff." While a noble ideal, in refusing to address race, Mr. Jones failed to prepare his son, Carl (half white and half Asian), to handle the "the race stuff" he encountered when he went away to college.

Is it hard for your family to discuss race openly and directly? What messages do kids learn about race and how are they prepared to manage racial issues in the wider world?

When Friends are Unfriendly—

Many mixed-race kids experience racial scorn and rejection from peers. Such experiences are painful but with appropriate guidance and affirmation kids can cope successfully.

If and when your kids encounter racial rejection from peers, do they talk to you about these experiences? Do your kids have the coping skills and resources to manage these experiences with confidence?

What to Do If Any of These Signs Are Present—

If you recognize any of these signs in your family, consulting with a marriage and family therapist is highly recommended. Family therapists are trained to understand, restructure, and heal family relationships. A family therapist may spend some time meeting alone with mothers and fathers or just with kids, but at all times they are working for the benefit of both the whole family and for each individual member.

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