I touched on names and identity last week, and this week I read a couple insightful articles about the development of racial identity. One excerpt I read discusses the outside “triggers” that make one aware of one’s race as a unique characteristic. This concept made it easier to understand why minorities recognize their racial identities more keenly and from younger ages. Often times the outside triggers are negative, like media portrayals that depict black youths as gang-bangers or neglect to feature Native Americans at all. The article explains that these outside influences are pitted against “deep conscious immersion into cultural traditions and values” coming from closer to home, like one’s family or church. And because literature suggests that racial identity is a socially rooted concept based on others’ perceptions, the negative message from the majority can be difficult to overcome or to reconcile with one’s minority culture and upbringing.
I’m part of the racial and cultural majority as a white person, so I am often unaware of my race in situations where minorities would be conscious of theirs. I don’t have to worry about being racially profiled by police, service personnel, educators, politicians, etc. My race isn’t underrepresented on network television or in best-selling literature. People don’t point me out as, “that white girl.” The authors explain, “For [white Americans] ethnicity is usually invisible and unconscious because societal norms have been constructed around their racial, ethnic, and cultural frameworks, values, and priorities and then referred to as ‘standard American culture’…there is little conscious instilling of specific ethnic identity through white communities.” This rings pretty true to my experience. The only time I’m conscious of my race is on the rare occasions that I’m the minority, and even then I’m not self-conscious due to any supposed inferiority of white people. I do recognize that I’m fortunate in my experience; I’m lucky to be white and I’m lucky to have many other privileges in my life.
Here’s a link to the chapter I have been referencing: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic551690.files/Chavez%20and%20Guido%20Debrito.pdf
This piece also pointed out that the term “melting pot” for the United States has fallen by the wayside. Instead of this image of homogenization, researchers are working to define the diverse population and all the unique personalities encapsulated therein. Another article I read also discussed the changing face of race in America and described how youths are defining and embracing their multiculturalism. At the University of Maryland, students have formed a Multiracial and Biracial Student Association, exhibiting pride in their mixed heritages and taking the question of their race into their own hands. I was surprised to learn that up until the 2000 census, citizens were forced to select just one racial category. Most people with some African-American ancestry identified as “black” because they were perceived that way. These college students “are asserting their freedom to identify as they choose,” and they’re not the only ones. The 2010 census reflected a 32% increase in the population identifying as “mixed race,” for a total of nine million mixed race Americans, around 3% of the total population.
If you’d like to read the article about young Americans and their blended races it can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/us/30mixed.html
This site shows some interesting statistics on the changing racial demographics of America per the 2010 U.S. Census:
This page is an exploration of the stages of racial identity development:
How do you conceptualize YOUR personal identity? If you were asked to describe yourself, how would you begin? Are you first and foremost your gender, your profession, your race, your ethnicity, your nationality, your religion? Do you identify as multiple races or just one? Has your race conferred privilege, challenges, or a bit of each? Has anyone ever asked, “What are you?” referring to your race? Have you ever wished you were a different race? Have you considered how your life would be different if you were born black, white, Asian, Native American, Latino, Pacific Islander, or some mixture of multiple races?
Here’s one last excerpt from the New York Times article “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above.”
“What are you?” they asked, and “Where are you from?” They were fascinated by her father, a Latino with Asian roots, and her mother with the long blond hair, who was mostly European in ancestry, although mixed with some Cherokee and Shawnee.
“I was always having to explain where my parents are from because just saying ‘I’m from Takoma Park, Maryland,’ was not enough,” she said. “Saying ‘I’m an American’ wasn’t enough.”
“Now when people ask what I am, I say, ‘How much time do you have?’ ” she said. “Race will not automatically tell you my story.”
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share your insight and your story in the comments.