My Choice, Your Categories: The Denial of Multiracial Identities

My Choice, Your Categories: The Denial of Multiracial Identities

Journal of Social Issues
Volume 65, Number 1 (March 2009)
pages 185-204
DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2008.01594.x

Sarah S. M. Townsend
University of California, Santa Barbara

Hazel R. Markus
Stanford University

Hilary B. Bergsieker
Princeton University

Mixed-race individuals often encounter situations in which their identities are a source of tension, particularly when expressions of multiracial and biracial identity are not supported or allowed.  Two studies examined the consequences of this identity denial. In Study 1, mixed-race participants reported that their biracial or multiracial identity caused tension in a variety of contexts. Study 2 focused on one often-mentioned situation: completing a demographic questionnaire in which only one racial background can be specified.  Relative to mixed-race participants who were permitted to choose multiple races, those compelled to choose only one showed lower subsequent motivation and self-esteem.  These studies demonstrate the negative consequences of constraining mixed-race individuals’ expression of their chosen racial identity. Policy implications for the collection of racial and ethnic demographic data are discussed.

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