Racial identity development in biracial children of Black/White racial heritage

Christine Kerwin, Fordham University


This exploratory study examined issues surrounding racial identity development in school aged children of Black/White racial heritage (i.e., first generation offspring of one Black parent and one White parent). Evidence suggests that this is a growing yet understudied group. Educators, counselors, and other professionals working with biracial individuals must add to their knowledge of identity formation an increased awareness of the process of identity development in order to meet their needs more effectively. Data was gathered via ethnographic methods. The long interview, a semi-structured interview technique, was conducted with nine biracial children and their parents. Analysis of the interviews served to delineate the emergent themes from which hypotheses were generated for future research endeavors. Major findings regarding participants sometimes ran counter to problems conjectured in the literature. For all of the participant children and adolescents, there was no great sense of perceiving themselves as "marginal" in two cultures. The majority demonstrated an increased sensitivity to the views, cultures, and values of both the Black and White communities and perceived more commonalities than differences between them. Children did not generally perceive themselves as pressured by family members to emphasize one racial background over the other. Biracial children and adolescents tended to identify with the same sex parent. No association between physical resemblance to a particular parent and racial identity was found. Religious/ethnic identity appeared to be a salient factor for children with Jewish mothers. Definite transitions associated with different ages were found which may depend on environmental circumstances. Younger children demonstrated bicultural competence in that they expressed awareness and comfort in the fact that people are different colors and races and that they can identify with more than one group. They viewed themselves as in the middle of a continuum of color between Black and White but definitely connected to both ends. There was a marked tendency, however, for adolescents to report pressure from peers to "choose sides." It was suggested that this be further investigated in terms of gender and age differences as well as effects of alternate reference group orientations (e.g., religion, sports, clubs) for biracial adolescents.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Kerwin, Christine, "Racial identity development in biracial children of Black/White racial heritage" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9136328.