Multiracial Identity

Multiracial Identity

A Story by Sara Headley

This is an informative account of what the word multiracial could mean and what correlation the word identity has and what culture has done, and could do to the multiracial individual.UNIVERSITY LEVEL


The Effects Culture has on Multiracial Identity 

   Sara M. Headley

   University of South Alabama

    The multiracial and adolescent populations in the U.S. is growing rapidly with a 32 percent increase in 2010 since the previous U.S census (Humes, Jones, & Ramirez, 2011). The words multiracial, biracial and mixed race all have the same meaning. These words describe a person consisting of, representing, or combining members of more than one racial group ( However a survey done by Pew Research Center found that out of 312 adults of varying mixed race backgrounds surveyed, only 39 percent actually identified themselves as multiracial. About 21 percent of the participants say that they actually felt compelled to identify with only one race as a result of pressure from their family, friends and even society. Many multiracial individuals feel more or less the same as those adults in the study. A video created by a Youtuber named Chescaleigh asked her followers on social media platform known as Snapchat, to send videos completing the following phrase, “I’m a biracial person who…” The video received broad and diverse response spanning all across the world, gender, and cultures with a consistent pattern in the responses. Many of the individuals expressed a sense of insecurity, self hatred, confusion, and isolation from their environment. Some of these people experienced racial microagressions from those close to them and from society as a whole. Psychological studies have been done on multiracial individuals and have found fluctuations in mental stability as a result of societal treatment of their background. While the multiracial demographic is the fastest growing population according to scientific studies and personal accounts, society does not yet know how to treat the multiracial individual. As a result, this causes friction for these people in almost all aspects of life from socialization to their own psychological well-being. 

   Every person in the world falls into a racial or cultural group. In places like America these racial groups mix and diversify but most people can identify and relate to a person in their racial group. People tend to almost always socialize with people in their own ethnic group as well as mingle with other groups. Multiracial individuals fall can into two or three ethnic groups at a time and accept all of their specific ethnic groups but can have a difficult experience with finding true acceptance from other members of the groups. A psychological study done by Columbia and Oklahoma State universities took ten multiracial students who identified as mixed race for interviews and one part of the interview was called The “Chameleon” Experience, where participants stated while they felt isolated because of their racial mixture, they developed different methods to help them conform to multiple racial groups at a time. The participants benefited from this because they were capable to quickly adapt to different culture norms. However the negative outcome was feeling as if they fit in these groups in some way but never completely apart of any.  All participants expressed flexible social attitudes and group boundaries without feeling the need to ever exclude anyone else. Their findings show strengths associated with multiracial heritage, “The ability to negotiate with a variety of social groups and settings and to cross rigid social boundaries, along with an awareness of the importance of doing so.” (Miville, Constantine, Baysden, & So-Lloyd 2005 p. 512)  The term Chameleon Experience perfectly describes what many multiracial individuals do on a regular basis. They change the mental color of their skin to conform to whatever environment they’re trying to blend in with in moment but their never truly accepted by any of the cultures their surrounded by. 

   While socializing with different racial groups multiracial people often experience some form of racism even if they and their social counterparts do not even realize it. Racism is not as direct and open as it used to be often there will be this subtle and covert form called racial microaggression. Racial microaggression is defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to target a person or group” (Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007, p. 273). Surprisingly most of these microagressions are delivered by individuals who mean well and are unaware that any offense has been given. For example, the ever omnipresent “What are you?” question. Referencing back to the Columbia and Oklahoma State study participants described on several or more occasions being asked this question, especially during they’re schooling years. After a while they became accustom to the question but still they still were bothered by it. They, like other multiracial individuals, wished to be normal and like everyone else and not have to be constantly stared at and stopped to explain their racial background. Not all racism is unintentional however, in a Buzzfeedyellow Youtube video called ‘The Struggle of Being Mixed Race’ where five individuals were interviewed and  explained their life experiences as a multiracial individual, one woman claimed that she did not even know she was multiracial until someone pointed it out to her in a racist joke.  In the Columbia and Oklahoma study, one participant in the study actually had students of her high school directly make jokes about her racial background and constantly question her credibility of being multiracial. Multiracial people can experience with people in their social group making a racist comment or acting racist towards another ethnic group and they are the silent watchers because if they speak up against that they face further social ridicule.

  The result of social isolation, micro, and direct racism multiracial people have a higher chance of developing psychological problems than other ethnic groups. An article done in the Psychological Journal of Youth and Adolescence examined a study conducted on multiracial and monoracial high school students to investigate the relationship between ethic identity and mental health outcomes, mainly focusing on any existence of anxiety and or depressive behavior. The findings concluded that multiracial students were found to have more mental health issues than their monoracial peers. Discrimination can also determine the psychological adjustment of multiracial individuals. In the book America Mixed Race specifically in chapter 12 ‘Therapeutic Perspectives on Biracial Identity Formation and Internalized Oppression’ focuses on developing an understanding of identity formation by explaining psychological descriptions of oppression, specifically on biracial oppression. The author explains that identity is important for selfhood or knowing who you are as a person and in order to begin forming an identity, one must have sense of belonging. Biracial individuals are oppressed because of their physical appearance and are subject to internal conflict as a result.  “Sometimes the biracial person is nor recognized at all as belonging to any identifiable human group: this has a dehumanizing effect on the person” (Zack 1995 p.172).A study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology the relationship between racial distance and conflict and the psychological adjustment of 264 multiracial adults. The authors claim that as predicted, higher levels of racial discrimination correlated with lower psychological adjustment. Although with higher multiracial integration psychological adjustment levels rose.

   The last study listed gave me cause to consider this entire paper as a whole.  I considered the actual affect culture played on multiracial identity as a whole. Racism, socialization, and psychological adjustment all came back our societies culture. So multiracial identity was not about biology, or genetic background or even how these people accept who they are, it was determined by how culture treats identity. Predetermined culturalism coming from hundreds of years of tradition and social norms established how society treats multiracial individuals as well as all other forms of identity today.           


Reference Page 

Barnes, J., Fisher, S., Hsu, W., Reynolds, J., & Tyler, K. (2014). Examining multiracial youth in context: Ethic identity development and mental health outcomes. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 43, 1688-1699. doi:  

BuzzfeedYellow. (2016, Jan 12). The struggle of being mixed race [Video file]. Retrieved from

Guevarra, Jr., R., Harrington, B.A., Jackson, K.F., Yoo, H.C.B. (2012). Role of identity integration on the relationship between perceived racial discrimination and psychological adjustment of multiracial people. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59, 240-250. doi:

Humes, K, R., Jones, N. A., & Ramirez, R. R. (2011). Overview of race and Hispanic origin: 2010. 2010 Census Briefs. U.S Department of Commerce. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. 

Krogstad, J. M., & Cohn, D. (2014). U.S. Census looking at big changes in how it asks about race and ethnicity. Retrieved March 5, 2016, from

Miville, M. L., Constantine, M. G., Baysden, M. F., & So-Lloyd, G. (2005). Chameleon Changes: An Exploration of Racial Identity Themes of Multiracial People. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(4), 512.

© 2016 Sara Headley

Author's Note

Sara Headley
Any and all personal opinions; negative, positive, or neutral. I know there are citation issues but feel free to comment on those if you must.

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Added on May 22, 2016
Last Updated on May 22, 2016
Tags: Multiracial, mixed, identity, psychological, effect, individual, person, biracial, college, essay, informative