Black Identity


Black Identity in Bimcial Black/White People: A Comparison of Jacqueline Who Refuses to Be Exclusively Black and Adolphus Who Wishes He Were


Two biracial college freshmen, both of whom identify as Black, were chosen from a

larger sample of participants in a qualitative study of biracial identity development to

exemplify the differences in the paths that 2 biracial individuals could take to achieve

racial identity resolution. Through the case study method, the authors describe the

course and progression of racial identity development (RID) in these 2 individuals and

discuss some key themes in their lives that have contributed to the development of their

RID. The purposes are fourfold: to describe nonclinical subjective experiences of being

biracial in the United States, to explore the differences in the paths that 2 biracial indi-

viduals can take to achieve what looks superficially like similar Black racial identity

resolution, to demonstrate how identifying as Black can have different meanings and

consequences for 2 biracial people, and to contribute to the differentiation of Black RID

from biracial Black/White RID. The authors raise questions about the generalizability

of monoracial Black and ethnic identity theories to biracial individuals.

* biracial identity * biracial Black/White * interracial • racial identity • ethnic identity

• Angela R. Gillem, Laura Renee Cohn, and Cambria Throne, Department of Psychology, Arcadia

University. This research was supported by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation, the El-

lington Beavers Fund for Intellectual Inquiry, and the Arcadia University Faculty Development

Fund. Erica Freeman and Michael Mauney, Angela R. Gillem’s cousin, who died in a car accident

before he had a chance to see this research computed, shared their insights as biracial people to

help develop the interview schedule. Melissa Bailey and Nancy Grossman Feldman coauthored the interview schedule. Jeff Shultz and Maria Root contributed their time and wisdom to reviewing the

manuscript. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Angela R, Gillem, Arcadia Uni-

versity, 450 South Easton Road, Glenside, Pennsylvania 19038-3295. Electronic mail may be

sent to

Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology Copyright 2001 by the Educational Publishing Foundation Vol. 7, No. 2, 182-196 1099-9809/01/$5.00 DOI: 10.1037//1099-9809.7.2.182


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B L A C K I D E N T I T Y I N B I R A C I A L B L A C K / W H I T E P E O P L E 183

The racial identity development of those who have one socially defined Black Ameri- can parent and one socially defined White American parent has been of interest to re- searchers primarily because of how U.S. so- ciety constructs race on the basis of the one- drop rule (Gillem, 1996). Until recently, there have been relatively few published em- pirical examinations of racial identity devel- opment (RID) in nonclinical samples of bi- racial people. Although early clinical research on biracial people emphasized negative consequences of being the off- spring of an interracial union, Root (1992) pointed out that racist and antimiscegenist attitudes motivated much of the early re- search. Root (1990) postulated that when racial identity and self-concept are difficult for biracial people, it is because of the ten- sion between the two racial components of the self (which reflects the tension in the greater society between those two “compo- nents”). She asserted that biracial people demonstrate internalized oppression if they reject either part of their heritage. Sebring (1985) suggested that adopting a monora- cial identity can lead to guilt and “feelings of disloyalty” (pp. 6-7), and many biracial people have reported that it is emotionally damaging (Watts, 1991).

Research with nonclinical samples has offered positive portrayals of biracial young- sters as self-confident, creative, and well ad- justed when raised with a supportive family, neighborhood, and social network and in integrated schools (Gibbs & Hines, 1992). When Cauce et al. (1992) compared biracial and monoracial (Black) 11-13-year-olds, they found no significant differences with regard to peer relationships or family rela- tionships on measures of trust, communica- tion, and alienation and with regard to life stress, anxiety and depression. When Field (1996) compared Black, White, and biracial adolescents on general self-concept, self- acceptance, and self-ratings of physical at- tractiveness and romantic appeal, she also found no significant differences.

In this article, we describe the course of RID in two biracial college students and dis-

cuss key themes in their lives. The purpose of this case discussion is fourfold: (a) to de- scribe nonclinical subjective experiences of being biracial in the United States, (b) to explore the differences in the paths that bi- racial individuals can take to achieve what looks superficially like similar Black racial identity resolution, (c) to demonstrate how identifying as Black can have different meanings and consequences for biracial people, and (d) to differentiate monoracial Black RID from biracial Black/White RID and raise questions about the generalizabil- ity of monoracial Black identity theories to biracial individuals. Our purpose is to con- tribute to the complication of the concept of race in a way that helps to get beyond polar- ized, monoracial constructions.

We take a social constructionist perspec- tive on race. We believe that “race” has evolved out of a historical need to create a hierarchy that would maintain the status quo of White supremacy and privilege in the United States. The need to develop a racial identity is a direct response to this hierarchy and the oppression that has resulted from it. Helms (1995) stated:

Racial identity theory evolves out of the tra- dition of treating race as a sociopolitical and . . . cultural construction . . . racial classifica- tions are assumed to be not biological reali- ties, but rather sociopolitical and economic conveniences, membership in which is deter- mined by socially defined inclusion criteria, (p. 181)

This perspective is supported by anthropo- logical and biological studies of racial groups that have found more variation within groups than between them (Zucker- man, 1990), suggesting that races are not biologically distinct. Thus, we presume that the physical characteristics often used to de- fine racial categories bear no significance other than to suggest social realities.

Racial/Ethnic Identity Theory and Research: A Framework

Racial/ethnic identity is a complex, multidi- mensional construct. Attitudes about race/

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