Multiracial Identity Development: Understanding Choice of Racial Identity in Asian-White College Students

Multiracial Identity Development: Understanding Choice of Racial Identity in Asian-White College Students

Journal of the Indiana University Student Personnel Association
pages 38-45

Ashley Viager
Higher Education and Student Affairs Program
Indiana University

Asian-White individuals will have greater representation in higher education in coming years, and student affairs professionals must learn how these students make meaning of their racial identities in order to best serve the needs of this group. Analyzing Poston’s (1990) and Root’s (2003) theories of multiracial identity development, this paper examines the experiences unique to this population to demonstrate that Asian-White individuals have the ability to choose from multiple racial identity outcomes.

In 2000, the United States government conducted a census in which multiracial individuals could self-identify with more than one racial category. Multiracial individuals are those whose parents are of two or more different and distinct federally recognized racial groups (Chapman-Huls, 2009). Previously, multiracial individuals had not been formally recognized in the United States. Instead, multiracial individuals who had one White parent were primarily classified according to their parent of color (Zack, 2001). This system of racial classification, also known as “hypodescent,” originated in the eighteenth century as a way to “maintain White racial purity and to deny mixed race people access to privilege,” (Renn, 2004, p. 4) and reinforced rigid categories of race. The 2000 census formally challenged these previous notions of essentialist racial categories by recognizing those who blurred the boundaries.

One of the main purposes in the revision of the census was to reflect the growing prevalence of interracial marriage in American society (Perlmann & Waters, 2002). The multiracial population is one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States (Shih & Sanchez, 2009), and by the year 2050, one in five Americans could self-identify as multiracial (Farley, 2001). Of any racial minority group in the United States, Asians, both native and U.S. born, register one of the highest rates of marriages outside their race, and marriages to Whites are the most prevalent (Lee & Bean, 2004; Qian, 1997). This growing trend means the population of young mixed race Asian Americans, specifically those who claim Asian and White descent, will increase (Min, 2006). As a result, Asian-White individuals will have significantly greater representation in higher education in the coming years. Because the Asian-White student population is growing, student affairs professionals must learn how these students make meaning of their racial identities. While few studies have explored the racial identity formation specific to Asian-White individuals (Khanna, 2004), current research on multiracial identity development can help student affairs professionals understand the Asian-White experience.

Acceptance or rejection from a racial group can significantly impact how a multiracial student chooses to identify. Multiracial identity theories rely on the notion that individuals “must make choices about their racial identification, navigate validation or invalidation around their choice, and resolve their in-between status while traveling pathways shaped by acceptance and/or denial” (Rockquemore & Laszloffy, 2005). Multiracial students often feel caught between their racial components, unable to fully identify with White students or with monoracial students of color (Renn, 1998). It is important to note, however, that multiracial students experience varying levels of dissonance based on factors that impact the way they identify, and current multiracial identity development models are too general to be applied to any one specific multiracial subpopulation. Asian-White individuals share similar experiences that make their process of racial identity development different from any other multiracial group, thus necessitating a theory that outlines the Asian-White racial identity developmental process. This paper will examine Poston’s (1990) and Root’s (2003) multiracial identity development theories to provide an overview of how various factors influence the racial identity outcomes of multiracial individuals. These theories will then be integrated with current literature regarding the experiences of Asian and Asian- White groups in American society to provide an understanding of the fluidity in racial identity choice for Asian-White individuals…

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