“I’m the Best of Both Worlds” Factors Influencing the Racial Identities of Biracial Youth

“I’m the Best of Both Worlds” Factors Influencing the Racial Identities of Biracial Youth

Oregon State University
140 pages

Christine LeAnn Mouzong

A Thesis submitted to  Oregon State University in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Science

This study examined the social and contextual factors that lead to differences in the way biracial adolescents interpret their racial identity. Using 11 interviews with a sample of biracial youth between the ages of 14 and 17-years-old, this study also explores the strategies these individuals use to achieve social validation for their preferred racial self-understanding. Theoretically, the factors shaping identity construction and the strategies used to negotiate identity are studied through both a bioecological model and a symbolic interactionist framework.

The findings from this study provide new insights into adolescent biracial identity that involve issues ranging from cultural racism to the impact of video media on adolescent development. The main themes emerging from youth narratives suggest that four primary factors shape how biracial youth understand and reconcile their racial identities. First, community messages about race define the parameters of adolescents’ racial identity options. Secondly, social meanings attached to physical appearance play a pivotal role in how racial identities are understood by self and others. Thirdly, peer endorsements of color-based stereotypes, especially those derived from popular media images of Black entertainers, are crucial to how these adolescents frame their racial identity options. Lastly, racial socialization in the familial context provides an important, though often ambiguous, piece to biracial identity formation.

As well, four strategies surfaced in this study that biracial adolescents appear to use when negotiating identity claims in interactions with others. These strategies include compromise, evoking mixed parentage, emotion regulation, and using humor.


  • Chapter 1: Introduction
    • Purpose of Study
    • Background
    • Historical Context
    • Research Questions
  • Chapter 2: Literature and Theory Review
    • Symbolic Interaction
      • Self-concept and Identity
      • Individuals as Social Actors
    • Bioecological Perspective
      • Proximal Processes
      • Person Factors
      • Context
      • Time
      • Summary
    • Adolescent Identity Development
    • Race and Ethnicity
      • Race/Ethnic Identity Development
    • Multiracial Identity
      • The Multidimensional Model of Biracial Identity
      • Part-Black Youth
      • Part-Hispanic Youth
    • Factors that Influence Identity Options
      • Social Networks
      • Schools
      • Peers
      • Family Influences
      • Physical Appearance
    • Summary
  • Chapter 3: Method
    • Recruitment
    • Sample
    • Site Selection
    • Interview Procedures
    • Interview Protocol
    • Data Coding and Analysis Procedures
  • Chapter 4: Results
    • Qualitative Data Analysis
    • “My Mississippi self” Community Messages and Racial Identity
      • General Impressions of Community
    • Identity Options and Community
      • Mixed Messages
      • Prejudice and Identity Options
      • Messages Conveyed at School
      • Conclusions from Community Influences
    • The Role of Physical Appearance in Racial Identity
      • Reconciling Ambiguous Appearance
      • “How do people tell you apart?”
      • Conclusions about Appearances and Identity
    • “The Whitest Black girl” Racial Identity through the looking glass of Peer Culture
      • Media and “Cool-Pose” Culture
      • “It’s so funny!”
      • Conclusions from Peer Influences on Racial Identity
    • “You’re in the South now girl, you’d better buck up” Family Influences on Racial Identity
      • “Stop talking!”
      • Explicit Messages
      • Implicit Messages
      • Conclusions from Family Influences on Racial Identity
  • Chapter 5: Discussion and Conclusions
    • Conclusions
      • Community Interpretations of Appearance
      • Gender and Color-based codes of Behavior
      • Construing Parental Messages
      • Negotiating Identity
      • Compromising
      • Evoking Mixed Parentage
      • Emotion Regulation
      • Using Humor
    • Discussion
    • Color-stratification and Identity
    • The Paradox of “Cool-Pose” Culture
    • The Familial Context
    • Negotiating Self
    • Limitations
    • Implications
      • Future Research
      • Symbolic Interaction
      • Bioecological Perspective
  • References
  • Appendices
    • Appendix A Informed Consent Document
    • Appendix B Assent Document
    • Appendix C In-Depth Interview Guide


  1. Description of Respondents
  2. Contextual Factors Salient to Racial Identity Development
  3. Negotiation Strategies for Validating Racial Identity

Read the entire thesis here.

Tags: , , ,