Choosing Choosing Racial Sides: Part Two… A Different Perspective

Choosing Racial Sides: Part Two… A Different Perspective

Cassandra Franklin-Barbajosa

Contrary to popular opinion, the way mixed-race people look is not the primary influence that determines what part of their heritage they identify with, according to Seattle clinical psychologist and independent scholar Dr. Maria P. P. Root. She says a host of other factors comes into play.

“I consider the generation people were born into, the geographical region they came from, the community where they grew up, language, religion, parents’ identity, home values, and even the names they were given,” says Root, who is Filipino and white. “I also look at such things as individual traits. Someone who is very socially skilled and multitalented at a high level—a musician, an athlete, or a scholar, for example—has more identity options.

Race or gender often become secondary to the part of identity associated with the area of talent. It is almost as though people loosen the rules around race and bigotry if an individual has an exceptional skill that society values and gives the OK to look at a person more as an individual. All of these are very critical influences in how someone is going to identify.”

Root’s theory about why multiracial people tend to choose one part of their heritage over another began evolving in the 1980s when she discovered that the available literature on mixed-race people was dated. “With few exceptions, it was very pejorative,” she says. “A lot of it reflected the politics of the time, which was against race mixing, and it just did not match the experiences of the multiracial people who were writing doctoral dissertations.”

That gap led to Root publishing the award-winning book, Racially Mixed People in America, published in 1992. Many consider this highly acclaimed research-based book the definitive contemporary study on the subject, and the first major step in establishing Root as the premiere expert on mixed-race issues.

“Racial identity starts with family and community,” Root says. “People then begin to negotiate their identity for themselves once they go out on their own.”…

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