Ashley Edwards, an African American–Caucasian–Indigenous American, identified as multiracial while an adolescent. As a child, she recalled her mother having to prove maternity when individuals approached them if she were the nanny. Edwards said she often felt the sting of being disconnected from her own mother by the differences in their complexions.
“I am not light enough to be accepted as a Caucasian. How do I grapple with being white and Native American when I have more Black features? I struggled with societal definitions of racial classification as a child. I am multiracial,” Edwards told The Informer. “I fit into no one box, but society is one hell of a teacher. It forced me into identifying as African American and made my life experiences 100 percent Black.”
Edwards said her identity formation caused a lot of racial stress because while she understood that she was multiracial, she was forced to set the other cultures aside.
“I am a middle-aged Black woman who happens to contain the genetic makeup of Caucasians and Indigenous Americans.”
Edwards is not alone. In 1924, the Racial Purity Act mandated that all Americans be listed as either White or Non-White. The latter often classified members of the same family differently and then through segregation, forcibly separated them into distinct social spaces (neighborhoods, schools, jobs). Further until to 1967 intermarriage remained illegal in parts of the U.S. with biracial children forced into either “White” or “non-White” categories based on appearance or declaration of race. It was not until the 2000 census that the U.S. Census Bureau allowed individuals to identify as more than one race – with more than 6.8 million people self-identifying racial or multiracial. And despite mixed-race children belonging to the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., studies suggest they may be at greater risk of suffering from race-related stress and mental health issues due to discrimination.
Astrea Greig, a graduate student writing for the American Psychological Association, found in her research on multiracial youth, that youth and mixed families often experience unique types of discrimination and microaggressions. Among the multiple types, one is exclusion or isolation in which multiracial people are excluded due to their mixed status. Another type of discrimination and microaggression is assumption of being monoracial or mistaken identity. Greig provides the example of a child at school telling jokes targeted toward African Americans to a biracial Black and White child. The child assumes the biracial child is White and therefore feels it is acceptable to say the jokes. The behavior is actually offensive and hurtful to the biracial child. These unique stressors can affect the well-being of the child.
Enid Johnson checks almost every racial and ethnic category listed on forms. She said growing up there were no social classifications beyond White or non-White, rich or poor – and certainly, no terms such as racial imposter.
“The most challenging aspects of being a multiracial child was struggling with racial identification because I was fair–skinned and could pass as White. My mother has the darker complexion of my parents, and I would tell myself to act more White than Black,” Johnson said. “As an adult, I often endure mistaken identity and those interactions with people who are either curious or cruel, takes its toll because in the end, we all wish to be treated as human.”