Child and Adolescent Social Work Volume 7, Number 4, August 1990 Biracial Identity and Social Marginality Philip M. Brown, Ph.D. This comparative analysis of classic and recent literature explores the developmental and social implications of biracial identity in the U.S. Though specific attention was given to Black-White biracial persons, a broader analysis yielded some surprising insights into the nature and implications of the "biracial personality" and the accompanying differences in interpersonal styles and social relationships. ABSTRACT: Despite t h e p e r s i s t e n t c u l t u r a l s t e r e o t y p e s depicting the U n i t e d S t a t e s as a c u l t u r a l m e l t i n g pot, rigid divisions b e t w e e n economic, class, racial a n d e t h n i c groups endure. Ours is a h e a v i l y stratified society w i t h distinct b o u n d a r i e s and rigid b a r r i e r s a r o u n d socially defined groups, roles and s t a t u s positions. T h e s e c i r c u m s t a n c e s are difficult e n o u g h for Blacks, Hispanics, N a t i v e A m e r i c a n s a n d o t h e r groups who do not fit n e a t l y into m a i n s t r e a m W h i t e society (and are, t h e r e f o r e , socially m a r g i n a l ) . H o w e v e r , w h a t h a p p e n s to those individuals whose racial a n d c u l t u r a l h e r i t a g e is rooted in both W h i t e a n d n o n - W h i t e groups? T h e s e individuals belong to both while simult a n e o u s l y not fully b e l o n g i n g to e i t h e r (eg. Black a n d Caucasian). D u a l racial i d e n t i t y likewise implies a d u a l e t h n i c a n d c u l t u r a l focus as well. F o r t h e biraciaP p e r s o n t h e s e two c u l t u r a l connections are reflected in t h e t y p e of life one leads; t h e n a t u r e of one's achievem e n t s a n d failures; as well as o t h e r social a t t i t u d e s a n d aspirations. 1For the purposes of this paper, the terms "biracial" or "mixed race" shall refer to those individuals whose parents come from White and non-White racial and ethnic groups (eg. one Black parent and one White parent). Moreover, it is consequently assumed that biracial persons are (at least to some degree) bicultural as well (eg. MexicanAmerican). Dr. Brown is in private practice. Address communications to me at Phoebe Hart House, The Hill, Portsmouth, N.H. 03801. 319 9 1990 Human Sciences Press 320 CHILDAND ADOLESCENT SOCIAL WORK JOURNAL In fact, this person will be a kind of dual personality possessing a dual social and psychological consciousness which exceeds the kind of "dual consciousness" first suggested by W. E. B. DuBois (1961). This "dual reality" constitutes the essence of the social and psychological dilemma confronting biracial persons. Moreover, this social paradox creates a lifelong social purgatory in which biracial persons are forced to reside. Due to their unique developmental history, mixed race children will typically possess more insight and sensitivity to both racial groups t h a n single race children since they know firsthand what the racial identity of each implies. For the biracial child, the process of acculturation is rooted in two potentially contradictory frames of reference. This can create what J u d y Cavell (1977) terms "non-linear" r a t h e r t h a n "linear" identity development. In other words, whereas "whole race" persons develop a relatively linear identity in t h a t their internalized cultural values and self-concepts are reinforced and affirmed by society, biracial persons experience a distinctively different process based upon simultaneously possessing two cultural frames of reference. As a result, biracial persons undergo basic changes in this process and reconstruct their basic self-image as well as their position, role and status in an ongoing way throughout their lifetime (Cavell, 1977). Everett Stonequist further illuminates this notion in his classical work, The Marginal Man, when he points out the unwillingness of White society to distinguish between what he calls "mixed bloods" (mulattoes) and "full bloods" (Blacks). "This fact is of fundamental significance in comprehending the general characteristics of the American 'mixed blood.' He is not the dejected, spiritless outcast, neither is he the inhibited conformist. He is more likely to be restless and race conscious, aggressive and radical, ambitious and creative. The lower status to which he is assigned naturally creates discontented and rebellious feelings. From an earlier spontaneous identification with the white man, he has, under the rebuffs of a categorical race prejudice, turned about and identified with the Negro race. In the process of so doing, he suffers a profound inner conflict. After all, does not the blood of the white man flow through his veins? Does he not share the higher culture in common with the white American? Is he not legally and morally an American citizen? And yet, he finds himself condemned to a lower caste in the American system! So the mulatto is likely to think of himself. Living in two such social worlds, between which there is antagonism and prejudice, he experiences in himself the same conflict" (Stonequist, 1937, pp. 24-25).