University of Missouri - Columbia.
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Posted 02.13.06

MU Researcher Examines How Parents Identify Their Multiracial Children

Finds Racial Cultural Contours are Changing

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The 2000 Census marked the first time people were able to check more than one box to indicate their ethnic and racial backgrounds. The Census results indicated the expansion of multicultural Americans as a public issue. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher is examining how racial labels are formed for multiracial children and how they are racially identified by their parents.

David Brunsma, assistant professor of sociology at MU, used data from the 1998 Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which contains information from students, parents, teachers and principals on a wide variety of educational, social, cultural and psychological phenomena at the elementary school level. Using data from 17,219 kindergartners, Brunsma found that in virtually all white/non-white biological combinations, the child is much more likely to be identified with the non-white facet of his or her parentage than the white aspect. However, he found patterns that suggest parents' are moving away from identifying their multiracial children as non-white, and instead, preferring multiracial or white.

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In his study, he identified the three most common multiracial pairings: Hispanic and white, black and white, and Asian and white. In all three pairings, the father's race played a major role in determining how the child is labeled. For example, the child of a black father and a white mother is more likely to be labeled black.

For Hispanic and white children, Hispanic and white girls are more likely to be identified as Hispanic, while Hispanic and white boys are more likely to be identified as white. Also, the higher the family's socioeconomic class, the more likely that parents will identify their children as white. In addition, parents are more likely to identify children as white than Hispanic in the southern United States, but the number of minority students in the child's elementary school makes parents more likely to identify a child as Hispanic.

According to Brunsma, black and white children are more likely to be identified as white in the northeastern and western U.S. than in the Midwest. Also, like Hispanic and white children, the context of the elementary school also is likely to make parents identify their children as black, instead of white.

Asian and white girls are more likely to be identified as Asian, but Asian and white girls with Asian fathers are more likely than the Hispanic and white or black and white children to be identified as multiracial. These children that live in the western U.S. are most likely to be characterized as multiracial and less likely to be identified as white. In addition, higher family socioeconomic status is associated with labeling Asian and white children as multiracial.

"The amount of variation in the racial identification of these very young mixed-race children, given historical treatments of racial classification in the United States is truly astonishing," Brunsma said. "The cultural contours of race in America are changing."

Brunsma's study recently was published in the journal Social Forces. His newest book is called Mixed Messages: Multiracial Identities in the 'Color-Blind' Era.



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