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Caught in the Middle: Raising a Multiracial Teen in a Rural Place (page 2)

By and — Diversity in Education Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

Difficulties for Rural Youth

Mixed-race teens living in small, rural communities may be more likely to experience this feeling of being caught in the middle than those who live in larger towns.
  • Rural places, particularly those experiencing a recent influx of immigrants, may be especially prone to strained race relations and more rigid definitions of what qualifies as white and non-white.
  • Recent immigrants often retain strong ties to the homeland and emphasize ethnic pride, which may add to expectations mixed-race youth feel to acknowledge certain aspects of their ethnic identity (2). 
  • Part-Hispanic youth may feel compelled by peers and family members to have a connection to the homeland, be encouraged to speak Spanish, and participate in cultural events and holidays.

Difficulties For Part-Hispanic Youth

In our recent study of part-Hispanic youth in a rural community we found that youth were very aware of the rigid boundary between white and Mexican members of their community.
  • They experienced a quite literal color line during their lunch break when they had to choose between hanging out with their white friends on one side of the gym or their Hispanic friends on the other. Under such circumstances, youth saw themselves as being in a no-win situation no matter which aspects of their ethnicity they chose to acknowledge.
  • Choosing a blended identity caused friction with their Hispanic friends who saw this as a sign of disloyalty and a way of communicating that they thought they were somehow superior.
  • Choosing a white identity was not considered an option for youth who were occasionally subjected to the same racial slurs and other forms of racial discrimination from whites in their community as their Hispanic peers and family members.
  • At the same time, feeling accepted as a full member of the Hispanic community was difficult when they were teased by peers and family members about having lighter skin tones, not speaking Spanish, and being seen around town with a white parent (5). 

The Media’s Impact On Boys’ Racial Identity

Mixed-race males often feel pressured to be like men of color in the media. In our study, we found that many part-Black males from a largely white town gained their understanding of what it meant to be Black from images of Black entertainers in music videos and movies. The perception that their peers admired the “gangsta” images of rappers and hip hop artists on TV and saw them as “cool,” “masculine,” and “tough” seemed to be a strong factor in how likely these youth were to think of themselves as Black rather than multiracial. In this case, part-Black males were torn between feeling they could achieve a higher social status among classmates by taking on this “gangsta” persona and disappointing parents who associated that persona with sexual promiscuity and lower academic achievement (5).

What Can Parents Do To Help Multiracial Teenagers?

  • Be aware that your child is surrounded by conflicting messages about race and ethnicity and may feel confused about where they fit in.
  • Realize that the racial climate in your community, attitudes about race and ethnicity conveyed by family members, and messages about race in the popular media all affect how teens view their ethnicity.
  • Try to provide balance for negative stereotypes by exposing your child to an assortment of cultural events in your community.
  • Encourage them to make friends with kids from diverse backgrounds.
  • Talk to your kids about how race and sexuality are portrayed in the media.  
  • Be supportive of your teen’s ethnic identity.
  • Recognize that there is no one “appropriate” or “healthy” way for mixed-race youth to experience their ethnicity, and help them cultivate a sense of self-love and pride in who they are. Self-acceptance serves as the most important buffer between your child and racial discrimination.  
  • Talk to your teen about racism and racial discrimination. This might rank on the awkwardness scale with talks about sex and drugs, so be prepared to experience some resistance. Even if you have not personally experienced racial discrimination, don’t assume that it doesn’t happen in your community. Help your teen come up with a plan of action for coping with racial discrimination.
For more on parenting a mixed-race child and a comprehensive guide to resources for interracial families in your state, refer to Raising Biracial Children by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy (7).  

References

  1. Dalmage, H. (2003) Tripping on the color line. New Brunswick: Rutgers University.
  2. Herman, M. (2007). Racial identification among multiracial youth: Implications for adjustment. In Quintana & McKnown, (Eds.) Handbook of race, racism, and the developing child. New Jersey: Wiley.
  3. Root, M.P.P. (1996). The multiracial experience: Racial borders as the new frontier. London: Sage Publications.
  4. Rockquemore, K.A. & Brunsma, D.L. (2002). Beyond black: Biracial identity in America. London: Sage Publications.
  5. Mouzong, C. (master’s thesis, 2008) “I’m the best of both worlds” Factors influencing the racial identities of biracial youth.
  6. Obama, B. (1995). Dreams from my father: A story of race and inheritance. NY: Crown.
  7. Rockquemore, K.A. & Laszloffy T. (2005). Raising Biracial Children. New York: AltaMira.
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