Since our nation is such a mixture of different ethnicities, individuals pick up on different styles, languages, practices and integrate them into their own identity. Society then has the tendency to attack those who don’t fit into their stereotypes of a particular race. In the black community, racial identity development is one of the many issues that some do face today in America.
The Study of Racial Identity
Camille Charles, a black Social Science Professor from the University of Pennsylvania, states that, “…the biggest influence on racial identity is not parents’ race, socioeconomic class, or ethnicity, but where a person lives.”
In most cases if you were raised in an all white neighborhood, then you will assimilate to that particular racial identity. You may even embrace their mannerisms or interests, so that when you’re finally around your own race, you feel totally uncomfortable and out of place.
According to Susan Harris’s Racial Identity Development Model on the “Reading Writing Living” blog, a person’s identity goes through five stages:
A. Genetic Racial Identity: This is the factual identity that comes from birth family.
B. Imposed Racial Identity: This is what others assume/say/think about another’s racial identity.
C. Cognitive Racial Identity: This is what a person thinks or know themselves to be, with their brain.
D. Feeling Racial identity: This is what you feel like inside, regardless of what other people tell you and what you even know to be true.
E. Visual Racial Identity: This is when you need to use a mirror to understand who and what you are.
Ultimately, we end with the “Visual Racial Identity” stage, but the “Feeling Racial Identity “stage is what really should determine how a person identifies his or herself. If you grew up in an all Japanese neighborhood, then you will FEEL more related to Japanese customs despite what you see is clearly a VISUAL black person in the mirror.
Racial Identity Acceptance Starts at Home
Tiger Online states how, “People should value their cultural background and feel pride in their roots, yet should not feel that they must define themselves by one race in which their perception of themselves and the perception of others revolve around the cultural and racial developments set forth by previous generations. Instead, people should feel comfortable with forming a self-perception upon their own traits, accomplishments, and ideals.”
I grew up in a military home, attended diverse schools, befriended people from all walks of life and never seem to fit in to what people classify as being ‘black’. I was picked on by family and friends on how I acted or talked too ‘white’. My parents continued to ignore the stereotypical comments and just sarcastically responded how my ‘whiteness’ was going to get me far in life. Because of them, I learned to accept my own self-perception and who I chose to be.
So you’re wondering, ‘How can I support my child who is stereotyped as acting ‘white’ ?’ Well here are a few pointers:
1) Open them up to learning more about racial identity through critical literacy: Expose them to children or teen books that praises different ethnicities and cultures all over the world. This will help them form value systems and their own personal conceptions of racial identity. A couple of suggestions: “K is for Kiss Goodnight” or “Being with You This Way.”
2) Place them in an environment where it’s diverse: As they get older, try to enroll them into schools or clubs that continues to flourish their multicultural learning. This will continue to help them appreciate who they are and meet people other than their own race or the race they are accustomed to.
3) Continue to support their interests and likes: Self-confidence and esteem starts at home. So, showing your child that you love what they love will be a good start. If they enjoy wearing PacSun, then surprise them with a shirt here and there. If Coldplay is their favorite band, then suggest going to an upcoming concert. Reassure your child that you love them just the way they are!
Teach them how talking or acting ‘white’ clearly means you are educated and education is not limited to only one race! Educate them on how “When one chooses to adamantly define oneself by race, it gives leave to others to define them as such, allowing for racial prejudices and misconceived stereotypes.”
Therefore, surpassing racial boundaries and embracing different cultures is a good start to overcoming prejudices. At the end of the day, your personal identity is all in what we make it to be, not what society tells you it should be. After all, this is America.