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Interracial Family Strengths


Kelly N. Burrello, M.S.

DTG Senior Associate and Director of Research

"Interracial marriage that works equals multiracial children at ease with their mixed identity, which equals more people to the world who can deal with diversity"

"Intermarriage and immigration are perhaps the best solution to this country's historic racial divide"


Most of the literature about interracial marriages and mixed race children is replete with narratives, facts, and figures about the challenges these individuals must overcome. The picture that is painted is often very grim. For example, the literature tells us that multiracial children catch a fare share of grief, and ugly slurs like "Oreo," "half-breed," and "mutt." Many biracial children are pressured by their peers to choose one race and stay with it. They might be encouraged to "hang black," "go white," "kick it Latino," or "roll Asian." In extreme cases there are reports of mixed race children being slung into lockers, or beaten up in school bathrooms or parking lots because they do not conform to a single racial identity. The homes of interracial families have reportedly been targets of hate crimes by members of their communities who do not accept mixed race households. It is evident that egregious acts against biracial children, and interracial families is mainly based on the perception that race-mixing dilutes the purity of a single race, thus making the mixed race person somehow developmentally inferior to monorace individuals. Specifically, one study found that most people (specifically blacks and whites in the United States) believe that interracial families and multiracial children are a threat to the existing racial order (St. Jean, 1998). This perception may largely be derived from the history of race relations in the United States rather than any scientific proof that racially mixed people are inferior. Indeed, empirical studies have been unable to provide definitive proof that children with biracial backgrounds are developmentally inferior to monorace children. Secondly, there is no evidence to support claims that mixed race marriages and their offspring are a threat to society (Root, M. P. P., 1992).

It is extremely difficult to locate specific information that outlines the strengths of interracial families and the positive realities of mixed race children. This information is often implicitly stated in narratives of interracial couples and their biracial children. For example, the following narrative of an Italian-American male married to an African-American female reveals that one of the major strengths of interracial unions is its ability to shake up the negative racial attitudes of the individuals in the union:

I grew up hearing blacks referred to in derogatory terms, and I admit to having some negative perceptions about blacks. When I married a black woman, I lost my white privilege; I began to experience reactions from people. This experience heightened my awareness of racism. My wife and I are very conscientious about how we raise our son.

Parents of mixed race children are often inspired to take action to demonstrate the beauty within all races. For example, a white mother of a biracial child [father is Guatemalan] explains an incident that inspired her to move to a diverse neighborhood, and write children books for biracial children:

Lena [my daughter] was four when she turned to me and asked, "mommy, how come I'm not the same color as you?"

The mother realized that she was unable to respond to her child in a manner that the child would understand. Thus, she and her husband decided to continuously expose their daughter to both of her heritages. They take regular trips to Mexico, and they surround their daughter with people from diverse cultures.

Strengths of Interracial Families

A thorough scouring of the literature reveals that many of the strengths prevalent in interracial families might, in fact, be missing in monorace familiesamong which are:
  1. Many interracial families live in culturally diverse neighborhoods
  2. Parents of multiracial children:
    1. tend to preserve the richness of the customs, and languages of both cultures;
    2. teach their children about diversity, and model appropriate behavior on how to treat those who are different from you:

      For example a white couple who adopted a African-American female child, [Kori} as a sibling to their biological son [Eric] devised a game they call "Categories" in which Daddy and Eric are boys; Mommy and Kori are girls; Mommy and Daddy are adults; and Eric and Kori are children. The point of the game is to demonstrate the multiple facets of every individual-race being only one of them;

      1. teach their children to exhibit patience with those who ask them questions about being biracial. This includes keeping your cool, and not screaming at people who ask questions with negative overtones;
      2. build bridges with their respective families by teaching them about both of their cultures. In, addition, parents may demand grandparents to treat their children the same way they treat their monorace grandchildren;
      3. often agree upon what they will tell their children when asked "who am I," and "where to I belong";

        It is important to mention here that conventional wisdom typically classifies a mixed race child as being of the same race as the minority parent. But that rule is being challenged as more interracial couples insist that their children be allowed to claim all sides of their heritage-an approach that experts think makes for a more settled, secure child (Blackmon, et. al., 1999);
      4. teach their children a tough-minded acceptance of the fact that it's still, in many ways, a racist world; make their children aware of the stereotypes of their respective racial backgrounds;
      5. in a world marked by racial boundaries, multiracial families provide convincing evidence that races can coexist, not only in the same neighborhood but in the same home.

      Current Statistics about Interracial
      Marriages, Families and Mixed-Race Children

      Results from Census 2000

      • Nearly 7 Million (2.4 percent) of Americans described themselves as multiracial in the 2000 Census.
      • Among Americans younger than 18, for example, 4.2 percent were multiracial, compared with 1.9 percent of adults.
      • Census officials claim that the number of interracial couples more than quadrupled between 1970 and 1995.
      • Among the 13 states where the Census Bureau has released detailed race information so far, multiracial populations range from less that 1 percent in Mississippi to 4.5 percent in Oklahoma.
      • Among big counties in those states, Fairfax and Prince William counties in Virginia were among the top 10 with their multiracial populations, about 4 percent.

      Additional Stats (Jet, Oct 6, 1997):

      • Thirty years ago, only one in every 100 children born in the United States was of mixed race. Today that number is one in 19. In states like California and Washington it's closer to one in 10 (Newsweek, May 8, 2000).
      • In 1997 Interface, a magazine which targets interracial couples conducted a poll, "Best & Worst Cities To Live," with its readers and found the top ten cities for interracial couples (ranked in order of preference):

      1. Montclair, NJ
      2. San Jose, CA
      3. Denver, CO
      4. San Diego, CA
      5. Washington, DC
      6. Seattle, WA
      7. Minneapolis, MN
      8. Madison, MN
      9. Oakland, CA
      10. Columbus, OH

      What Does this Mean to Your Organization?

      We can help. Talk to us. Together we'll explore how to empower your organization to gain effective leverage in our changing cultural environment.

      Bibliography of Books and Organizations targeted at Interracial Families, Multiracial Children

      Books and Article for Adults and Professionals working with Interracial families and Mixed-Race Children:

      1. M.P.P. Root, ed., "The Multiracial Experience." Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1996.
      2. M.P.P. Root, ed., "Racially Mixed People in America." Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1992
      3. S. Van Collies, "How Does a White Man Raise a Black Son?" Essence Magazine 30, no.1 (1999): 70.
      4. Kaeser, Gigi, an Peggy Gillespie. "Of Many Colors: Portraits of Multiracial Families." Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.
      5. Bender, D., and B. Leone, eds. "Interracial America: Opposing Viewpoints." San Diego, CA: Greenhouse, Press 1996.
      6. Wardle, Francis. "Children of Mixed Parentage: How can Professionals Respond?" Children Today. July-August 1989 v18 n4 p10(4)

      Children's Books

      1. Kendal, B., and C. Halebian. "Trevor's Story: Growing up Biracial" Minneapolis: Lerner Publications. 1997.
      2. Mandelbaum, P. "You Be Me, I'll Be You." New York: Kane/Miller. 1993.


      1. Interface Magazine, P.O. Box 17479, Beverly Hills, CA 90209
      2. Mavin Magazine, 1102 8th Avenue, Suite 407, Seattle, WA 98101


      1. Association for Multiethnic Americans, P.O. Box 19726, San Francisco, CA 94119-1726
      2. Center for the Study of Biracial Children, 2300 S. Krameria Street, Denver, CO 90222
      3. Project Race,1425 market Boulevard, Suite 1320-E6, Roswell, CA 30076


      1. Blackmon,, 1999. Multi-Colored Families: Racially Mixed households face their
        own challenges. Here how they are trying to meet them. Time. May 3, 1999 v153 i17 p80A(1).
      2. Cohn, D, and D. Fears. Multiracial Growth Seen in Census: Numbers show diversity,
        complexity of U.S. Count. The Washington Post. March 13, 20001 pA01.
      3. Feuerherd, P. A New American. Commonwealh. Sept 12, 1997 v124 i15 p9.
      4. Jet. 1997. Poll Reveals Montclair, NJ, Ranked Best City for Interracial Families. Oct 6,
        1997 v92 n20 p25(1).
      5. Newsweek. 2000. Color My World: The Promise and Perils of Life in the New
        Multiracial Mainstream. May 8, 2000 v135 i19 p70.
      6. Scholastic Update. 1998. Families of Many Colors. Feb 9, 1998 v130 n9 p12(3).
      7. Smolowe, J. Intemarried... with Children. Time. Fall 1993 v142 n21 p64(2).
      8. St. Jean, Y. 1998. Let People Speak for Themselves: Interracial Unions and the General Social Survey. Jan 1998 v28 n3 p398(17).
      9. Wardle, F. The Colors of Love. Mothering. Sept 1999 p 68.