Beyond Black

By Kerry Ann Rockquemore and David L. Brunsma

The authors conducted extensive research and document how biracial children develop racial identities and how racial identities are obtained from several areas, including historical, contemporary social and cultural methods.

I recently interviewed Kerry Ann Rockquemore. We talked about her research, her biracial identity and how parents raising biracial or multiracial children can do to help their children form healthy identities.


While conducting research for Beyond Black, Kerry Ann Rockquemore heard one comment over and over again from biracial children.

“They wished their parents had given them the tools to deal with racism,” said Rockquemore, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and African American Studies at University of Illinois in Chicago.

Rejection, they told her, came from every angle.  For example, children were teased about the color of their skin. They couldn’t spend the night at a friend’s home, and they felt constant pressure to choose a race.

“Ultimately, we all want to belong,” Rockquemore said. “Whenever we have rejection experiences, whether from whites or blacks, it’s really hard not to internalize it.”

Parents can help their children by keeping an open dialogue in their homes and “creating an environment where kids can talk about anything that happens to them.”

If children’s questions are met with silence, a part of their identity is not resolved. As a result, “a piece of the identity is forged out of being excluded.”

Parents also have to ask themselves some tough questions.

“What do we believe and how are we going to explain our world to our child?“ Rockquemore said.

“Are you going to intervene in the creation of racial understanding? If you are going to intervene, what messages are you going to convey? There is no right or wrong here.”

There’s also no right or wrong when it comes to identity. Rockquemore, 37, is biracial and identifies herself as black. Initially, she thought most of those she interviewed would do the same. What she found, though, is biracial children chose from several identities.

There were those who didn’t choose a race and considered themselves human. Some identified as black, while others identified as white. Some considered themselves “mixed,” while others shifted their race depending on the situation.

Rockquemore has three siblings and each one of them identifies his or her race differently.

All of the choices reveal the complexity of race.

“It’s messy. It’s complicated, and it’s not going away,” Rockquemore said. “We’re at this historical moment. What has worked in the past doesn’t work anymore, and it’s not clear how we’re going to move forward.”

There is hope, though. As the number of interracial marriages increase and more biracial and multiracial children are born, society will change.

“I think because there is so much more acceptance (than when Rockquemore was growing up) it will be easier to construct a racial identity. My hope is that things are changing in a positive direction. It’s just I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”

2 thoughts to “Beyond Black

  • Steve

    I think it’s difficult, too, to explain to young children why people don’t like them because their skin is a different color. That complete strangers who’ve never even met the child would hate her, has got to be such a strange concept to grasp (as it should be, if you think about it!). It’s very saddening that a parent would have to explain this to their little girl and try to get her to understand it.

  • class factotum

    The Census Bureau actually called me because I put “human” for my race instead of checking off one of their boxes. As far as I am concerned, it is not the government’s business (or my mortgage company or the wedding license bureau or anybody else, dammit) what race I am.

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