Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Race Isn't What Defines Me"

A great academic article about racial identity formation, comparing monoracial (both parents black), biracial (one parent white, one parent black) and transracial (both parents white) families -- here's the abstract:
Transracial adoption, particularly the adoption of black children by white parents, has been a controversial issue in the United States for more than half a century. Much of the criticism surrounding transracial adoption has dealt with concerns that black children raised in white homes will fail to develop a positive black identity. Such critiques are often based on assumptions about the identity of black children raised by their biological parents, yet there is little focus placed on black children raised in black homes who may or may not also struggle with racial identity development. This study addresses a void in the literature by examining the experiences of young black adults whose parents may or may not be of the same race. The impact of varying racialized family structures on black identity development is examined by comparing the experiences of young black adults raised in families with two black parents (monoracial), one white and one black parent (biracial), and two white parents (transracial). Drawing from 32 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with middle-class young black adults between the ages of 18 and 30 years old, findings indicate that all informants, regardless of racialized family structure, approach racial identity development similarly by de-emphasizing the ascribed status of race in favor of achieved statuses as part of the identity construction process.
To get the whole article, scroll down to the bottom of the page, under the heading "Get This Document."  Click on the first link for All Academic (the second link is a dead end).


J. Anderson said...

There is a general problem here in my opinion.

Academic prose edify academic egos, but do little to provide leverage for practical outcomes to actual daily life of people.

It's much more about creating a voice for the self, rather then creating actual progress in society, either because it is an academic requirement of your employment or simply a need to be heard by others in the vast sea of the anonymous internet.

In many cases, the same is true for blogger prose that proliferate the internet these days. Which is very much about people needing other people to hear what they have to say, rather then actually benefiting society.

Both are a form of virtual flagellation, from the safety and security of your home or office. Impersonal, and frankly dishonest because there is no sincere identity committed by the writer. Blogging is for the most part a newer form of video game, designed to let the ego express and be stroked for that expression by the followers.

Of course, being an academic and a blogger, I do not expect you to agree with me Malinda. Afterall, doing so would violate the prime directive of both the academic lifestyle and the desire of those who must blog to feel they are being heard.

osolomama said...

Well, it's 31 pages and I can't read it all now but it looked pretty interesting. There is a good section on how class influences identity formation but is often not take into account. There is also an observation that:

"Half of transracial adoptees also did not believe that outsiders viewed them in terms of race, but rather saw other occupational, school, or personality related statuses first. In fact, these particular informants believed race would be relatively unimportant to an outsiders’ description of them."

The author later goes on to say that this suggests a certain naivete about race politics in America, something that confirms the Love Is Not Enough philisophy.

In general, I would say that this peper would probably be quite valuable because it included interviews with real people and was written in a readable style. I think TRAs would find this interesting and so would their family members.

Anne said...

J. Anderson - your comment made me chuckle as I have to say I agree with most of it.

Malinda - can't you do your usual outstanding job of giving us a useable summary so us lazy types don't have to do it?

osolomama said...

The study's conclusion:

Despite the significance of race and class in their lives, informants from all three groups of the study were hesitant to emphasize race when asked to describe themselves. Race typically occupied the third or forth place on informants self-description lists despite its primary ranking on their outsiders-description lists. An essentialist analysis would suggest that these informants had not developed a positive black identity, particularly if the findings related to transracial adoptees exclusively. This paper argues, however, that race is of central importance to all of the informants in the study, but a multidimensional perspective on identity has afforded them the option of independently choosing which aspect of themselves they feel is most important to their own self-understanding. “Having” to choose race is restrictive and these are informants have been taught independence. In an expression of their individualism that is possibly influenced by their middle class sensibilities, they choose to place race wherever they would like. Reflecting the fluidity of identity, race may be forth or fifth on their list right now, but they reserve the right to elevate (or demote) it as they pass through different stages of their lives."

malinda said...

But Anne, if I were to give you a usable summary, that would be BLOGGING. And BLOGGING is useless navel-gazing. And that would be BAD!

Anonymous said...

I found J.Anderson's comment lolable too, but not because I agree with it.

I mean first there is an assumption of an agreement about what benefits society. Which people have been going round about forever.

Then the lack of command of the language, wielded with the intent to "shame" an academic, clearly reaching--- awkward use of 'edify' and 'flagellation' etc. etc. just smacks of an intellectual hobbledehoy. Whatevs.

As for the study, I am always suspicious of terms like, "Race doesn't define me". Partially because that is the mantra of a lot of white adoptive parents repeated to transracial adoptees.

The conclusion, which basically seems to state, "race is one of many factors that make up a person's identity" seems self-evident.

The way it is worded seems very loaded to me. I mean who would claim to be defined as their "race"? It seems the subject of being defined by one aspect of your experience is only brought up for the purpose of defying that definition.

I mean could I honestly say, "Being a woman defines me" "My profession defines me" "My relationship defines me" "Being adopted defines me" You never hear it, or at least I don't in the affirmative. All of those things do go into my perception of myself and the world around me.

"Being born and raised in California defines me" I would never say such a thing. At the same time, even travelling within the United States, I find significant regionalisms that at the very least 'inform' me and sometimes feel unsure of my footing outside of my own stomping ground.

So I guess that is what is more interesting to me, is how it affects people.

The word "define" I find polarizing. What one word, or aspect of one's life would anyone use as summation for a life?


malinda said...

Joy, I agree that the "Race Doesn't Define Me" title is problematic here. In reading the article, it seemed to me that the title should have been "Race Shouldn't Define Me" or "Race Isn't the Only Thing That Defines Me." The respondents included race in their self-definition, but didn't put it number one; but when they answered the question how OTHERS defined them, race rose in the ranks.

I found that interesting, since it addresses two distinct issues that adoptive parents often discuss and disagree about -- racial identity formation AND responding to racism.

That was the pointy-headed intellectual reason for posting the article!

Anonymous said...

Once, in art school we had to do black and white study, with the assignment of draw what defines you.

That was when I noticed everything kind of fell-away for me. I couldn't picture anything that I wanted to hold on to for "definition" all I could come up with was a sense of connectedness, to well, I guess God, but being a rabid agnostic, even that is amorphous.

So I did this kind of non-figure being looke upon from the heavens. One of my classmates commented "it looks like an aerial of a salt-shaker". Everyone else's was pretty much a collage of symbols. That comment cracked me up though, because I eat waaaaay too much salt. Maybe that defines me.

I think that is the more interesting question, what does define someone. Who are we vs. what we are not.


LisaLew said...

OK these days I am black and white. I may switch to gray again, but that's an egocentric topic.

How do "you," J. Anderson (OK and Anne), propose that research be presented in the academic realm? Or are you identifying academic "types" who read valid information and twist it to fit their own beliefs? (oh, yes, that is annoying!) Just abstract thoughts (pun intended).

Also, I get the blogging as ego preservation thing - there's alot of that on the internet. But I don't agree that it pertains to this blog, as Malinda is on a "mission" to enhance her own knowledge with the rest of us. I have found her humble enough to doubt herself (while yes, doubting other opinions, as well).

PS I know, I know - you love me! But I am too opinionated to blog...

J. Anderson said...

Your question actually echos one of my main points LisaLew, the purpose of academic papers is to move information in an organized and for the most part consistent manner between academics. They serve that purpose affectively for the most part.

On the other hand, presenting academic themes and papers in the informal and for the most part non-academic realm of bloging serves no real purpose other then ego fulfilment by blogging.

I'm no picking on Malinda, or anyone, here. Rather, I am pointing out a growing phenomena in the internet that in the end is counter productive to any real benefit to progress in society.

Malinda IS an academic, so this sort of approach is perhaps natuaral to her. But she does so to an unqualified readership which in many cases means results in the academic themes becoming distorted and then propagated elsewhere in the internet in their distorted form via non-academics who are playing at being academics. via a medium which lacks any sort of rational checks and balances that exisit in the well established academic protocols of information publication and review. Which brings us back to ego fulfilling game mechanics being a core nature of blogging, twitter, facebook, forums, etc. When applied to published academic research, it really is ego role playing via an internet game mechanic in the context of pretend academics.

My purpose in commenting is not to discourage the game, but to encourage recognizing the game honestly and genuinely for what it is. The fundmental flaw in the freeform internet social and dialog mechanics is that rather then encourage honesty and sincerity, they in many (not all) cases encourage exactly the opposite.

Nothing replaces honest face to face empathic communications between two or more people. Yet for the majority of Americans, that is exactly what is strived for via internet methods.

I commented on this specific blog and blog posting because I came across it in a radom search of topics (in this case adoption from China) and in reading a good range of topics in this blog I noted that it wanders off topic a great deal, and it has what appears to be a clique following of sorts on behalf of the blogger. In searching the internet for more hits relating to Malinda, it was easy to follow a theme across the internet where Malinda deliberately works to pull audience to this blog.

I'm not picking on Malinda, but what I observe here fits most of the markers for ego fulfillment. Which is fine, if that is what she wants to do. But be honest about it, rather then pretend or try to hide. Don't hide behind passive aggressive retorts like "blogging is bad". It simply reinforces the fact that ego is at work and it does not like to be put in the spotlight (for whatever reason).

Anonymous said...

As an academic type myself, I think that it's possible to over-(psycho)analyze some things, and that seems to be what J. Anderson is doing, with his wordy, critical, off-topic responses. One of the problems with academic writing is that often there's not much of an audience for it and it doesn't necessarily translate into practice. So, I think it's great that Malinda finds interesting information from various realms for us to read that might help us understand our children better. Like Anne, I especially like it when she summarizes it so I don't need to read the whole thing!

I am not really interested in a critique of blogging or bloggers... but I do think that it is interesting to consider what goes into identity formation. My identity is closely tied to what I do (teacher, mother), not what I look like or where my ancesters came from, but if I think about it, visible aspects of my identity (white, middle-aged, female) would be what strangers would notice first. For kids who are bi-racial or adopted by parents who are not the same race, I think it is interesting to see what identity they take on as adults. It's not surprising to me that race varies in its importance in identity.
Sue (aka anonymous)