Review of the Multiracial Child Resource Book, Edited by Maria P. P. Root and Matt Kelley
By Francis Wardle, Ph.D
The Multiracial Child Resource Book: Living Complex Identities, published by the MAVIN foundation, has a lot going for it. The production is wonderful, with beautiful color photographs throughout, clear color graphs showing the distribution of multiracial people in the US, and profiles of a vast diversity of multiracial children, youth and families. The book also includes and a large selection of resources, both scattered throughout the book, and compiled together at its end. (Unfortunately some of the type font is a little small for us aging, visually challenged baby boomers!)
Chapter 1, A Statistical Portrait of Children of Two or More Races in the 2000 Census, provides a clear and detailed account of state-by-state numbers of people of two or more races, broken down by the various combination of races (such as black and white; black and some other race). The data also lists people of two or more races by age, showing 41.9% under 18 years old and 68% under 35 years old. The main problem with this chapter is that many people especially those who love to crunch census numbers - accept these numbers as the truth.
And they are not.
As the chapter notes, one of the reasons the figures are skewed to the younger age is because young people are more likely to embrace their full racial identity. Thus the total number of people who selected two or more races on the census is very low compared to the real number of multiracial and multiethnic people in this country. The other problem is that, while the census views Hispanic/Latino as an ethnicity (not a race), many Hispanics see themselves as a race, and, of course, most Hispanics are multiracial. Added to this dilemma is that children of mixed Latino/other ethnic backgrounds have the same issues multiracial children experience.
Maria Roots chapter on identity development (chapter 5) is very helpful in understanding the many contextual (ecological) issues that impact multiracial identity development in this country. Context is critically important because it explains why some multiracial children grow up with a healthy and secure sense of their identity, while others do not. It also explains why multiracial children in contexts like Brazil never have issues around identity. Further, its a wonderful model to help us begin to learn the kinds of healthy contexts our children need (rather than simply saying they will have problems). However, as an overall theory, I find Marias approach too complex and difficult to understand. I believe a theory should be fairly simple.
But maybe the biggest plus of this book is the commitment of the K & F. Baxter Family Foundation for underwriting this project, along with other projects for the multiracial community, such as the diversity curriculum and video produced by the Child Care Health Program. For a variety for reasons funding for our projects is extremely difficult to come by, so its gratifying to see the Baxter Family Foundations support.
There are, however, several aspects of this book that are questionable. The questionable starts with the introduction by James A. Banks. While Banks is considered the father of multicultural education, he has never really supported the multiracial movement. As late as his 1997 edition of Multicultural Education, he wrote, In the United States, where racial categories are well defined and highly inflexible, an individual with any acknowledged or publicly known African ancestry is considered Black(p. 19). And in the 2004 edition of the Multicultural Research Handbook that he edits with his wife, there is only one token essay on multiracial issues (by Maria Root) among the 49 essays. Many of the other pieces in the book reinforce the political, social and educational invisibility and isolation of multiracial and multiethnic children, families and adults. Finally, in the forward to the Multiracial Child Resource Book, he repeats the warn-out orthodoxy, that racial categories and their meaning will keep changing, (and) groups with power will construct race in ways that will benefit themselves and disadvantage powerless groups (p. xi). In light of the considerable opposition by groups of color to the multiracial category on the last census, this is clearly incorrect; further, it reinforces the belief held by many who oppose our movement that powerful whites want a multiracial category so as to weaken the power of groups of color.
This book also suffers from being an anthology (a collection of writings by a diverse group of authors). Maria Root used this approach well in her two seminal books; however, it does not work here. Because a different author writes each chapter, there is a lot of repetition, a lack on continuity, and a general sense of disconnected, differently focused essays. Each author writes about an area of the multiracial spectrum in which he or she specializes.
This disconnect is particularly problematic in the chapters on the developmental nature of a multiracial identity (chapters 5-11). The reader needs to be able to see trends through each developmental sage and to relate all of these trends back to points Maria Root made in her essay on identity development. But one cannot do this. These chapters also lack a solid foundation in developmental psychology, especially the theories of people like Piaget and Erikson.
And some of the information is plain wrong. Mary Murchison-Edwords write, by age three most children are cognizant of racial and color differences among children (p. 51). While children at this age are aware of physical differences, including hair texture and skin color, they have no sense of race or racial belonging (their own or that of other children) until about 9-11 years old. And this racial awareness may take even longer for biracial children whose physical features dont automatically assign them to one or another racial group. Thus a 3-year-old child does not know the racial difference between a biracial child and a Latino child with similar color skin.
And many of these essays, such as chapter 3 by Heather Dalmage, still focus on describing the various problems multiracial children face, instead of providing advice to parents, professionals and teachers on techniques and strategies to address these issues. Thus, much of the book still seems to be long on problems and short on solutions. How many times do we have to hear that whites are racist and people of color are concerned about group loyalty and solidarity? How many times do we need to go over the history of racism in this country (slavery, immigration, conquest, Jim Crow laws, etc)?
We need to move forward.
Next to each of the wonderful color photos is a description of the heritage of each person in the photo: Japanese and Caucasian; Filipino and Dutch; Colombian and Irish; African American, Puerto Rican and Native American; and Mexican, Filipino, Spanish, Italian and North American. While it is nice to see the diversity and variability of the multiracial population, this approach is curious. Since there are no pure races, and each of the racial groups used to make-up each multiracial person can be legitimately further divided (for example, many Puerto Ricans have Black, Indian and Spanish heritage, as do many Mexicans; Native Americans can be from a variety of tribes, and many whites include other heritages in their backgrounds (either from this country or the old world), this racial breakdown is suspect.
Also several of the later chapters isolate single multiracial combinations, such as Multiracial Arab Americans, and Asian/African Americans in the United States. While this binary approach is quite popular, especially on the West Coast, I think it is problematic. It destroys the sense of community that multiethnic and multiracial children so desperately need. We need to create a large reference community to which all our children can belong and in which they can find hope and meaning, and not create and politicize a variety of small two-race communities with loyalties and references based on their own group or groups of color.
The Multiracial Child Resource Book: Living Complex Identities, is another step in the long journey to equality and visibility of multiracial and multiethnic youth in this country. It provides a wealth of resources and offers a venue for advocacy groups, organizations, publications and committed individuals. I wish it provided more direct advice - techniques and direction to parents, teachers and professionals working with our population, and I wish it were less an academic discourse and more an affirmation of our rights, potentials, and bright future.
Dr. Francis Wardle, and his column, Tomorrow's Children, appears regularly in New People. Dr. Wardle, is the father of 4 multiracial children, and a recognized authority on the subject. His work has appeared in a variety of national publications, and he has given presentations on this topic throughout the USA and Canada.
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