ERIC Identifier: ED479354
Publication Date: 2003-09-00
Author: Harris, Henry L
Source: ERIC Counseling and Student Services Clearinghouse
Multiracial Students: What School Counselors Need To
Know. ERIC Digest.
Multiracial individuals represent an expanding population of America's
diverse society. Results from Census 2000 showed that of the total 281.4
million people in the United States, 6.8 million or 2.4% of the population
indicated their background consisted of more than just one race. Ninety-three
percent of the multiracial population reported belonging to two racial
groups, 6% reported belonging to three racial groups and the remaining
1% reported belonging to more than four races. Nearly 3 million, or 42%
of respondents within the two or more races population were under the age
of 18 (U.S. Bureau of Census, 2001), and it is safe to assume that many
are students in our public school systems.
This digest provides school counselors with basic information necessary
to gain a better understanding of students from multiracial backgrounds.
It also will address stereotypes commonly associated with multiracial students,
their unique needs, and how school counselors can better respond to this
STEREOTYPES AND MYTHS REGARDING MULTIRACIAL INDIVIDUALS
Historically, multiracial individuals have been stereotyped as socially
who lack culture and are destined to have social and psychological
problems associated with racial identity (Stonequist, 1937), thus leading
a confused life because they will never fit in or gain acceptance to any
racial group (Nakashima, 1992). Too often we hear cliches such as, "I have
nothing against interracial marriages, I just feel sorry for the children
because they will not be accepted or know who to identify with."
According to Brown (1990), to automatically suggest that multiracial
individuals will likely have identity problems as a result of their background
typically refers to the view that these individuals do not fit neatly into
socially defined racial categories and as a result they have trouble determining
their position, role, and status in society. It is important for school
counselors to treat multiracial students as individuals first and avoid
making false assumptions about them based upon characteristics associated
with multiracial group membership.
Another stereotype associated with multiracial individuals is the belief
that they are
more accepted in the minority community and should therefore identify
with the parent of color (Kerwin & Ponterotto, 1995). This perspective
is associated with elements of the "one drop rule," which originated from
the belief that each race had its own specific blood type and just one
drop of "Negro blood" provided enough evidence to classify that person
as black, regardless of their physical appearance (Valentine, 1995). The
ultimate goal behind the "one drop rule" was to promote segregation and
discourage social interaction between blacks and whites. However, when
multiracial individuals do not culturally identify with both parents, Sebring
(1985) contends this may cause them to experience feelings of disloyalty
and enormous guilt over their rejection of one parent for the other. Therefore
it is crucial for multiracial children to assume a multiracial identity.
Finally, some believe that multiracial individuals do not like to discuss
heritage. On the contrary, Kerwin and Ponterotto (1995) indicated that
when multiracial individuals are approached in a genuine and caring manner,
they do not mind such inquiries and may associate this interest with acceptance
HOW SCHOOL COUNSELORS SHOULD RESPOND
School counselors should first develop an awareness of their own personal
toward multiracial individuals and multiracial families (Nishimura,
1995; Wardle, 1992). If erroneous or preconceived notions exist about multiracial
children or multiracial families, they must be confronted and emotionally
resolved if school counselors are to maximize their effectiveness. School
counselors should also strive to educate themselves about the emotional
needs of multiracial children by reading literature, attending workshops,
and talking with multiracial families.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP, 1999)
reports that research focusing multiracial individuals has shown that:
1) multiracial children have similar self-esteem levels and experience
psychiatric problems at no greater rate when compared to other children;
2) the racial identity of children from the same multiracial family can
vary because identity is influenced by factors including family attachments,
family support, experiences with diverse racial and ethnic groups, and
individual physical features; 3) multiracial children may develop a public
identity with the minority race yet also hold a private multiracial identity
with family and friends as a way to cope with societal prejudice; 4) multiracial
children may encounter obstacles that make it more difficult for them to
accept and value the culture of both parents when parents divorce; and
5) multiracial individuals who possess a true multiracial identity are
raised in an environment incorporating the values and beliefs of both racial
groups and are generally happier than multiracial individuals who identify
with the race of only one parent (AACAP, 1999).
Multiracial individuals, because of their unique developmental history,
will typically possess more insight and sensitivity to both racial groups
than single race children because they have the opportunity to personally
experience what the racial identity of each implies.
RACIAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT FOR MULTIRACIAL INDIVIDUALS
School counselors should become knowledgeable about the different developmental
aspects of racial identity for multiracial individuals. Models developed
by Poston (1990) and Kerwin and Ponterotto (1995) are helpful resources
to school counselors as they learn about this population of students. Learning
how to promote the racial identity development of multiracial children
is also a common issue for parents. Parents tend to:
(1) deny or minimize the significance of race as an important factor
(2) incorporate the identity of only one parent by immersing the family
solely in that parent's particular community, or
(3) encourage multiracial children to embrace all aspects of their multiracial
McRoy and Zurcher (1983) identified a number of significant factors
that help facilitate the positive development of racial identity of multiracial
* Multiracial children should be encouraged to acknowledge and discuss
heritage with their parents, extended family members, and other important
individuals in their lives.
* Parents must be able to perceive their child's racial heritage as
being different from
their own. They should be willing to make changes that will contribute
development of a positive racial identity in the child.
* Multiracial children should be given the opportunity to develop relationships
people from culturally diverse backgrounds. This can be accomplished
by attending a culturally diverse school and by living in a culturally
* The family should form an identity as a multiracial unit.
These factors are significant because even though societal attitudes
towards multiracial families and multiracial individuals have improved,
stereotypes and prejudice are still likely to be confronted. Harris (2002)
found that school counselors validated this perspective. They strongly
believed that schools are a microcosm of a society that does not genuinely
accept multiracial children, thus the question follows: how genuinely are
multiracial children accepted in schools?
The multiracial population in the school setting will continue to increase
as our nation's population becomes more diverse. Therefore it is important
for school counselors to have an accurate understanding of multiracial
individuals and their families. School counselors should work to create
a cultural environment in their school setting that embraces diversity
because, as Harris (2002) found:
* School counselors who were employed in schools that actively promoted
diversity and awareness programs held more accurate perceptions of
* School counselors who were in schools that did not actively promote
cultural diversity and awareness programs were more likely to inaccurately:
1) believe that racial identity issues were the major cause of emotional
problems for multiracial children, 2) support the perception that multiracial
children should identify primarily with the minority parent, and
3) categorize multiracial children with the minority parent.
* School counselors in school settings that actively promoted cultural
awareness programs believed living in a racially diverse neighborhood
was helpful in
facilitating positive development of racial identity for multiracial
This digest has introduced some of the issues that multiracial students
face. The school counselor can help to create a positive environment for
these students by promoting cultural diversity and awareness programs that
debunk myths associated with multiracial individuals. Further, school counselors
should be aware of differences between multiracial students and treat them
as individuals first. Finally, school counselors should recognize the unique
heritage of multiracial individuals and some of the problems they may encounter
as a result of their heritage. Multiracial individuals need to feel genuinely
valued, supported, and understood and school counselors can play an influential
role in helping to communicate this message.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (1999). Facts for
Multiracial children. No. 71, www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/71.htm.
Brown, P. M. (1990). Biracial identity and social marginality. Child
Social Work, 7, 319-337.
Harris, H. L. (2002). School counselors' perceptions of biracial children:
A pilot study. Professional School Counseling, 6, 120-129.
Kerwin, K., & Ponterotto, J. G. (1995). Biracial identity development.
In J. G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. A. Suzuki, & C. M. Alexander (Eds.),
Handbook of multicultural counseling (pp. 199-217). Thousands Oaks, CA:
McRoy, R. G., & Zurcher, L. A. (1983). Transracial and inracial
adolescent years. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Nakashima, C. L. (1992). An invisible monster: The creation and denial
of racially mixed people in America. In Maria P. P. Root (Ed.), Racially
mixed people in America (pp. 162-180). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Nishimura, N. (1995). Addressing the needs of biracial children: An
issue for school
counselors in a multicultural school environment. The School Counselor,
Poston, W. S. C. (1990). The biracial identity development model: A
needed addition. Journal of Counseling and Development, 69,152-155.
Sebring, D. L. (1985). Considerations in counseling interracial children.
Non-White Concerns, 13, 3-9.
Stonequist, E. V. (1937). The marginal man: A study in personality and
conflict. New York: Russell & Russell.
U.S. Bureau of Census. (2001). Mapping census 2000: The geography of
U.S. diversity. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Valentine, G. (1995). Shades of gray: The conundrum of color categories.
Tolerance, 49, 47.
Wardle, F. (1992). Supporting biracial children in the school setting.
Treatment of Children, 15, 63-172.