The construction of racial identity in infants of mixed parentage
In recent years there has been much debate in this country around the issue of race, and specifically around the role of 'black' children placed trans-racially for adoption. Little attention has been focused on the situation of mixed-race infants in their natural families. This study aims to explore the origins of racial identity development in mixed-race infants; consider how family relationships affect this development; study some of the effects of parents own identity development on the development of racial identity in children; and examine how parents and children negotiate racial cultural and gender differences within the family. The study was carried out in three phases; two intensive infant observations were conducted over several months; semi-structured interviews with five white mothers; and a second set of interviews was carried out with nine sets of parents, employing the 'life history' approach. The thesis considers the current debate around interracial families. This debate is then placed within the wider discussion on the development of racial awareness, preference and identity, and the role of racism in contemporary society. Theories of the genesis of prejudice are discussed, as are the studies which consider the racial preferences of children. The condition of mixed-race people as viewed by the marginal theorists is addressed, and the nature of interracial sexual partnerships. Previous studies have focused on racial awareness and preference. In order to focus on identity, the thesis discusses theories of identity development which encompass the sociological, cognitive and psychoanalytic perspectives. These theories were used as a basis for the first two phases of the study. These 'modernist' theories are critiqued, in the light of 'post-modernist' theories of race and identity on which the third phase is then based. These interviews concentrate on families' constructions of difference and identity. After discussing the methodologies of previous studies in the area a methodology is set out for this study. The first two phases were aimed at discovering causal links between mother's pasts, their parenting behaviour and their children's emerging racial identities. In the third part the method aimed at obtaining parents' life stories, establishing narrative rather than causal links. Stories were analyzed to confirm similarities and differences in how families deal with race and culture issues. The observations and interviews all showed that racial and cultural issues were significant in all the families, and formed part of the infants' milieu from a very early age. However these issues were dealt with very differently in various families. Some were concerned about 'race' and colour, while others were more focused on culture, religion or nationality. Conflict in some families became racialised, while in other families gender or cultural issues caused more difficulties. Racism was experienced by all the 'black' parents, but its effects were very variable. All the families felt that their children were in a process of developing positive 'mixed' identities. Qass was found to be a critical factor which influenced the way racial identity was constructed. The thesis concludes with a re-examination of the notions of 'race', 'identity' and 'development', and shows that the 'structural-developmental' model of identity development shared by social-work anti racist and psychoanalytic theory is too narrow and prescriptive, and should be replaced by a new theory of 'narrative identity' based on post-modernist insights.