Ask AF: Biracial and Multiracial Identity

What is the best way to help a child understand bi- or multiracial heritage? The expert answers.

Q: My daughter’s birth parents are Caucasian and African-American. How should we talk with her about race? How do we fill out forms that ask about race and allow you to check only one box?

A: Only recently have we, as a society, become open to the idea of a person being bi- or multiracial. Census forms now allow one to check more than one race. In practice, however, people are generally judged and categorized by the way they look. This can be complicated for adoptees, if their life experience is different from that of the ethnic group they are ascribed to. Ultimately, your daughter will decide what she is and how she wants to define herself. As she works through this, expose her to diversity–other adoptees, multiracial families, and people from a variety of races and cultures.

As for those forms, your answer might depend on what you’re filling out. On a medical form, for instance, you might indicate African-American ancestry, as some diseases or predispositions are more common to this ethnic group. If the form leaves the question optional, as many do, you can choose not to answer.


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