Social Question

john65pennington's avatar

How does a child, of mixed origin, decide which race to associate with?

Asked by john65pennington (29235points) April 29th, 2012

I realize this may be a touchy subject, so I am handling it every so gently. Question: When a child is born that has two parents of different origin, in later life, how does that child decide which race to associate with? Do his parent(s) make this decision for him/her or is the decision left up to the child as their puberty progresses?

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45 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

He incorporates everything..viz: my mom is Namibian/ Irish and my dad is Equadorian/ Ukrainian.

Why is this a bouchy subject rather than descriptive.

ragingloli's avatar

It is simple. It decides to associate with neither.

cookieman's avatar

This is a little different, but…

My daughter is Chinese (born in china). She’s nine. My wife is Italian (born in Argentina). I’m just a big goofy American (with Sicilian and Nova Scotian ancestors).

My daughter has decided, at this time, that she’s Italian and has embraced everything about it. She understands Italian and speaks it a little. She makes homemade pasta with her Nonna, etc.

It doesn’t matter. Ultimately, you just decide to be “you” – whatever that may look like.

muppetish's avatar

In my case, @ragingloli is absolutely correct: I identify as a raceless individual. When people ask about my background, I respond in the context of my parents: my father is Mexican/Spanish and my mother is German/English/Dutch/Irish/Russian/Native American. Having parents from different backgrounds has never seemed odd to me and I have never felt compelled to choose an identity. Though that could possibly be helped by my father identifying as American above his Mexican heritage. He is a third generation U.S. citizen and did not grow up in an “ethnic” household, so to speak.

Coloma's avatar

We’re all of mixed origin and we should “associate” with each other as fellow humans, period.

dabbler's avatar

If you’re looking for culture, pick what you like regardless of your ‘race’ or the race associated with that culture historically.

tinyfaery's avatar

I am who I am, not one, but both. We learn to navigate in both worlds. I’m lucky, I feel no racial/ethnic ties, I feel connected to everyone and no one.

tom_g's avatar

I’m Irish, English, French, Greek, and there was possibly some Native American action going on with some great, great, great grandparents. Also, we all came out of Africa. In fact, we share common ancestry with chimps. Hell, we all come from the same star dust. Wait…what was the question again?

I don’t mean to trivialize except to say that I’d like origins and concepts of “race” to be trivialized to the point that they are rendered meaningless – other than the fact that we’re all related and we all share a common future.

FutureMemory's avatar

I’m trying to figure out how puberty (one of the topics) fits into the decision making process?

FutureMemory's avatar

And @john65pennington, why is it necessary to formally align yourself with a specific ‘race’? This questions seriously puzzles me.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I would hope the child would choose on an individual basis.

Blackberry's avatar

If you’re referring to culture, they’ll do what they were raised to do until they decide to do whatever else they want. But mixed people don’t decide to hang out with one race or the other.

You’re also forgetting we’re in America. We’re a melting pot, and it’s usually only older people that have immigrated here that follow one culture strictly. The younger generation becomes more westernized.

Trillian's avatar

Why do you feel that there is a “One size fits all” answer? Surely it would be different for every person. Unless it were a question of checking a box on an application, which also generally have a “noneya” box, why would it even matter, or need a decision to be made?
Do you seriously think that a child would pick one or the other and then what? Never associate with the other forever amen?
I don’t understand why there are so many one or the other questions. Life is not black and white. (No pun intended here) We don’t live our lives by either/or.

cazzie's avatar

There are more mixed race marriages in the US today than ever before. I think the whole, ‘which part of a segregated society do I fit into’ is a question of the past. The more common and everyday seeing past people’s colour and ‘look’, the less colour will matter. Kids often rebel against their parent’s ‘culture’ anyway and find their own way, be it not attending synagogue or mass, or going into a profession or field of work the parent doesn’t approve of.

Sometimes this changes when they go on to have kids of their own. I think that is where you can see what they really thought of their upbringing, is what they decide for their own kids. Perhaps they considered themselves agnostic or atheist, but think a Hebrew school for little Rebecca would be a good start in her life, or perhaps they decide to enrol her into the Steiner school instead because the nuns scared the shit out of them in the Catholic school they went to. Will they baptise their child? Will they have a bris? I think they will gravitate toward the culture they have the most fond memories or feel they can look back with feelings of warmth and comfort. I would worry less about which culture they chose and more about how happy they are in themselves.

I don’t think cultural decisions today are what they once were. We live in a more fluid society where absolutes are often met with disdain and lampooned.

Jeruba's avatar

Wouldn’t the young person’s self-identity depend heavily on how he or she was treated by others? If, for example, she had certain racial characteristics in her appearance that caused others to classify her with a particular group, wouldn’t that kind of response to her affect how she viewed herself?

Barack Obama wrote about this experience in his autobiography. His mother was white, and while growing up he lived with his white grandparents. But he didn’t look white to anybody. Out in the world, nobody looking at him saw him as a member of a white family. His appearance meant that he fit in with the black kids and not the white kids, and that fact pretty much governed his social identity.

ucme's avatar

By being a member of that race we like to call human.

john65pennington's avatar


It’s not a puzzle, it’s an honest question. I have wondered this for years, but I have never had the occasion or opportunity. Fluther has provided both.

Like I said, I handled my question very gently, so not upset anyone. It’s a general question.

john65pennington's avatar

Jeruba, great answer and what I was looking for. Obama has nothing to do with my question, or black, white, red, brown or green colors.

Jeruba's avatar

You object to my offering a pertinent example, John? Your question specified race.

I, for one, don’t see what puberty has to do with it.

bewailknot's avatar

@FutureMemory – I think the puberty thing relates to dating.

In so many areas now there is so much racial mixing that I don’t know if the puberty/who to date thing would apply. So many people now date completely outside their own ethnic background and think nothing of it. I did meet a girl once who was mixed white/black, and looked completely white, but her personal racial identity was “I am black.” I don’t know why for sure but she was very close to her black relatives and not to the white side so maybe that was part of it. As she grew up she dated only black guys and wore African inspired clothing/jewelry.

Only138's avatar

Why would they have to choose? Seems like they would want to be part of both.

YARNLADY's avatar

In our family, they use their so-called race as a tool. If it is an advantage to check Asian then that’s the choice they make. If checking Native American would be better, they choose that one.

Culturally, they don’t choose, they are pretty much All American.

JLeslie's avatar

I will wind up repeating some of what is said above. I think it has to do with a combination of how the child self identifies and what society tells him he is. A person can identify with more than one nationality or race in my opinion.

I believe there is not a right or wrong, each person decides for themselves. Sometimes the male children tend to identify with their fathers nationality, and the girls their moms, but not always. If the person was born in America, more than anything they probably identify as Americans.

If they grow up in a community where there is little ethnic influence, it might mean some of the ethnicity gets lost with each generation. Like here in Memphis being Italian is barely acknowledged, they identify more with being southern if they have been here a couple generations. But, in NY, the Italian culture is more alive, more all around you. Or, just within the family, maybe the Italian grandparents are around the children all the time and the Polish ones aren’t, so that hasan effect on how the kids grow up and identify.

Language also can influence it. If they are fluent in the language of one of the parents they might further identify with that nationality. Although, it is worth mentioning children almost never learn their father’s language, unless his parents help raise the children.

If they grow up ashamed of a particular ethnicity or the parent with that ethnicity, they might want to deny that part of themselves.

So many different reasons.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@john65pennington Are you asking this as a what if the child is mixed then what do they write on forms that ask race type of question? Or if they child is black, white & asian but looks more asian? Or?

A clarification on this would be helpful.

I’m not certain I understand why you are asking in regards to puberty.

JLeslie's avatar

Actually, @SpatzieLover asks good questions. If it is about forms, most people, well the parents, and later the kids, check whichever box will make them a minority. That is what I would do with my kids.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah. I checked Pacific Islander on my kids so they wouldn’t be bussed. They’re like, 1/16th.

righty's avatar

Kids won’t even think about it because they’re not racists. They’re happy to interact with anybody that will play.

Earthgirl's avatar

I think there are any number of different approaches. Much depends on the attitudes and influence of their parents. I think this study gives a good overview of how many different possibilities there are. I like this quote from the conclusion of the study:

How parents viewed difference and approached giving their children a sense of belonging cut across the idea that there is one ‘best’ way that parents in mixed relationships can understand their children’s identity. It is important that family support, health, education and social services do not make stereotypical assumptions about mixed families.

Equally, there are no universal messages about the sorts of support that parents will find useful. Practitioners need to be wary of implementing initiatives on the grounds of ‘mixedness’. The implications can differ across families who seem to share a form of mixing, and for whom mixedness may be insignificant compared to other issues.

In the end analysis each person chooses their identity from what resonates with what they feel inside is their own truest self. It depends on so many factors that it is different for eahc person and hard to make any generalization about.

bewailknot's avatar

@righty When my son was little he attended a before and after school daycare at his Montessori school. I think at this point he was probably 6 or 7. The kids were playing a game outside, all the kids in this group were non-white, and when a little white kid wanted to play they told him that only “brown” kids could play. If I remember right the white kid was a whiny little thing, so I think they were using brown as an excuse to avoid him.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

John, this is a great question. In my opinion, the only reason to mention race is in a case where there are potential medical complications. An example is sickle-cell anemia, which is much more common in one race than another.

I wish the US would take a leaf out of Canada’s book and rule the question about a person’s race illegal on applications. While I understand the intent (to gather information in advance in case of an EEO lawsuit regarding race), it is unimportant. This information can be gathered if a lawsuit is placed. It would just cost the company a lot more. It may also be applicable to school applications. It’s been years since I filled one out. (Ah, and I assume that @Dutchess_III‘s post supports this.)

There are some on this thread that mention nationality, which is different. Race is solely based upon the physical make-up of a person. A person’s lifestyle has nothing to do with their race, but with the culture that they adopt.

My great-nephew is the product of parents from two different races. I sincerely hope that by the time he is old enough to be aware of this, this has become a moot topic, other than in the doctor’s office for medical reasons.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t really understand this question. Is “associate” some kind of euphemism? Do you mean associate on the census forms? Because these days, the census allows you to “associate” with as many races as you want. Gone are the days when you have to choose.

And hey! Guess what! That’s the way it is in the real world, too! You can associated with as many races as you want. In fact, you, too, @john65pennington, can associate with as many races as you want. How many do you choose to associate with? How do you decide this?

You see, you had the answer to your own question inside you all the time. We are all free to associate with whomever we want, and the way we decide to do it is, well, individual, based on our own circumstances, opportunities, and prejudices. Mixed origin, or not. It’s still the same.

Earthgirl's avatar

I am not sure what you meant by associate either, john65pennington. I took it to mean more like identify with which would make more sense. It’s generally what people wonder about as far as the issue of mixed “race” children are concerned. The old attitude used to be that it would be “unfair” to the children if a couple should happen to be inter-racial. It’s probably hard for people nowadays to remember or understand that people used to think this way. Thankfully we have progressed enough to be beyond this attitude now. That doesn’t mean that it’s a non-issue. Jeruba:‘s example of Obama is a case in point. The parents can try to instill acceptance and multicultural perspectives but in the end it is up to the children themselves to forge their own identity, Perhaps you meant affiliate rather than associate?

af·fil·i·ate   [v. uh-fil-ee-eyt; n. uh-fil-ee-it, -eyt] Show IPA verb, af·fil·i·at·ed, af·fil·i·at·ing, noun
verb (used with object)
to bring into close association or connection: The research center is affiliated with the university.
to attach or unite on terms of fellowship; associate (usually followed by with in U.S. usage, by to in Brit. usage): to affiliate with the church.
to trace the descent, derivation, or origin of: to affiliate a language.
to adopt.
Law . to fix the paternity of, as an illegitimate child: The mother affiliated her child upon John Doe.

FutureMemory's avatar

@SpatzieLover @Earthgirl @wundayatta @Jeruba

When I, too, expressed confusion about this question, John clarified his intent by telling me:

“It’s not a puzzle, it’s an honest question. I have wondered this for years, but I have never had the occasion or opportunity. Fluther has provided both.
Like I said, I handled my question very gently, so not upset anyone. It’s a general question”.

Make of it what you will.

I am of ‘mixed’ parentage, but despite achieving the ripe age of 38 have yet to declare my allegiance/membership/? to either of the two races. I wonder what I’m missing? Is it too late for me? Where do I sign up?

cazzie's avatar

If you have to preface your statements or questions with a ‘I’m not racist, but,...’ what you are about to say is, 99% mostly likely, racist. In John’s case he described this as ‘a touchy subject.’ well, well.

LOL, @FutureMemory, didn’t you know? All those friends you have, you are only really eligible to half of them. You’d better call the 0800 number you had tattooed on your butt when you were born of mix race to get this sorted out or the Race and Culture Police are going to knock down your door on your 40th birthday. If it can happen to Lenny Kravitz, it can happen to you! Sammy Davis Jr, as I understand, had to have some pretty special rules applied, but thank goodness he knew his place and entered through the service entrances and stayed at black only hotels and didn’t try to get all uppity in Dean Martin’s face. :/read sarcasm.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie Are you saying the question is racist?

cazzie's avatar

@JLeslie not blatantly, but it sounds like it grew in the same manure. It sounds like it comes from a person who never really got close to people of other ethnic backgrounds and seems to be rather, um, uninformed. I gave one polite, serious answer, and now that I am reading some of the other answers, and especially the OPs response to @Jeruba, and re-reading how the question is phrased, I am wondering about the veracity of his perception.

FutureMemory's avatar

@JLeslie I would say that it ‘sounds’ racist, yes, but I sincerely believe that John does not realize this. I don’t think he understands that, for the most part, things like this don’t matter anymore, that this is a non-issue in today’s world. I’m sure it was when he was growing up in the 1950s/early 1960s though. I mean, back then, if you were white you actually did have to consciously decide whether or not to hang out with certain groups, since society was so segregated. It makes sense then that if you were equally white and equally some other ‘race’, that you’d have to choose which one to align yourself with…I suppose.

wundayatta's avatar

The problem with this question is that there as clearly a whole set of ideas about how this process might happen in the OP’s imagination. Unfortunately, he does not state them, and so we don’t know what we are dealing with. He has idea about “puberty progressing.” What are they? What story is going on here? What does puberty have to do with it?

It sounds like there is some kind of idea that as you become sexually mature and start feeling those emotions, you will want to mate (?) perhaps? At this point, you must decide the proper partner to mate with based not on personal relationships, but acceptable racial relationships? Acceptable by whom? Society? Observers? Parents? Or is there some magical race gene that clues you in to who you can mate with based on pheromones or some such?

There is a gene that clues you in to pheromones, but it has nothing to do with race, which is not genetically determined. Or at least, no scientist to date has found a gene that determines race. Not that anyone really knows what race is.

I hate to say it, but this question does indicate prejudice. It seems to be operating from the unstated and hidden assumption that races belong together in some way, and that nature has some way of telling people who they belong with. This presumption is wrong.

People are people. Race is a social construction, but it has no basis in logic. There is no scientific way to determine race. People don’t choose a race to associate with. They choose people to associate with. And they choose people the same we all do—based on hundreds of factors including who we like.

iphigeneia's avatar

I don’t quite follow what you mean by ‘choose to associate’ with. My father was born in Singapore, but is ethnically Chinese, and my mother’s family for the most part can be traced back to England. I’m comfortable being mixed-race, because that’s what I am. If am answering a question about ethnicity, for example in the Census, where mixed-race/Eurasian is an option, that’s what I’ll choose. If not, I’ll go with ‘Other’ or just not answer. I don’t pick and choose. Does that answer your question?

Now, I was born and raised in Australia. I don’t speak Chinese and have probably spent a grand total of 3 weeks in Singapore over the course of my life. If you asked me where I come from, I’d say Australia. Again, because that’s the truth. But I am my own person, and given the choice I’ll associate with whatever and whomever I like.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie @FutureMemory I guess what I take issue with, and even using the phrase take issue is too strong, is if the OP is uniformed or has limited experience interacting in a diverse community, shouldn’t we reward him for asking a question? That is how he can learn the perspective of people who are “mixed.” He realized it is a difficult subject, and stated so by worrying out loud it might sound racist, but felt safe enough among the collective to be understood in his intention and get informed answers. We can either let people live in their own heads with their own assumptions, stereotypes, generalizations, or we can allow them to ask questions and learn and even be wrong, without making them feel badly about what they asked. I am not criticizing any questions trying to further clarify what exaclty the OP wanted to know..

Mixed origin to me is not just about race, I took the question to mean different nationalities, ethnicity, religion, and yes even race. In America national background, ethnicity, race, or still subgroups in our country that people identify with. Race in America to some extent has an ethnic and cultural component similar to be Italian, Russian, Jewish, etc. I know he used the word race, but people throw the words racist and racism around to encompass all hatred against groups, so I did not take his words to mean black, white and Asian, but I might be wrong in how I interpreted it.

JLeslie's avatar

I took “associate” in the original question to mean identify, I could be wrong there too.

cazzie's avatar

@JLeslie, that is why I first gave him a nice answer. I took associate to mean be associated with, like to hang around with, as in share religious practices, to have closer relationships with relatives on one side or the other, and to openly label oneself.

Racism isn’t just about hatred, it’s about ignorance. It is about making assumptions about people you don’t know based on what they look like or where they are from. I think we went round and round this one once before regarding saying stupid things about ethnicities in front of people due to ignorance.

FutureMemory's avatar

@JLeslie I don’t see how explaining to the OP that what he assumes to be taking place among the majority of ‘mixed’ people actually occurs relatively rarely, is me making him feel bad. To discuss the topic at all requires that explanation, in fact.

incendiary_dan's avatar

I don’t think there’s any common experience. My dad grew up with the Italian side of the family, not the Pinoy side, so he thinks of himself more as Italian and is closer to the Italian relatives. But many people of African descent in this country are also of European descent, but because of the stupid way we think of race even today, they often identify and are labeled as black. Too complicated to really say there are any patterns.

JLeslie's avatar

@FutureMemory I agree it’s not. My comment there was more directed at @cazzie writing If you have to preface your statements or questions with a ‘I’m not racist, but,...’ what you are about to say is, 99% mostly likely, racist. In John’s case he described this as ‘a touchy subject.’ well, well.

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