From: Mary Ann Cunningham
Course: cd 170: Cognition
Instructor: Dr. Eugene Ematusov
Date: 23 May 1997
Remote Name: ppp-206-170-5-185.rdcy01.pacbell.net
Family can have the most crucial influence on the development of a child's cognition. Through family, a child learns what is expected of them in society. They learn to distinguish right from wrong. In this cognitive process, a child figures out how they fit into the world at large They develop a sense of self. If the child has a positive family experience, they will have built a strong foundation to deal with all the conflicts of life. If the family atmosphere is negative, the child is fighting a battle from the beginning. Basically, the family provides the first experience in life that influences the future. They atmosphere of the family interactions is what helps the child deal with issues such as identity formation, building self esteem, emotional perspectives, and intellectual development. Some people assume biracial children will grow up in a family consumed with conflict and that conflict will have a negative effect on their development. On the other hand, my research shows that biracial children may face conflict, as any child does, but it is up to the family to provide the foundation for them to overcome these conflicts.
In identity formation, children seek to look, act, feel, and be like significant people in their social environment. "In his book Youth and Identity, Erickson (1968) relates ego identity and self-esteem to racial identity. He states that ambiguous messages about one's race may place a person at risk for developing what he referred to as a 'negative identity'" (Oka, 1994, p. 3). The possibility of negative identity has been a very controversial issue regarding biracial children. Those who are opposed to interracial marriage often say, "But what about the children?". The fear is that the child will not be accepted by either culture and this rejection will lead to problems. "Some studies have found that it is more likely for interracial children to experience difficulties related to a poor self-identity, such as gender confusion, self-hatred, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, delinquency and alienation. Yet other studies have found interracial youth to show high levels of creativity, adaptability, and resiliency" (Herring, as cited in Hoskins, 1996). In this paper, I hope to show that how a child is socialized within the family has a direct impact on the identity formation of interracial children and thus, an effect on social cognition and self efficacy. Furthermore, as a future teacher, it is important that I help children to build a positive racial identity through social acceptance.
An individual's development is shaped and defined by the sociocultural context of that individual's life. The environment that parents choose to raise their children is influenced by their cultural beliefs and traditions. At the same time, children must come to a cognitive understanding of their world. "This two-sided process, in which both the environment and the child are seen as active agents, is referred to as social co-construction" (Valsiner, 1988, cited in Cole and Cole, 1993, p. 339). People in different cultures engage in different activities and have different beliefs about these activities. Parents expect their children to act appropriately. However, it does not stop there, "adult evaluations are more than an external fact: they are the basis for children's self-evaluations" (Cole and Cole, 1993, p. 369). Family is a critical factor in the foundation of a child's self-esteem.
Does racism exist? It seems like such an easy question, but the answer depends on whom you ask. "The first group to say racism doesn't exist is whites. (But) when they say racism doesn't exist, it's completely invalidating the experiences of millions of people of color" (Nakamura, 1996). What is racism? "Racism is a developed set of attitudes that include antagonism based on the supposed superiority of one group or on the supposed inferiority of another group, premised solely on skin color or race" (Beswick, 1990). It is important to recognize racism because it undermines children's self esteem and self efficacy. Bandura believes that self-efficacy is the expectation or conviction that one can be successful or execute a behavior for a desired result. "Self-efficacy pertains to students' personal judgments of their performance capabilities on a particular type of task---that is, whether they're capable of succeeding" (Bandura, 1977a, b, 1982a, 1982b, 1986; Schunk, 1989a, b, as cited in Stipek, 1993, p.145). Furthermore, feelings of low self worth can lead a child to thinking that they do not measure-up to their peers (Covington, as cited in Stipek, 1993). Consequently, they are more likely to pursue less challenging environments. As a result, society loses a valuable contributing force in society, an individual who strives to reach their own potential.
Racism is not just a white problem; it exists in every culture. "Parents are the earliest and most powerful source of racial attitudes (positive or negative)" (Savard and Aragon, 1989, as cited in Beswick, 1990). "A young black boy told my son (who is biracial) 'My mom said your mom has jungle fever.' When confronted, the mother protested profusely: 'We don't talk like that. I don't know where he heard it but we're not racist'" (Unknown, http://lexxicon.com/what.html). "It seems that interracial marriage has touched our deepest resentment of being betrayed by Chinese women who are supposed to make commitment only to us" (Guang, 1995). "Biracial children may face oppression from the Asian group which identifies the child by the ethnicity of the non-Asian parent. The group may view the child as the product of 'racial pollution'" (Root, 1990, as cited in Oka, 1994, p. 7). Even though racism may not always be as obvious as the acts of Neo-Nazis and Skinheads, it exists everywhere.
There are many ways in which biracial people are dealing with racism. Right now there is a large group of interracial people who are petitioning the government to include a "multiracial" category on the next census questionnaire. "No more 'other' and 'I'm proud to be me'. About 200 Americans of mixed race staged the first ever demonstration primarily aimed at forcing the federal government to add a new "multiracial" category to the year 2000 census" (S. J. Mercury News, July 15, 1996). Many feel this is the first step to recognized identity and social acceptance. Previously, the racial categories on the census included White, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Pacific Islander, and finally, 'Other'. Some of the marchers support the multiracial category but "the ultimate goal is to eliminate racial categories altogether" (S. J. Mercury News, July 15, 1996). Many multiracial Americans think that by insisting on their mixed heritage, they can open up eyes on all sides (Cordes, 1997). Yet, do these laws really change social attitude or help biracial children to be accepted by both or all cultures?
Many people feel interracial children and adolescents experience unique identity problems. "The results of studies on ethnic and racial identity indicate that children are aware that there differences by the time they are four years old. At the same time, or soon thereafter, they also become aware of their own ethnicity and form judgments about it" (Cole and Cole, 1993, p. 369). Often when interracial adolescents go through identity formation, society makes them feel a need to choose one racial identity. Often they are asked "Who are you?" or "What are you?". "It has a lot to do with how society makes me feel. Society forces me to be Asian" (S. J. Mercury News, June 27, 1996). Another little girl, when asked this question responded with "I'm a girl, thinking I was really clever. But my face turned beet-red because I realized then I was trying to hide my biracialness and at the same time was denying my father, whom I love very much" (Gay, 1987, p. 22). Only after she started spending more time with her black relatives did she start to believe and feel proud to say she was black and white.
Some people feel it is hard to deal with societal rejection of and discrimination against people of mixed heritage. Furthermore, categorization, often into the minority race, can place certain expectations on the individual. For instance, one woman who was of Irish, African, and American black/white heritage was labeled black by her coworkers. Her boss would send her into the black ghetto believing she would not have any problems because she was "black" herself. "A rough neighborhood is a rough neighborhood for anyone--no matter what her or his color!" (Gay, 1987, p.21). Similarly, many biracial children have experienced society treating them as unique or exotic. Adults and children are curious and , at times, ask very pointed questions. One young girl who had been out in the sun a lot told another child that the top part of her arm was her black side and the underneath part was her white side. Later, the white child had a birthday party and did not invite her, the only one not invited in her class. Yes, it hurt but her mother tried to explain it by saying that these people have never met anyone of black or mixed race. She was taught, in her own words, "That I've got the best of my mom and the best of my dad. It's the neatest part about being biracial, she said proudly, It's who I am!" (Gay, 1987, p. 29).
Many biracial children grow up to be well adjusted and have learned to fit into a variety of different social and cultural groups. "'If you raise these children as you would raise other children and acknowledge and encourage pride in their total heritage, these children will be fine,' Root said. 'These children's identity is based on their total heritage.' They should be 'raised to appreciate that and withstand the harassment from single-race children and adults" (Hoskins, 1996). How the child is socialized at home is extremely important. Parents should introduce and involve the child in both cultures. "If concerned adults care to pass this heritage along to them, the children, in turn, will amaze us with the loving and wonderfully creative ways they combine the two" (Spivey, as cited in Rosenberg, 1986, p. 47). It is not enough to learn about both cultures but the child needs to be involved in both cultures.
Lawrence Kohlberg proposed the Cognitive-Developmental Approach by which children develop gender roles through cognition or the formation of cognitive schemas. "The child's sex-role concepts are the result of the child's active structuring of his own experience" (Kohlberg, 1966, as cited in Cole and Cole, 1993, p. 364). The same idea could be said about ethnic identity formation. Another theorist, Poston (as cited in Oka, 1994, p. 6), proposed a developmental model of identity for biracial people. He states that these children go through a five stage process: 1) Personal Identity, 2) Choice of Group Categorization, 3) Enmeshment/Denial, 4) Appreciation, and 5) Integration. During the personal identity stage, self-esteem and self-worth are influenced by the child's primary reference group. If the child only comes into contact with prejudices and racism, the child will have identification problems. In youth, children are forced by society to choose a categorization or ethnic identity. Poston states that "it would be unusual for an individual to choose a multiethnic identity at this point because that would require a level of knowledge of multiple ethnicities, races and cultures, and a level of cognitive development beyond that which is characteristic of this age group" (Poston, as cited in Lyles et al, 1985, p.151) However, I disagree because in the second stage, two of the factors that influence choice involve parental influence and familial acceptance. Maybe if the parents emphasized both cultures and the extended family was more accepting, the guilt that is experienced as a result of rejecting one parent's culture in the enmeshment/denial stage could be avoided. Then the harmony of cultures that is felt during the appreciation and integration stage could be learned much earlier in life.
A study by Alvin Poussaint, M. D. of biracial children disproved the myth that these children have conflicts over which race to identify within society. "Rather, biracial young people appeared to be more open-minded and seldom used racial labels to describe others" (Gay, 1987, p. 41). Tiger Woods, the twenty-one year old golf pro, has brought the issue of multi-ethnicity in to the limelight, lately. He has openly stated that he objects to being called African-American. His parents raised him to embrace all of his heritage. When he was a boy he made up a name to describe himself, "Cablinasian", which encompasses Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. "But to be called any one of them, he said, was to deny a part of him" (Leland, 1997, p.59). Times are finally starting to change; multiculturalism is "in". Multi-ethnicity confers both individuality and a sense of shared values. Though, this does do not mean that the path is easy. Multiracial children know who they are and where they come from even if society does not accept it. Racism still exists, but "by asserting their multiracial identities, they can throw light on the nation's racial irrationality, even pressure it" (Leland, 1997, p. 60).
As a future elementary school teacher, my understanding of the issues affecting the social cognition of interracial children is extremely important. "Teachers need to be 'knowledgeable about how ... children perceive the world, and process and organize information' (Irvine, 1990). Culture ... influences not only our values, beliefs, and social interactions, but also how we view the world, what we consider important, what we attend to, and how we learn and interpret information" (Philips, 1983; Delgado-Gaitan & Trueba, 1985; Huitt, 1988; Jacobs & Jacobs, 1988; Jacobs, 1990; Rhodes, 1990; as cited in Chisholm, 1994). A goal of a teacher should be to help the child gain a positive self concept so that the child can succeed both academically and socially. First, teachers must develop an appreciation for diversity that can only be achieved through knowledge about many cultures. It is not just about book knowledge but more importantly, interpersonal contact. Secondly, teachers need to promote the acceptance of diversity in their classrooms. Students should learn not only to accept diversity but also recognize prejudices in the world at large. "Not only must we recognize those biases, but we must change the attitude they represent by accepting all children as we receive them" (Gomez, 1991). If a child has grown up in a racist atmosphere, the teacher has a chance to reeducate them.
There are several different approaches that a teacher can use in the classroom to promote diversity while, at the same time, pointing out the many similarities that we all share as members of the human race. Some of the methods include role play, using multicultural literature, grouping by diversity, and students researching their own heritage and sharing this information with the class. Not only will the students see that they are unique contributing individuals, but also that they have many similarities such as the love of family, the quest for origins, the struggle for survival in an uncertain environment, developing intelligence and the value of friendship (Hopson, 1993). "The goal of multicultural education is not only to teach children about other groups or countries. It is also to help children become accustomed to the idea that there are many lifestyles, languages, cultures, and points of view. The purpose of multicultural curriculum is to attach positive feelings to multicultural experiences so that each child will feel included and valued, and will feel friendly and respectful toward people from other ethnic and cultural groups" (Dimidjian, 1989, as cited in Gomez, 1991). Children are not born naturally hating other groups of people. Forming a prejudice involves a learning process that uses overgeneralizations, false assumptions, stereotypes, and fear (Hopson, 1993).
Though much of the information concerns classrooms with students from many cultures, these same techniques could be used to build self esteem and self efficacy in the interracial child. Charles Glenn (1989, as cited in Beswick, 1990) proposed that culture and ethnicity be seen as separate ideas. "Glen believes that a misunderstanding about the meaning of ethnicity and culture accounts for the reluctance of some educators to risk tampering with ethnic heritage. Ethnicity has to do with generational heritage and history. Culture, on the other hand, is the ideas, customs, and art of a people's living present. Culture is not static but rather a dynamic context for social life that all people have a right to shape" (Beswick, 1990). In other words, it is saying do not forget your heritage but you are responsible for your future children's heritage. As the sixty's saying goes, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!
In conclusion, an interracial child is not preordained to experience conflict as a result of their mixed heritage. If the family is open and communicative about both or all the cultures that have come together to create this child, the child can grow up to appreciate diversity in themselves and in others. It is important for "all children to grow up rejecting prejudice, fear, and hatred, and instead be open to the fascinating qualities people of every color and culture have to offer" (Hopson, p. 13).Furthermore, it is essential for teachers to help spread appreciation of diversity so that as a community we can all come together. Though we are all unique, we all share a common goal--the happiness of our children.
Asian-American wrestles with issues. San Jose woman considers her Japanese and American roots in search for identity, belonging. (1996, June 27). San Jose Mercury News, Sect. Front p. 1A.
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