(Q) Cultural Contexts in the United States

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Cultural Contexts in the United States
6Childrearing: Cultural Contexts in the United States
Learning Outcomes
After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
ሁ Define culture and explain the nature of multi-culturalism. ሁ Explain why cultures are not distinct, homogeneous, self-contained entities with clear boundaries. ሁ Describe how views on American culture have evolved over the course of U.S. history. ሁ Examine the development of children in the context of race and ethnicity, multiracial and multiethnic
families, language, religion, and gender. ሁ Discuss how parents, caregivers, and professionals can support healthy identity development and
cultural sensitivity in children.
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Section 6.1Culture and Cultural Diversity
Introduction No one develops or lives in a vacuum, rather, everyone grows, learns, and lives within cultural contexts. Children, families, and parents exist within a variety of cultures. They both reflect those cultures and help to shape them. A family’s culture is influenced by a variety of factors, which include where the individuals within the family grew up (country, region, town), what language and dialect they speak, their religious affiliation, socioeconomic status, race, ethnic- ity, and gender, among other things. The very structure of the family and the age of the family members also contribute to the family’s culture (Wardle, 1996).
In this chapter, we explore a variety of issues related to the cultural contexts of parenting in the United States. We begin with an overall discussion of what culture is and how it frames the contexts in which children develop and adults function. We then explore different views of culture within American society, which is followed by an outline of the various forms of American cultural diversity, focusing on race and ethnicity, languages, religious diversity, and gender. We conclude the chapter with strategies for parents, caregivers, and professionals working with families to support healthy identity development and cultural sensitivity.
6.1 Culture and Cultural Diversity What is culture and what is cultural diversity? How does our understanding of culture help us appreciate and understand the rich diversity in the United States and its impact on families and children? Many academic scholars have attempted to define culture as follows:
• The organized and common practices of a particular community (Rogoff, 2003); • A framework that guides and bounds life practices (Hanson, 1992); • Shared understandings as well as customs and artifacts that are valued by the gen-
eral community (Strauss #038; Quinn, 1992); • An integrated set of norms and standards by which human behaviors, beliefs, and
thinking are organized, and which are transmitted from generation to generation (Pai, Adler, #038; Shadiow, 2006).
• The prism through which we view the world (Bowman, 1994).
Thus, culture sets the expectations for behaviors, provides the values and rules by which individuals live, and defines a person’s view of the world (Gutierrez #038; Rogoff, 2003). Further, a child’s culture shapes her view of everything around her, including ideas and values about education and work.
According to the American cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1914–2009), people are unaware of how they acquire, share, and communicate culture. From the time we are infants, we unconsciously learn what is and is not important, how to behave in certain situations, and how to relate to people. Hall held that cultural beliefs, as well as thought patterns and values, are hidden beneath the surface, similar to the way an iceberg is mostly concealed underwater. According to Hall (1976), culture is highly influential in the way each of us processes informa- tion, uses language, and develops personal relationships.
In a given region, country, continent, or entire civilization, one will find an overall way of life comprised of traditions, language, customs, and morals: This is known as the macroculture. Within the macroculture (especially in a large multinational, multiethnic country like the
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Section 6.1Culture and Cultural Diversity
United States), people live within a variety of microcultures. These can be divided along regional, religious, ethnic, linguistic, tribal, or economic lines, as well as a multitude of other characteristics (Banks #038; Banks, 2013). Individuals simultaneously represent and contribute to the norms of multiple cul- tural groups. Finally, all cultural groups have outliers—people who do not fit com- fortably within the existing cultural boundaries. The presence of outliers is one of many reasons to avoid stereotyping people based on perceived cultural norms. However, it is important to understand that cultures are not static; they continu- ally change as a result of interactions with other cultures, which can happen through globalization, education of members within the culture, immigration, travel, or a variety other factors (Wardle, 2013b).
A child’s culture—the prism through which he or she sees the world (Bowman, 1994)—is at first the sole reality for that child. Young children are for the most part not able to look at the world from various perspectives; everything in their world is defined and framed by their microculture. As they develop and experience outside influences, their culture often evolves to incorporate other aspects and other microcultures.
The Purpose of Culture Belonging to a cultural group serves a variety of purposes. Racial and ethnic minority groups have historically banded together to fend off hostility from more dominant and powerful groups, and to support each other to make progress in a new country or in times of hardship (Smedley, 2002; Tatum, 1997). Outside adversity can strengthen a culture’s resilience and cohesion. Many still believe ethnic and racial groups need to stand together for survival, to progress socially, and to maintain their unique identity (Smedley, 2002; Tatum, 1997). Many also believe that a central role of cultural groups is to offset the hegemony, or overriding influence of the macroculture, whether that be in values, language, expected behaviors, or media influence. Practical issues such as language, traditions, religion, and marrying a part- ner with a similar background also bind groups together.
Religious affiliation can produce very tight-knit cultural groups, such as can be seen in the Amish, Hutterites, or Mennonites (communal religious groups of Northern European origin in the United States and Canada). This can also be seen in new immigrant groups from spe- cific regions or tribes. Cultural groupings can also be formed by people with similar lifestyles, such as members of a counterculture (those who intentionally live in a way that opposes the macroculture), young urban professionals, or the LGBT community. Most groups are defined, maintained, and celebrated by individuals within the group who view their identity and sense of self as defined by the group. They celebrate cultural traditions and pass important cultural information and beliefs on to the next generation. Thus, cultural groups do not just give indi- viduals within the group a sense of identity or a prism through which they view the world, but are themselves defined and perpetuated by the group’s individuals and leaders (West, 2001).
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock ሁ While Thanksgiving is part of American
macroculture, unique microcultures within America may celebrate the holiday differently.
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Section 6.1Culture and Cultural Diversity
From Cultural Dichotomies to Cultural Complexities When examining cultures, multiculturalists tend to compare and contrast different cultural groups by placing them in dichotomous (contrasting) positions, such as mainstream White society versus minority Americans, men versus women, or English speakers versus non– English speakers (Derman-Sparks #038; Edwards, 2010; Gonzalez-Mena, 2008; Raeff, 2010). For exle, many standard sociology texts place cultures on a continuum between individual- istic and competitive (Europeans and North Americans of European extraction), and col- lectivist and communal (Africans, Asians, South Americans, and minorities in the United States) (Hofstede, 2001). In more individualist and competitive cultures, parents attempt to raise children to be independent, self-confident problem solvers with high individual self- esteem who look to themselves to solve problems and achieve success. In more collectivist and communal cultures, parents believe that children are best served by developing their identity and self-worth as important members of an identity group, and by working collab- oratively with other group members to solve problems and achieve success (Harwood, Miller, #038;Irizarry, 1995; Lynch #038; Hanson, 2004).
However, the perspective regarding individual versus communal cultures has been challenged by several scholars and researchers (Raeff, 2010):
• Research shows that some cultures value both independence and interdependence (Oyserman, Coon, #038; Kemmelmeier, 2002).
• All cultures are dynamic, heterogeneous, complex, and change over time; viewing cultures as either independent or interdependent reflects a static view.
• Independence and interdependence can be viewed as compatible and coexisting aspects of child rearing and parenting (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2008).
Further, independence and dependence cannot always be assigned to their respective cul- tural groups. For exle, while the Amish and Hutterites are of White, Northern European, Christian heritage, they explicitly focus on communal activities (such as barn raising), shun individualism, and practice interdependence in a variety of ways (Wardle, 2013b). Thus, inde- pendence and interdependence need not be viewed as opposites; rather, a variety of cultural groups value both.
Cultural identities and characteristics are more nuanced, multilayered, and complex than once believed (Oyserman et al., 2002; Raeff, 2010; Tamis-LeMonda, et al., 2008). Therefore, an either/or perspective to describe different cultural groups is not very helpful. Profession- als working with immigrant and minority families should be considerate of the cultural nego- tiations these families experience on a daily basis through bicultural socialization, a process that occurs when individuals adapt and integrate their own cultural heritage with that of the surrounding culture while not rejecting their home culture (Ngo, 2006, 2008).
“Diversity of Diversity” Another challenge to the view that cultures are distinct, homogeneous, self-contained entities with clear boundaries is that all cultural groups contain what is called “diversity of diver- sity”: the tremendous variation that occurs within any large group, be it a gender, race, type of disability, or subculture (Cushner, McClelland, #038; Safford, 2012). No one belongs to just one group, everyone simultaneously belongs to a number of groups (Cushner et al., 2012). For exle, a person is not just a woman, she is a professional, married, African American
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Section 6.2Changing Views on American Culture
woman, and so she belongs to all of those groups. For all people, the different groups they belong to carry different levels of importance, depending on their age, politics, values, and other factors (West, 2001). Therefore, categorizing people under major headings of race, gen- der, ability, or exceptionalities is counterproductive and can lead to stereotypes, inaccurate information, and a perception of a lack of diversity within a group.
Culture Evolves Over Time Much of a person’s culture can change over time. For exle, changes in marital status, espe- cially going from a two-parent to a one-parent household, can radically change a family’s eco- nomic status, often in a negative way (Bliss #038; Simmons, 2014). Some cultural contexts change when one travels or moves. When a Mayan woman from Guatemala immigrates to Hous- ton, Texas, her official government label would change from “Mayan” to “Hispanic/Latino” (Wardle, 2013b).
A variety of macrosystem events can also result in changes in the attributes, behaviors, and worldview of cultural groups (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). For exle, today women in the United States have far more freedom to choose an educational path and career or family life than they had earlier in the 20th century. Immigrant women from countries with more restrictive and discriminatory laws (for exle in some Middle Eastern Islamic states) may experience a sudden increase in personal freedom upon moving to the United States. In addi- tion, technological inventions such as cell phones, tablets, and personal computers have radi- cally altered family and social cultures.
6.2 Changing Views on American Culture Since its formation, the United States has been known as a nation of many cultures, religions, and languages. Yet for several centuries, the European culture was generally accepted and even lauded as the overriding, dominant culture. In recent decades, however, an ideological shift has begun to take shape, as people view contemporary American society as one that reflects and embraces cultural diversity rather than attempting to homogenize it. Let’s take a closer look at this evolution in perspective.
Melting Pot: Assimilation People have immigrated to the United States from all over the world and brought with them their talents, languages, traditions, and cultures. According to scholars, the original European settlers wanted immigrants to cast off their loyalties to their countries of origin and embrace their new American identity, which was very much a reflection of Protestant, Northern Euro- pean culture (Fish, 2002; Pai et al., 2006; Spickard, 1989). Once the United States became its own nation, free from the British crown, its new leaders viewed the country as a radical global experiment in democracy and religious freedom, and did not want new immigrants to bring to America their old ideas of racism, religious intolerance, and governance by the aristocracy (Fish, 2002; Pai et al., 2006; Spickard, 1989). This absorption of new citizens is known as assimilation, the process by which a subordinate group or individual takes on the charac- teristics of the dominant group (Schaefer, 2014). This view intensified during the 1800s, as the number and diversity of immigrants to the new country increased (Schaefer, 2014). As an early American farmer put it:
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Section 6.2Changing Views on American Culture
What then is the American, this new man? He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds . . . . Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. (Crèvecoeur, 1904, p. 55)
Throughout the world, the United States became known as a melting pot, a metaphor that described the way in which people coming to its shores from all over the world would leave behind their home cultures and assume a new one. Many believed that America would lead the way as an exle of how to best include people from a vast diversity of national, social, and religious backgrounds while retaining a unifying national identity and sense of civic responsibility. As they arrived, these new immigrants were expected to become true Ameri- cans, which meant learning English, adopting American values, and in some cases, even changing their names.
Political leaders, educators, and businesspeople believed that radical assimilation into the American culture was necessary for the very survival of the new country, because otherwise, the country might disintegrate along cultural, national, language, religious, and other lines of affiliation (Ladle, 1999; Lippy, 2013).
Many of society’s institutions, such as schools, hospitals, colleges, professional associations, political groups, unions, and other community agencies, were developed within the context of the prevailing cultural values. In many cases, these values are still represented in these institutions. For exle, although an increasing number of the country’s K–12 students are racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, and linguistically diverse, teachers are still predomi- nantly White, middle class, and female (Cushner et al., 2012; Nieto #038; Bode, 2012; Pai et al., 2007; Trawick-Smith, 2014). In fact, as of 2011, 84% of teachers were both White and female (NCEI, 2011). Many also believe that the social work field reflects White, middle-class family values (Sadker #038; Zittleman, 2009) instead of the diversity of values and needs of the families it serves. According to the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (2011), 81% of child welfare caseworkers are female, while only 14% are African American and 5% are Latino/ Hispanic.
The Salad Bowl: Cultural Pluralism As illustrated in Figure 6.1, people from all over the world have immigrated to the United States during the past century, bringing with them a wide range of cultures, values, and per- spectives. The large proportion of Europeans immigrating to the United States decreased toward the end of the 20th century, while the number of immigrants from countries in Latin America and Asia has increased.
Purestock/Thinkstock ሁ Although schools are more ethnically and
linguistically diverse than ever before, the teacher population is still overwhelmingly white.
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Section 6.2Changing Views on American Culture
Figure 6.1: Immigration to the united States by region of origin, 1900–2008
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2008). 2007 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/Publications/Lesson -Plans/HumanPopulation/Migration.aspx.
Partially in response to the shift in understanding and embracing of other cultures, the view of America as a melting pot is giving way to a metaphor that better supports ongoing cultural diversity among its residents. According to Nieto (2004), America as a salad bowl is “a model based on the premise that people of all backgrounds have a right to maintain their languages and cultures while combining with others to form a new society reflective of our differences” (Nieto, 2004, p. 437). A more formal name for the salad-bowl metaphor is cultural pluralism. Cultural pluralism holds that contemporary American society is made up of distinct cultural groups that should be empowered to maintain their unique values, traditions, languages, and worldviews, and not be expected to change to match the values and expectations of the domi- nant macroculture. Individuals within diverse groups are encouraged to preserve and even celebrate their identities within their unique group, while also identifying with the overall American society. These individuals are considered bicultural or multicultural—identifying and functioning effectively within several cultural groups simultaneously (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010).
Some scholars believe that extolling cultural diversity and cultural identity will lead to cul- tural relativism and separation. Their view holds that the net result will be individuals identi- fying only in terms of membership to a racial, ethnic, or other cultural group while their sense of loyalty to the larger American society will be minimal (Bloom, 1987: Sadker #038; Zittleman, 2009). Unity and cohesion within the larger society will, they believe, be lost (Pai et al., 2007). Allan Bloom (1987) argued that the insistence of individuals on preserving their cultural val- ues and practicing their lives according to cultural behaviors and traditions would eventually destroy cherished American values, such as individual rights. Bloom believed that loyalty and obedience to the state (America) were essential both to the success and prosperity of Ameri- can society as a whole, and to individuals within that society (Bloom, 1987).
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Section 6.3The Intersection of Family and Culture
E.D. Hirsch made a similar argument about education, believing that focusing on diversity in schools distracts from teaching a core body of knowledge that every U.S. child needs to know to be successful in American society (Hirsch, 1996). He believed that the foundation for suc- cess in American society is what he called intellectual capital—the knowledge and skills needed for a successful life. Further, he believed that this intellectual capital was the glue uniting all people in the United States regardless of their racial, ethnic, national, religious, or other backgrounds (Hirsch, 1996).
However, from a multicultural view, the trend is for minority groups and new immigrants to maintain their home language (by raising their children to be bilingual), culture, religion, and traditions, to celebrate their own unique identities, and to raise children with their culture’s characteristics and attributes (Derman-Sparks #038; Edwards, 2010; Gonzalez-Mena, 2008; Nieto #038; Bode, 2012; U.S. DHHS, 2010). For exle, according to Pew Research’s Spanish Trends Project, the number of Hispanics speaking Spanish at home rose from 10.2 million in 1980 to 24.7 million in 2000 (Pew Research, 2004). However, from growing up in the United States, these children also become socialized to many of the values and dispositions of the greater American culture (Podeschi #038; Xiong, 1994). Further, as we have suggested, cultures continu- ally change (acculturate) as they co-exist with other cultures and societies. Acculturation is the process of learning cultural change or absorbing another culture (for exle, a minority child learning the ways of the dominant culture) (Pai et al., 2006).
6.3 The Intersection of Family and Culture Given the pervasiveness of culture in all facets of our lives, it is important for parents, caretak- ers, and any adult who works or spends time with children to understand and appreciate the different aspects of culture that could potentially impact a child’s development and perspec- tive on the world. Thus, in this section, we will take a look at how major cultural factors such as race and ethnicity, growing up in a multiracial or multiethnic family, language, religion, and gender socialization affect individuals and their families. We will also discuss strategies for working with children in a multicultural context.
Navigating Racial and Ethnic Categories In order to discuss race and ethnicity, it is important for professionals who work with families to develop an understanding of the complicated history and current use of racial and ethnic categories by the U.S. Census Bureau. In the first section of this chapter, we discussed the risks of classifying people under broad headings, a practice that often results in misunderstand- ings and stereotyping. Yet when it comes to race and ethnicity, it is common practice to assign labels, despite the fact that they do not even begin to capture the complexity and nuance of an individual’s identity, culture, or heritage. There is no easy explanation for why this occurs, as the very definitions of racial and ethnic constructs are under considerable debate today.
According to Smedley (2002), the original racial categories and hierarchies used in America came from an inclination to categorize people of the world into a hierarchical system. Given that Northern Europeans created the system, they placed themselves at the top and Africans on the bottom, thus imposing their view of racial superiority on the world’s population (Fish,
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Section 6.3The Intersection of Family and Culture
2002; Schaefer, 2014; Smedley, 2002). This racial hierarchy was based on physical char- acteristics—skin color, hair, and facial features—and supposed intellectual ability. Several Europeans scientists used this hierarchy to create a racial taxonomy, dividing the world’s population into four groups: Indigenous Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Asians (Lin- naeus, 1758/1759, quoted in Slotkin, 1965).
As a result of the Civil Rights movement and its subsequent legislation (especially the Civil Rights Act of 1964), the federal government began using racial categories to make sure that federal laws were implemented fairly and tax dollars distributed equitably among groups. The categories included White, African American, Asian, and Native American (U.S. Census, 1990), with no Hispanic category and no mixed-race option (Root, 1996). In 2000, the His- panic/Latino ethnic category was adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI) racial category was added, and the “two or more races” option was included. The current racial and ethnic categories used by the federal Office of Manage- ment and Budget (OMB) are as follows:
Racial categories
• White • Black or African American • American Indian or Alaskan Native • Asian • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander • Two or more races • Some other race
Ethnic Category
• Hispanic/Latino/Chicano/Spanish American (this can be of any race) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010c)
In the United States, the terms race and ethnic group are commonly used by the media, in academia, and to allocate government resources (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013b). An ethnic group is made up of people whose ancestors were born in the same region of the world, and often share a language, culture, or religion. The Latino ethnic group is the only such category used by the U.S. Census Bureau. Race refers to a family, tribe, people, or nation with a shared lineage or identity. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau recognizes that racial identity might include national origin or sociocultural groups (2013b).
As a professional working with families, you will likely become well versed in U.S. Census Bureau terminology and government allocations of resources. As you can see, the govern- ment has updated its categories in an attempt to better capture the diverse nature of the American population. However, history has shown us that believing race can be used to cat- egorize people’s attributes can lead to racism, resulting in prejudice and negative discrimi- nation. Therefore, it is vitally important to treat each family and each individual as a unique, multicultural entity. Visit the following link to read more about the history of race categoriza- tion: http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-02-12.htm.
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Section 6.3The Intersection of Family and Culture
Multiracial and Multiethnic Families One dramatic shift in the racial and ethnic makeup of contemporary U.S. society is the increase in multiracial and multiethnic families. These are families in which the parents—either biological or adoptive—belong to different racial and ethnic categories (Wardle #038; Cruz-Jan- zen, 2004). The 2000 U.S. Census was the first to give people the option to select more than one race, and according to its statistics, multiracial individuals increased from 6.8 million in 2000 to 9.0 million in 2010—2.9% of the U.S. population (Jones #038; Bullock, 2012). In 2010, the proportion of interracial and interethnic married households increased to 10% of the overall married population in the United States (from 7% in 2000); and 18% of opposite-sex unmar- ried partners were interracial or interethnic (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012c).
Several factors account for the changing demographics of multiracial and multiethnic families in the United States. The first is a continual increase of these families since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1967 (Loving v. Virginia) outlawing state anti-miscegenation laws, which criminalized interracial marriage and even sexual acts between people of different races. Second, in 2000 the racial categories on the U.S. Census and official federal forms were changed to include a “two or more races” option. Third, many new immigrants from other countries challenge the traditional way the United States categorizes race and ethnicity. Fourth, polls show that the vast majority of Americans now accept and support interracial relationships and families (see Figure 6.2). According to a recent Gallup Poll, 87% of Americans now approve of interracial marriage, up from 4% in 1958, with Blacks approving 96% and Whites (including Hispanics) approving 84% (New- port, 2013). People under age 65 are more likely to approve than those over 65 years old (Newport, 2013).
C A S E S T u D y : T H E C L A R K A N D C L A R K D O L L S T U D I E S The husband-and-wife team of Mamie and Kenneth Clark conducted a groundbreaking study of children’s racial (self-) perceptions in 1954. See a brief overview of their work at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RqsGTS5TPQ.
Then listen to a later interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=64rSgf0iOhQ.
Presented with two dolls—one Black and one White—children were asked to give their opinion of which doll they preferred to play with, and to say which one was pretty, nice, bad, and had other attributes. They found that most of the Black children favored the White doll, as did many of the White children, a finding that suggested the Black children had developed a negative self-image.
These results have certain limitations, however. For exle, at that time, there were no Black dolls for children to play with, possibly introducing bias against the Black dolls. Also, when the self-image of middle-class or affluent African Americans has been measured, their feelings of self-esteem can be more positive than comparable Whites (Schaefer, 2014, p. 48).
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Section 6.3The Intersection of Family and Culture
Figure 6.2: Attitudes towards interracial marriage in the united States, 1959–2013
Source: Newport, F. (2013, July). In U.S., 87% approve of black–white marriage, vs. 4% in 1958. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/163697/approve- marriage-blacks-whites.aspx
Visit the following links to gain additional insights into multiracial and multiethnic perspec- tives and trends:

Voices of Multiracial Americans

Multiracial in America

Parents, caregivers, and other adults can help children develop healthy multiracial and multi- ethnic identities by doing the following:
• Supporting mixed-race and ethnicity children when they receive misguided, unkind, and even hostile comments from children and adults.
• Encouraging all programs that work with children and families to show visual images of families of mixed race or ethnicity (this can include posters, books, videos, magazines, and artwork).
• Teaching all children—regardless of their race or ethnicity—self-esteem, self-worth, and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1965).
• Letting parents and their children disclose their racial and ethnic identity rather than imposing a preconceived view of their racial identity on them.
• Helping interracial children and their parents educate professionals about the unique realities and struggles of mixed-race children and families.
• Recognizing any tendency in oneself to judge interracial children and their families. • Not focusing on a single race at the expense of a child’s full heritage. A single-race
view can be harmful to the healthy identity development of mixed-race children (Baxley, 2008; Wallace, 2004, 2011; Wardle #038; Cruz-Janzen, 2004).
Do you approve or disapprove of marriage between Blacks and Whites?
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