Race is an important lens through which people, especially people of color, see themselves. The racial group that people identify with can help them navigate the social world by teaching them group practices, and what values and behaviors the group approves of. Even more importantly, identifying with a racial group often gives people a sense of belonging—the feeling that they fit in and have a group of people who are like them. But what happens if the racial group you identify with does not identify with you?

This can be a common experience for Biracial people. Biracial people identify with two racial groups simultaneously, such as Duchess Meghan Markle, who has a White parent and a Black parent and identifies as mixed-race. Or take tennis star Naomi Osaka, who has an Asian parent and a Black parent. Like many other Biracial people, Osaka has clearly stated her identity: “I am Black and Asian. It’s not that confusing.” Yet, not everyone accepts Biracial people as full members of their racial groups.

Even if you are not Biracial, you can envision how this might feel. Imagine you are a triathlete, and this is a really important part of how you think about yourself. You identify yourself as a runner, biker, and swimmer, but maybe other runners deny your identity and tell you that you are not a “real” runner because you also bike and swim. For Biracial people like Markle, identity denial is being told she is not really White or not really Black (or both).

Having one’s racial identity denied through comments such as, “You should identify with one group over another” and questioned through inquiries such as, “What are you?” is a common experience for Biracial people.

The Double Whammy: Being a Dual-Minority Biracial Person

In earlier work, I found that these experiences are stressful and are linked with serious well-being consequences, including depressive symptoms. But my earlier research only focused on Biracial people who had one White parent and one racial minority parent, like Markle. What about Osaka’s experiences? We did not know whether identity denial experiences were similar for Biracial people who have two racial minority parents—“dual-minority Biracial people.” Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to describe how various identities are interdependent. For example, the experiences of Black women are different than those of White women and Black men. Therefore, we thought perhaps the experiences of dual-minority Biracial people would also be different than those of White-minority Biracial people.  

Across two studies, we asked dual-minority Biracial people about their experiences having their identities denied or questioned. Biracial people who more frequently had their identity denied believed that society does not value Biracial people. This belief was linked with three important outcomes. Biracial people who had their identity denied often felt like they did not have the freedom to choose and express their identity as they wished; they viewed their two identities as different and conflicting; and they felt a lower sense of belonging or fitting in.

It seems it is not just Biracial people with a White parent who have their identity denied. Dual-minority Biracial people also reported not being seen as members of their racial groups. Thus, restricting how people identify or challenging whether they are really part of the group can be hurtful. Identity denial conveys the idea that Biracial people are not valuable members of society, and influences how Biracial people relate to their own identities.

This work helps us better understand the experiences of Biracial people in the United States.

As our society continues to become more diverse, and more people identify as Biracial, it is important to accept people’s identities as they are to promote greater belonging and inclusivity.

For Further Reading

Albuja, A. F., Gaither, S. E., Sanchez, D. T., Straka, B., & Cipollina, R. (2019). Psychophysiological stress responses to bicultural and biracial identity denial. Journal of Social Issues, 75(4), 1165-1191. https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12347

Albuja, A. F., Sanchez, D. T., & Gaither, S. E. (2019). Identity denied: Comparing American or White identity denial and psychological health outcomes among bicultural and biracial people. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(3), 416-430. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167218788553

Albuja, A. F., Sanchez, D. T., & Gaither, S. E. (2020). Intra-race intersectionality: Identity denial among dual-minority biracial people. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 6(4), 392–403. https://doi.org/10.1037/tps0000264

Analia Albuja is a postdoctoral scholar in the Psychology & Neuroscience Department at Duke University. Her research explores the experiences and perceptions of people who hold multiple identities simultaneously.