Cheerios and Controversy: The Changing Face of America’s Multiracial Children and Families
By Laurie “Lali” McCubbin, PhD (Member, APA Committee on Children, Youth, and Families)
A recent Cheerios commercial of a multiracial family with a biracial child caused quite a stir in the media. When presented with images of racially ambiguous faces and multiracial families, many people responded with a range of feelings from celebration, unease to anger and hatred. Many people viewed this family as unusual and not representative of families in the United States. But is that true?
Despite this unease and outpouring of strong emotions at the positive depiction of a multiracial family, research supports the notion that the landscape of race within families is changing.
In the 2010 US Census over 2.9 percent or 9 million people reported being of more than one race (Jones & Bullock, 2012). In fact, Lee (2010) points out that this number is underestimated given personal, political and social pressures to identify solely as one race despite one’s multiracial and diverse heritage.
The response to the Cheerios ad exemplifies this pressure to identify only as “one race”. What is even more astounding according to Lee (2010; Jones & Smith, 2001) is that 42% of persons who reported more than one race were under 18 years old which increased by almost 50% in the past 10 years and is the fastest growing youth group in the country (Saulny, 2011). The changing face of America’s children is represented in this Cheerios commercial.
Interracial marriages steadily increased fivefold from 1970 to 2000 after the 1967 US Supreme Court found anti-miscegenation laws to be unconstitutional (Sickels, 1972; Sollors, 2000). The mixing of races, ethnicity and culture however is not new.
Probe further anyone who would be classified as “European American” or “White” according to the US Census or other research and one will find a rich heritage of cultures including Italian, Irish or German. The intermixing of cultures and races is not new – however the majority of clinical practice, research and public policy is based on the illusion of racial purity and clearly delineated racial boundaries.
A “call to arms” is needed to examine the changing boundaries of race not only in our society but within the confines of the families and children that make up the US population.
Four areas of discussion warrant attention from researchers, clinicians and policy makers.
First, how do multiracial children, adolescents and adults develop an integrated, cohesive and positive racial identity in the face of challenges in a society defined by “check one race box” norms?
Second, how do multiracial and multiethnic families navigate the varying values, behaviors, traditions and customs to form a resilient and durable cultural identity in the family? How do families manage and resolve internal conflicts and challenges stemming from racial and cultural differences?
Third, how do children learn to navigate pressures in their environment such as in the classroom or the playground to identify solely as one race? A pervasive question asked of multiracial children is “What are you?” Additionally multiracial children may feel the burden of having to choose which friends to play with or which peer group to belong to based on race.
Lastly how do we create communities inclusive of schools, workplaces and communal gathering places that support multiracial families in facing certain challenges while also honoring and celebrating their rich cultural heritage?
The Cheerios commercial could be considered a step towards supporting a positive and healthy image of multiracial children and families. The reactions to this advertisement indicate that more research, interventions and public policy initiatives need to accommodate, understand and promote positive well-being for multiracial children and their respective families.
We want to hear from you! Tell us in the comments section.
What needs to occur in our classrooms, playgrounds and other community centers to promote positive identity among multiracial children and adolescents?
In terms of clinical practice and interventions, what ways can we promote healthy development and well-being among multiracial families?
What needs to occur at a policy level to respond to the needs of multiracial youth and their families?
Jones, N.A., & Bullock, J. (2012). The two or more races population: 2010. (C2070BR-13). Retrieved June 21, 2013 from http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-13.pdf.
Jones, N.A., & Smith, A. S. (2001). The two or more races population: 2000. (C2KBR/01-6). Retrieved June 21, 2013 from http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/c2kbr01-6.pdf.
Lee, S. M. (2010). Intermarriage trends, issues and implications, (pp. 15-42), In McCubbin, H., Ontai, K. Kehl, L. McCubbin, L., Hart, H., DeBarysche, B., Ripke, M. and Matsuoka, J. (Eds), Multiethnicity and Multiethnic Families: Development, identity, and resilience. Honolulu Hawaii. Le’a Publications.
Saulny, S. (2011, March 24). Census data presents rise in multiracial population of youths. New York Times. Retrieved June 21, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/us/25race.html?_r=0
Sickels, R. J. (1972) Race, marriage and the law. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico.
Sollors, W. (Ed.). (2000). Interracialism: Black-White marriage in American history, literature, and law. New York: Oxford University.
Dr. McCubbin is editing an issue of CYF News that focuses on multiracial and multiethnic families. We will update this post as soon as the newsletter is published.