The Skin We're In: A Literary Analysis of Representations of Mixed Race Identity in Children's Literature
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This study systematically analyzed novels of contemporary and historical fiction with mixed race content intended for readers age 9-14. In the context of an increasingly multiracial and multicultural society, this study was primarily concerned with the question of identity representation: What is contemporary children’s literature saying about the experience of being racially mixed? This question was investigated along three strands: 1) How can literature about multiracial identity be usefully described and define? 2) What historical perspectives inform books about multiracial people? and 3) To what degree are contemporary authors maintaining or challenging racial paradigms? A content analysis of ninety novels with mixed race content was undertaken to determine specific features such as gender, age, racial mix, family situation, socio-economic situation, racial makeup of environment, and setting. Three categories were created based historical paradigms about mixed race identity, and themes that emerged from the novels: 1) Mixed Race In/Visibility, 2) Mixed Race Blending, and 3) Mixed Race Awareness. All ninety novels were evaluated with respect to the criteria of the categories. Thirty-three novels were selected for deep literary analysis, demonstrating the ways historical perspectives about mixed race identity inform contemporary children’s literature. Findings indicated three broad trends in representations of mixed race identity in children’s literature with novels falling almost equally between the three categories. Books in the Mixed Race In/Visibility category depicted stereotypically traumatic experiences for mixed race characters and provide little or no opportunity for critique of racism. Books in the Mixed Race Blending category featured characters whose mixed race identity was descriptive but not functional in their lives. Mixed Race Awareness books represented a range of possible life experiences for biracial characters who respond to social discomfort to their racial identity in complex and credible ways. This study has implications for research and pedagogy in the fields of education and children’s literature as they expand to become more inclusive of diversity.
mixed race identity
critical race theory