Applying Psychological Science, Benefiting Society

Cheerios and Controversy: The Changing Face of America’s Multiracial Children and Families

Young biracial girl from Cheerios commercial

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

References:

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.

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Categorised in: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race

10 Responses »

  1. In response to this article. . . if one can go into a data base local, county, state, or federal and look at the line item that asks for a person or persons’ race/ethnicity, you will find that the question didn’t allow for multi-ethnic background data some years ago.

    Our boundaries have expanded and so have the answers to those inquiries.

    Personal opinion, I think that is healthy and educational for one to discover all of their roots.
    It use to be White/Black many years ago, then Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, Eskimo, etc. have been added due to our expansion of understood boundaries, cultures, and diversity. This also allows for the youths minds to be cultivated to start their processing on how they view others (perception).

    Like

  2. Dr. McCubbin,

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece. I am thinking about the concerns and strengths of multiracial and multiethnic families from a trainer’s perspective in the field of Counseling Psychology. To prepare our doctoral students to work clinically with clients, I think it is important for us to start truly attending to issues of intersectionality. Our current or mainstream psychological and counseling theories do little to address such intersectionality (aka multiple identities). Thus, major theory refinement and revision is needed to guide our interventions and to ultimately establish empirically supported treatments/interventions for multiracial and multiethnic families based on their unique needs and strengths.

    Additionally, I believe that bolstering cognitive flexibility and dialect understanding of self within multiracial and multiethnic families as well as those that do not identify with these families is necessary. It is important for people to understand that two seemingly contradictory values, beliefs, etc. can co-exist in the same place, at the same time, and in one person and make perfect sense.

    Like

    • To Rachel L. Navarro, Ph.D.

      Your opinion is a concreteness, so I can be better understood. Also us, there will be to hurt people of other races by the cultural issues. ( in the future)
      So, I want to hear seriously. What is meaning of “perfect sense” ?

      Thank you.

      Like

  3. I believe that the heart of this issue goes much deeper than just the color of one’s skin. Prior to the Cheerios ad, Regions Bank ran an ad with an Asian woman who was married to a white man and the family was completed with multiple Caucasian-Asian children. Note, we are not discussing that ad as it did not stir up much controversy. I believe the reason is that neither Caucasians nor Asians are heavily associated with being impoverished in the US. However, being Hispanic or African-American does frequently get associated with being from the lower class. (Also, the racial history of this country doesn’t help the issue.)

    To help the cause of multiracial families (like mine) I believe that the burden falls on the parents of all children. “Pure breed” children should be taught by their parents that children of mixed races are no less human than any other children. Likewise, children of miscegenation should be taught the same thing. That is to say that they (multiracial children) are EQUAL to all other children–no greater, no lesser.

    Like

    • To Richard A. Tatum II, B.A.
      Thank you, I am glad to the great comments you. Yes, If we are adult (regardless of race), in order to leave a good society for the children, we must begin to do something. Of course, in various countries, and have serious social problem in each.

      Independence Day, congratulations!

      Thank you !!

      Like

  4. The idea of that there is equal value to whichever cultural aspects you grow up with does not only pertain to children of multiracial families but also to immigrants – children or adults – and children born to immigrants. The question “Who am I?” will for all these children be answered with “a little of this and a little of that” and for the adult immigrant an American frame of reference will also be somewhat off in a clinical setting. If you count these people into the group that can benefit from well prepared psychologists, you will reach a much higher number than 9 mill.
    To have a foot in more than one culture is a gift that opens the mind, not something that diminishes you.

    Like

  5. Dear McCubbin:
    Thank you for your excellent post. The Cheerios ad is a great illustration of positive images of multicultural families. I would like to add a quick note of another group of multicultural families: Those created through adoption. Transracial adoption refers to children who are placed with an adoptive family of another race or ethnicity. It is a subgroup within both domestic and international adoption, though it is often considered a separate category due to the unique cultural issues faced by these new families. In the most recent data reported, nearly 8% of all adoptions included parents and children of different races, and 15% of the 36,000 adoptions from foster care were transracial or transcultural (www.adoptioninsitute.org). These adoptees also ask the question “Who am I?” and can have the gift of more than one culture as well. Thanks again for raising awareness about multicultural families!

    Like

  6. As a member of the LBGTI community we are also an under-represented minority in commercials and our children need to their lives reflected in advertising media. There is a “Cheerios” video on YouTube done by our community with a young girl with her two moms. One of her moms is White and the other Black so several issues are tackled at once.

    Like

  7. I want more of it. Let all be represented even the mixed minorities who cares about skin colour anyways? I thought we evolved out of that…

    Or would you rather prefer mono racial exposure in the media like I have seen in both parts of Asia and Africa, where they put bleach in to everything and everybody use it to appear or become more successful.
    http://www.redbubble.com/people/jonaskroyer/works/14928993-chasing-happiness

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