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The dual nature of biraciality : to be at once confined and free

by Chin, Alison


Biracial individuals, as demarcated by having one white and one non-white parent, hold a unique social position in the United States. Situated in a white racial hierarchy, individuals of mixed races are, in some ways, caught between racial lines—they do not embody one racial category but rather two. Given that biracial individuals exist outside of established racial binaries, one is left wondering in what manner they racially identify. While some research argues that raced Americans (that is, those who are raced as non-white) are confined by their racial appearance and hence limited in ethnic identity options (Waters 1990; Gans 1979), more recent research finds that raced Americans experience a degree of opportunity and choice in the expression of an ethnic and/or racial identity (Khanna 2011). My research, situated between these two polar studies, finds that biracial individuals are at once both confined and free. Comprised of eleven interviews with biracial individuals across three racial categories (black, Asian and Latino), I ask: How do biracial individuals racially self-identify? In what manner and to what extent does phenotype affect the way in which individuals choose a particular identity? And how do individuals express their identity through ethnic and/or racial symbols? What I find is that, in support of Waters’ (1990) and Gans’ (1979) assertions, respondents’ phenotypes greatly affect the way in which they racially identify—respondents tend to draw on racial and ethnic symbols opposite their phenotype in order to either fit in or stand out. In particular, I find that phenotypically non-white respondents draw on American ethnicity in order to claim white affiliation and assimilation. At the same time, however, respondents, like Khanna’s (2011), maintain the freedom to draw on symbols of race and ethnicity. And regardless of phenotype, individuals predominately draw on symbols of non-whiteness to claim feelings of being different and unique.


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Includes bibliographical references.

Administrative Notes

Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Copyright restrictions apply.
Colorado College
Digital Origin
born digital
36 pages
Senior Thesis -- Colorado College
Thesis Advisor
Livesay, Jeff
Degree Name
Degree Type
Bachelor of Arts
Degree Grantor
Colorado College
Date Issued