DNA Is Not Destiny

Racial identity for multiracial people is based on many factors.

Posted Oct 23, 2018

CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay
Source: CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

A DNA test alone does not determine a person’s racial identity. Members of the Cherokee Nation rejected Senator Elizabeth Warren as one of their members. In response to attacks by President Trump, she had a DNA test that identified a small amount of Native ancestry. But members of the Cherokee Nation contended the tribe, not DNA testing, determines tribal membership.

Other Native groups have been more accepting of Senator Warren as an ally. She did not claim tribal citizenship and has been an advocate for Native rights. Trump had pledged to donate $1 million to a charity if Warren could provide a genetic test of her Native ancestry. She asked that he donate the money to the National Indian Women's Resource Center.

A more opportunistic use of a DNA test was by a man in Washington state. The test identified him as 90 percent White, 6 percent indigenous American, and 4 percent sub-Saharan African. He identified as White until the test. He apparently has not experienced discrimination for being non-White. But he is suing the government for denying him benefits that he thinks he should receive as a minority business owner.

These cases demonstrate that racial identity is not solely based on DNA. Current psychological science indicates that it involves both individual and group factors. When one has parents of different races, being taught that all races are equal increases the likelihood of one’s multiracial identity. A belief that all races are equal is known as egalitarianism.

But acceptance by an ethnic group is not an individual choice. Recent research suggests that a multiracial person’s appearance and behavior may affect their acceptance. Appearance involves how much a multiracial person looks like other members of the group they identify with. This is based on physical features, such as skin color, hair texture, eye shape, and eye color. Behavior involves a person’s interests, opinions, and the way a person speaks. The more similar they are to a group, the more multiracials are likely to be accepted by that group.

But an individual’s identity, appearance, and behavior are not sufficient to be accepted by a group. Multiracial people are often rejected by monoracial communities, creating a “racial homelessness.” However, monoracial people who are egalitarian are more likely to accept multiracial people as part of their ethnic group. Egalitarian monoracials may also accept multiracials because multiracials experience discrimination similar to their own.

Research also indicates that the racial identity of multiracial people is not static. Over their lifetime, they may identify with more than one monoracial or multiracial group. So, a White-Latina may identify with Whites, Latinxs, multiracials, or all of these groups.

Multiracial identity is much more complex than a DNA test.


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