Phillip Handy examines how children form racial identities in multiracial families
The election of America’s first mixed-race president has created new interest in what it’s like to grow up as a multiracial child. A Rutgers senior majoring in sociology and psychology has already received input from about 930 multiracial people from across the country to help provide some answers.
Phillip Handy, who grew up in Howell and has a white mother and an African-American father, was actually pondering the phenomenon before the presidential campaign ever began. In 2006, he helped form an organization called Fusion, the Rutgers Union of Mixed People, aimed at uniting people who identify with, or are interested in, the multiracial experience. A year ago, Handy was included in a New York Times article and video about mixed race.
Handy’s early interest in the field has now blossomed into academic research, which he will discuss in a panel presentation at the Aresty Undergraduate Research Symposium called Race and Gender in the Family: A Mixed-Race Perspective.
Handy’s work explores how the strength of the relationship between a multiracial child and his or her parent of the same gender impacts racial identity and awareness. He hypothesizes that the children closer to the same-gender parent will gravitate toward that parent’s characteristics. In addition, he predicts that this effect will be more prominent in families where gender roles are more clearly defined.
“Part of the reason I’m doing the research is because I know my own case, but other people’s experiences are different. I want to identify patterns.” Handy said. “For example, I’m very close with both my parents and I consider myself multiracial, but I would say my racial identity is probably closer to my dad, who is a person of color. But I’ve seen other cases where a black and white female identifies with her African-American dad. It’s very complicated.”
As of mid-April, Handy was still compiling the results from his huge sampling. His ability as an undergraduate to conduct such a large study is a testament to today’s technology. He was able to use his friends and members of his Fusion student group as an initial base for interviews, but then he quickly branched out through the internet.
“Social networks like Facebook and MySpace helped, but there are also some online forums centered around the multiracial experience, some with thousands of members,” he said. In publicizing his survey, it helped that he could offer a link for participation. “I was able to get 930 people to participate and at least begin the survey. About 430 completed it. We were expecting maybe 100. This is very significant, especially for a population that’s very difficult to study.”
Handy’s advisor, psychology professor Diana Sanchez, expects big things from him. “I am confident Phil will advance the research and theories around multiracial experiences during his graduate studies,” she said.
Handy wants to eventually work toward a doctorate. But may first opt for a two-year commitment with Teach for America, which serves educational needs in both urban and rural areas. “It’s a program that’s geared toward graduating college seniors who are interested in social justice and who are very good at educating, facilitating dialog, and just have good leadership skills,” he said.