We live in a society consumed and captivated by identity. Categorisation of individuals has grown to be pivotal in societal functioning, as well as the social interactions that take place within it. A predominant form of this grouping is through racial identity. Although this makes perfect sense in a multicultural society, there are fundamental drawbacks to the process. I aim to explore how restrictive racial cataloguing within an identity-centric society can leave individuals of a mixed heritage in a state of confusion.
Multiculturalism is a word loaded with positive connotations: of joy and unity, of camaraderie and respect. It is not false to describe modern-day Britain as a happily multicultural society; we clearly sustain a vast multitude of cultures, the majority of which live harmoniously alongside each other. However, note that the word “alongside” has been selected quite purposefully in this context. These racial groups prosper in a parallel fashion, with rare cross-links being achieved. Think of two neighbours who frequently exchange pleasantries but never enter each other’s home. This is of course perfectly in line with multiculturalism; the definition does not state that these multiple cultures are supposed to physically combine. As long as each community can live harmoniously as neighbours, multiculturalism is effectively maintained. This coexistence does however lead to the creation of very linear, defined racial identities. If races are living in parallel, the racial identities will follow in the same way. This is how cultural paths remain distinct, even in a society of effective integration. If our multicultural society did in fact promote physical combinations of race, then surely the lines differentiating races would have been subject to some blurring by now? Instead we find these cultural boundaries are still immaculately defined, suggesting that the fusion of racial identities is not an endorsed concept. When individuals find that they are in fact a product of merged cultural paths, instead of one obvious race, inner confusion about their identity can occur.
At this point, I refer your attention back to my initial statement. Our society urges its members to fit neatly into an identified unit, as this is necessary for a multicultural society to function smoothly. The urgency to belong to a smaller community provokes a need for categorisation. However, narrow racial identities mean that mixed-race individuals can struggle to see an obvious group in which they belong. They may find themselves identifying and associating with a group that is completely different to any component of their heritage. They may try to identify with a group that does in fact represent a component of their racial background, but find themselves rejected. For example, those with one coloured parent and one white parent are rarely accepted by society as being part of the white community. In many cases, the concept of belonging is lost all-together, and external forces become almost totally responsible for the racial categorisation. The concept of self and identity is unmistakably shaped by how others see you, so if society sees only the dark pigment of your skin, you will never be recognised as part of the white community, no matter how much of your genetic make-up says otherwise. If an individual personally finds no obvious group to belong to, and is repeatedly classified by the people around them, they can start to adhere to this external identity.
From a psychological point of view, social identity theory is hugely significant, encapsulating the importance of grouping within society. It states that individual identity is based on group-membership, self-categorisation and social comparison. The idea behind social identity is that it is the part of our self-concept that is totally derived from membership with social groups. In the mid-90’s, Wendi Gardener proposed a multipart concept of “self”. Two of the components involved were the “relational self”, which is our self-identity in reference to connections or relationships, and the “collective self”, which is how we see ourselves in reference to group membership. Both of these concepts are relevant to our understanding of why our self-identity is so greatly impacted by belonging to groups. Social categories provide a basis of social identity, supplying norms and values to those who are a part of them. It could even be said that racial groups are therefore an agent of socialisation, and crucial to the functioning of our identity-consumed society.
It should now start to become clear just how much of a bearing racial confusion can have on individuals who experience it. The “mixed” identity is still not fully established or stable, and predicting how this identity will develop over the coming years is not an easy task. The immediate result of all of this is that racial identities become very indefinite and unstable for these individuals. In short, the need for categorised identity combined with restricted racial identities can create a conflict within individuals of mixed-heritage. This inner-conflict may manifest as a feeling of confusion; a confused identity. Thus in the setting of an identity-centric society, this can become hugely disorientating. Racial confusion leads to a chasm in one’s identity. And in a society engrossed by character, by status and by identification, this is one brutal void.