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Book Reviews   |    
Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America
Reviewed by Maureen Slade, R.N., M.S.; Brendan Slade-Smith
Psychiatric Services 2003; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.54.5.751
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by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and David L. Brunsma; Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications, 2002, 178 pages, $32.95 softcover

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Who is black today, and who will be black tomorrow? Kerry Ann Rockquemore and David L. Brunsma, two sociologists, decided to initiate a research project to study this complicated and highly controversial question, in part to provide sorely needed empirical data to facilitate informed discussions on multiracialism. The authors also hope that their book can be used as a resource to guide decisions about the inclusion of a multiracial category in the 2010 census. Rockquemore and Brunsma chose to focus specifically on individuals who have one black and one white parent.

Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America is composed of six chapters and is easy reading, while at the same time being intellectually stimulating and challenging. The first chapter lays the groundwork for explaining why it is necessary to study biracial identity formation in a scholarly fashion. This chapter includes a straightforward discussion of the role of slavery, the "one-drop" rule, miscegenation, the Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights era in the rigid categorization of blacks as a racial category in the United States. However, the most fascinating discussion is the identification and in-depth discussion of possible biracial identities.

On the basis of their research, Rockquemore and Brunsma constructed four identity options available to biracial individuals: the border identity, the singular identity, the protean identity, and the transcendent identity. These identity options stemmed from the authors' belief that identity construction is influenced by appearance, social network structure, and socialization factors. Of the four identity types, the border identity was the most prevalent, endorsed by 58 percent of respondents. The border identity is one that "encompasses both of the socially accepted racial categorizations of black and white yet includes an additional element from its combination."

The second identity—the singular identity—differs from the border identity in the sense that, "as opposed to creating a new category of identification, an individual chooses between the two existing racial categories and identifies as exclusively one or the other." The third identity—the protean identity—does not identify itself with a single racial category. "Instead, the biracial person possesses multiple racial identities and personas that may be called up in appropriate contexts." The fourth identity—the transcendent identity—is similar to the other identities from the standpoint that appearance is the most significant factor influencing individuals' choices. The transcendent identity "does not use race as a construct to understand the social world or [an individual's] relative place in it."

Overall, Rockquemore and Brunsma do an excellent job articulating ideas and concepts in a way that makes them understandable to an audience outside of academia. Beyond Black offers substantial empirical data on a new and relatively unexplored subject. The book takes the audience from a time in history when a separate biracial identity was impossible because of the one-drop rule to the present time, in which scholars are creating a body of work exploring these identities from the perspective of health and resilience rather than pathology. The information contained in this book is enhanced by the thoughtful insight into the psyche of a biracial person from a biracial perspective.

Ms. Slade is director of psychiatry at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Mr. Slade-Smith is a senior student at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.




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