Racial Malleability and Authenticity in Multiracial Well-Being

Lauren E. Smith, University of Miami


After relatively stable rates of interracial marriage, the numbers of unions across race markedly increased over the past decade, with the number of mixed race babies also increasing. This growing shift in our population is known as the “Biracial Baby Boom” (Bratter, 2007), however, research is lagging with regard to the lived experience and its relationship to psychological well-being of this significant part of our population. Previous research found that greater malleability of one’s racial identity is related to decreased psychological well-being (Sanchez, Shih & Garcia, 2009). However, other research, related to self-concept, suggested that authentic self-complexity, more complex cognitive representations of the self, can serve as a buffer against daily stress (Ryan, LaGuardia & Rawsthorne, 2005). The construct of racial malleability, shifting expressions of racial identity in a given context, has been grounded in self-concept literature supporting the importance of stability in how one sees oneself. Though similar, research on self-complexity reinforces the protective quality of organizing self-knowledge in terms of a greater number of authentic self-aspects. Differences in outcomes for these similar yet related concepts may be due to the representations of racial self-aspects based on the kinds of contextual experiences. Specifically, one’s ability to incorporate multiple aspects of identity may be compromised in the face of questioning by others or one’s sense of authenticity. Thus, the association between malleable identity and outcomes is dependent on contextual experiences. This study explored the ways in which identity experiences and authenticity influence the relationship between racial malleability and psychological well-being for 149 multiracial adults surveyed via the internet. Psychological well-being was defined by measures of perceived stress and life satisfaction. Findings suggest that racial malleability positively relates to life satisfaction. Additionally, the relationship between racial malleability and perceived stress is moderated by experiences of identity questioning. Regarding authenticity, self-alienation as a measure of authenticity played a significant role in multiracial well-being. Implications for these relationships are discussed regarding therapy and research with multiracial individuals.