Shifting Whiteness: A Life History Approach to U.S. White Parents of "Biracial" or Black" Children

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2005-08-04

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This research examines how the experiences of parenting ?biracial? or ?black? children have affected the beliefs of white parents who have published books and essays regarding their situations. The participating parents claim that because of their relationship with their children of African descent their self-understandings, including their own sense of their racial identity, are altered. They now speak of themselves as ?not quite white,? ?black by proxy,? or as a ?bridge? (between the races). My dissertation, ?Shifting Whiteness: A Life History Approach to U.S. White Parents of ?Biracial? or ?Black? Children,? explores how such parents talk about and conceptualize their experiences, including the implications of these parents? claims of racial identity transformation.

This dissertation posits that the white parents? shift in attitudes and beliefs reflects their vivid engagement with the racism and racial experiences that their children endure. The discord between the parents? claim of racial transformation and their continued benefiting from white privilege is also examined. Consideration of the parents? shifts provides a better understanding of racial beliefs and transformations at the individual, micro-level, which contributes to society?s general knowledge about the conception of race.

Understanding white parents? decisions to write about their identity transformations as?to use Michael Omi and Howard Winant?s (1994) phrase?a ?racial project,? I investigate its aims and limits, exploring which racial projects are presented by this group of U.S. white parents of biracial and black children. John L. Caughey?s (1994) approach to how individuals operate with ?cultural traditions? and ideas of ?border crossing? also provide theoretical frameworks. Tools of analysis include ethnographic life history methods, textual analysis, critical race theory, and intersectional analysis. My research method involves complementing a close reading of the writings of these authors that are white and parents with qualitative ethnographic life history interviews that gather detailed information from each of these individuals. I treat their publications together with my transcribed interviews as case studies through which I compare and contrast the similarities and differences in the belief changes and shifting that these informants have undergone, as well as their current constructions of race.

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