As a Biracial college student, I had a lot of questions going into college: Do I have to check only one box? Are they interested in me for me or for the sake of diversity? Will there be other students like me? But most prevalent recently is this question: Am I qualified for scholarships specifically set aside for minorities? In the end of my sophomore year, I was informed that I was being considered for a scholarship given to low income, high achieving, African American students. I clearly stated I was Biracial on my application, and later that year I was informed that I had received the scholarship. It was only after I had received the scholarship that I began to wonder what impact, if any, identifying as Biracial had on my application.
Turns out I am not the only one wondering about Biracial college students and minority scholarships. Diana Sanchez, Associate Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, and Courtney Bonam, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Chicago, examined this very issue for Biracial college students, as well as how being rejected on the basis of disclosing their biracial identity affects self-esteem. Their article “To Disclose or Not to Disclose Biracial Identity: The Effect of Biracial Disclosure on Perceiver Evaluations and Target Responses” consists of three studies. Two of the studies focus on applications from Biracial individuals in which the friendliness, competence, and minority scholarship worthiness of the candidate was compared to applications of monoracial candidates. Study one compares Biracial Black-White candidates to monoracial Black and White Candidates, while Study two focused on Biracial Asian-White candidates to Asian and White candidates. Study three examined if Biracial individuals exhibit low self-esteem after being negatively perceived, and if this was true, if it was unique to just Biracial people.
Sanchez and Bonam found that Biracial candidates in both studies one were perceived as significantly less warm than their monoracial counterparts, but there was no significant difference in competence ratings. In study two, Biracial Asian/White candidates were perceived as significantly less warm and competent than their monoracial counterparts. In both studies one and two, The biracial candidate was deem more scholarship worthy than their White counterparts, but less those than their minority counterparts. Due to the fact that only the ethnic identity of the scholarship candidates was manipulated, we can infer that Biracial identity may be viewed as a disadvantage for students applying for scholarships. When individuals who disclosed their Biracial identity were given negative feedback on a performance, as done in study three, their self-esteem was significantly lower than those who were rejected and not made to disclose their racial identity. Interestingly, White participants for study three reported no significant difference in self-esteem.
This article leaves me with more questions than answers. Why were the Biracial candidates deemed less competent, warm, and scholarship worthy? What is it about being Biracial that others would perceive as a disadvantage? If other studies show that Biracial individuals view race as a social construct thus making them resilient to stereotypes, then why would they be effected negatively by rejection based on their disclosure of race? In my own study, I will be examining the relationship between social construct of race and self-esteem in multiracial individuals, to see if there is a connection that was weakened to produce the results of Sanchez and Bonam’s third study.
As for my scholarship, although I did win it in the end, I learned at a later time that my light skin color did make them think harder about my application than the others. Although Biracial individuals are counted as minorities, and thus do qualify for opportunities such as these, this study suggests that disclosing Biracial identity can still be a disadvantage in application.
Sanchez, D.T, & Bonam, C.M. (2009). To disclose or not to disclose biracial identity: The effect of biracial disclosure on perceiver evaluations and target responses. Journal of Social Issues, 65, 129-149. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2008.01591.x