A growing number of Americans identify as multiracial, and there’s evidence to suggest that by 2050 as many as one in five Americans might claim a multiracial background.
Social workers who understand the complexities and concerns of multiracial people are better equipped to work with America’s increasingly diverse cultural populations.
Our Multiracial Nation
Barack Obama was, of course, America’s first black president – but it’s important to remember he was also the nation’s first president to publicly identify as multiracial. Throughout his presidency, President Obama displayed an open attitude towards race and is credited with reinvigorating the multiracial movement in our culturally diverse country.
The U.S. census estimated 2.1 percent of adults are multiracial, but when racial backgrounds of parents and grandparents are taken into account, research by Pew Research Center estimates 6.9 percent of the U.S. adult population could be considered multiracial. (Note: Keeping in mind this estimate is difficult to fully quantify because the subjects self-selected options and may identify themselves in various ways.) This corresponds to increases in immigration and interracial contact, and the rise in interracial marriage.
While multiracial adults share some things in common, the researchers from Pew Research emphasize they cannot be easily categorized on race alone: “Their experiences and attitudes differ significantly depending on the races that make up their background and how the world sees them. For example, multiracial adults with an African American background – 69 percent of whom say most people would view them as African American – have a set of experiences, attitudes and social interactions that are much more closely aligned with the black community. A different pattern emerges among multiracial Asian adults; biracial white and Asian adults feel more closely connected to whites than to Asians.”
As America becomes more racially diverse and social taboos against interracial marriage fade, the majority of multiracial people are proud of their background and say it has not been a disadvantage in their life.
In fact, 76 percent of multiracial people say their background has made no difference to their life.
Despite this, multiracial people, like other racial minorities, have typically experienced some type of racial discrimination, from racist slurs to physical threats, because of their racial background.
Researchers Kelly Jackson and Gina Samuels say multiracial people “may be at greater risk to experience discrimination, use drugs and alcohol, engage in violent behaviors and struggle with mental health problems when compared with their non-multiracial peers,” which could result in an increase in the number of social work clients who identify as multiracial.
How To Develop Multiracial Competence
Opportunities as a social worker in this field depend on multiracial competence and an ability to address race through a lens of cultural humility and awareness. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) says social workers should develop skills in areas such as ethics and values, leadership, self-awareness, cross-cultural knowledge, cross-cultural skills, empowerment and advocacy.
As an extension of these principles, researchers Jackson and Samuels also say, “A culturally attuned practice approach, one that is inclusive of multiraciality, is not only timely but also consistent with the profession’s ethical obligation to provide culturally relevant services to all consumers and clients.
“We posit that by comprehending the experiences of multiracial people and how multiracial identities are influenced by multisystemic factors, including the intersection of other identities (for example, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality), we can expand, rather than constrict, the lens social workers use to understand ethnic and cultural identity processes within and across diverse groups.”
Multiracial Competence Training
Educating social workers about multiracial competence, culturally attuned practice and fostering general awareness about multiracial communities before they enter the field is key to ensuring they support people with respect, empathy and understanding.
A social work degree is the obvious and best method to develop multiracial competence, and a growing number of employers are seeking social workers with a Master’s of Social Work (MSW). Many of these programs include NASW policies and standards in their curricula and offer courses on cultural competency to ensure graduates are equipped to serve America’s growing multiracial population.
To find out more about a Master’s of Social Work degree and the benefits it could bring to your career, visit our Find an MSW Program page.