How do Black Multiracial Swedes Experience Racial Identity Formation in Sweden?

Biracial and Multiracial Identity Formation

Bachelor Thesis, 2021

44 Pages, Grade: B


Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Problem Statement
1.2 Research Aim and Research Question
1.3 Key Terms and Concepts

Chapter 2: Literature Review
2.1 Biracial Identity Development: The Global Context
2.2 Biracial Identity Development: The Swedish Context

Chapter 3: Methodology
3.1 Constructivist Approaches
3.2 Qualitative Approaches
3.3 Recruitment and Analysis
3.4 Sample Demographics and Representativeness
3.5 Validity and Reliability
3.6 Limitations
3.7 Researcher Positionality

Chapter 4: Theoretical Framework
4.1 Poston’s Biracial Identity Development Model
4.2 Root’s Resolution for Resolving Otherness
4.3 Application

Chapter 5: Analysis
5.1 Alienation from Racial Identity
5.2 Picking A Side
5.3 Language as Identity
5.4 Familial Support and Negative Experiences

Chapter 6: Discussion and Conclusion



This thesis examines how biracial and multiracial individuals experience racial identity formation in Sweden. An investigation was conducted into their childhood and upbringing to explore how these experiences shape the way that their identity is formed. To arrive at the results of this dissertation, six individuals who self-identify themselves as Black biracial Swedes where recruited to participate in the data collection process. This mean that this research has used primary tools such as semi-structured interviews to collect data from the participants. This study has used two contemporary positive theories of biracial and multiracial identity formation which are Poston’s Biracial identity model and Roots resolution for resolving otherness. Within these two theoretical frameworks, the research question and aim will be answered through analysis of the respondents. Themes that were used to analyse the interviewees responses where alienation from racial identity, picking a side, language as identity and, familiar support and negative experiences. The results finding shows that most interviewees experience a challenge in the process of identifying themselves with a specific racial group leading to a development of a gap in the process of self-identification.

Key words: Black multiracial swedes, identity formation, race, ethnicity.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Self-identity can have a strong impact on the way that people see themselves, their behaviours and actions, and the habits that they keep (Gkargkavouzi, Halkos and Matsiori, 2019). Many people have a cultural identity that is “inherited” from their parents, which in part is due to the culture, memories, and narratives that are spun through the fabric of our upbringing (Wang, Song and Kim Koh, 2017). For many ethnic minorities, this is reinforced by external pressures, such as racisms and discrimination based on appearances or these cultural traditions (Forster et al., 2017). For biracial people, self-identity has the potential to become more complex, in that there may be two (or more) cultural traditions present in the home and discrimination from both sides; that is, being somehow identifiable as not a member of any of the cultural or racial categories within a society (Franco, Katz and O’Brien, 2016). There can also be a number of internal elements of self-identity that develop through an understanding of the self and personal preferences (Franco, Katz and O’Brien, 2016).

One of the challenges that can arise is when these internal and external factors clash. Some studies suggest that racial identity invalidation is one of the most stressful racial experiences that a biracial person can face (Rockquemore and Brunsma, 2004; Townsend, Markus and Bergsieker, 2009). This can come in the form of accusations of racial inauthenticity, the imposition of racial categories from external sources that do not align with the internal self-identity of the individual, and forced choice dilemmas (Townsend, Markus and Bergsieker, 2009). While there has been much research on the topic of biracial identity and this type of stressor, less is known about how an individual will form their identity and how these can be “resolved” from an internal perspective. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore themes of biracial identity development in Sweden with a view to understanding the conflicts and resolutions that can arise within this context.

1.1 Problem Statement

Sweden is now one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, well on par with countries like Canada and the United Kingdom (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019). Although the national statistics database does not publish information on biracial individuals specifically, around a third of the population are born abroad or are born in Sweden and have one or two foreign-born parents as of December 31, 2019 (Statistiska Centralbyrån, 2020). Unlike many of the other ethnically diverse countries, however, there is the assumption that Sweden is an ethnically homogenous country (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019). This stems from the fact that the ethnic diversity in the country seen today is a result of immigration in the 1980s and 1990s, rather than from a colonial legacy that dates back much further (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019).

The fact that immigrants from Africa are a more recent phenomenon in Sweden means that much of the research on biracial identity outside of Sweden can be problematic to apply to this context. As immigration is more recent, there has been less time for interracial couples to form and have children, thus meaning that biracial identity is less embedded in Swedish culture than in some other places (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019). Self-identification is the answer to “who am I?”, but it is also formed by attachments to others around us, which means that this needs to be taken into consideration when understanding how biracial individuals develop their identity (Myers, 2009).

A study conducted by Sarah Gaither, in the article titled ‘Mixed’’ results: multiracial research and identity exploration’’, found that multiracial individuals experience rejection from multiple racial groups (Gaither, 2015). When you are a Black multiracial (having one White parent and one Black parent), you are not White enough to identify with a predominantly white group at school/community and vice-versa (Gaither, 2015). Results from another study conducted by Latson (2019) in the US show that the complexity that comes with how multiracial individuals identify themselves, particularly in terms of the aforementioned identity mismatch between self-identity and external categorization. A survey from the studies shows that a quarter of multiracial people experienced confusion and frustration about who they are; meanwhile, one in five feel pressure to claim a single race (Latson, 2019). Moreover, the research by Gaither is not only limited to the negative challenges that multiracial individuals encounter. The article pointed out that having a multiracial identity is advantageous as some biracial or multiracial people can “race switch” and therefore fit in with more segments of societies than those who are monoracial (Gaither, 2015).

As previous research in mostly Anglophone countries have shown that multiracial individuals face rejection from multiple racial groups both in society and family, this thesis will seek to examine the factors that influence the racial identity development of Black multiracial Swedes in Sweden, reflecting on their experiences from when they were children up to when they became adults. By doing this, the research will analyse how their experiences influence their racial identity development. Also, because there is little academic research on critical mixed-race studies in the Nordic countries compared to Western Anglophone countries such as the U.K. and U.S (Sanset, 2018), this thesis will seek to address this research gap within the field of critical mixed-race studies and international migration and ethnic relations in the context of Sweden.

Therefore, by answering the research question and achieving this thesis's aim, new determinant factors influencing racial identity formation of Black multiracial Swedes will be presented through a qualitative analysis of their childhood and adulthood experiences in Sweden. Sandset’s (2018) book, Color That Matters, acknowledges that research on mixed racial or mixed ethnic individuals is under-studied in the Nordic context. According to him, there are only three studies about diverse racial and ethnic individuals in Norway and a few scholarly articles in Sweden and Denmark (Sandset, 2018). Due to the scarcity of research on mixed-race individuals in Scandinavia and Sweden in particular, further research is essential. This thesis will contribute to or understanding of mixed-race experience in Sweden.

1.2 Research Aim and Questions

The main aim of this thesis is to examine how Black multiracial Swedes experience racial identity formation in Sweden.

Research questions:

- How do the childhood experiences influence the ways they form racial identity?
- How do the adulthood experiences influence the ways they form racial identity?

To achieve this aim and to answer the research question, this thesis will use a thematic analysis approach to analyse these experiences of racial identity formation through the lens of Poston’s biracial identity development, which takes an equivalent approach and Root’s Theory of Resolving Otherness which takes a variant approach. Within these two theoretical frameworks, the research question and aim will be answered through analysis of the respondents.

1.3 Key Terms and Concepts

Sue (1981) defines racial identity formation as one's pride in their racial and cultural identity. It is essential as it helps individuals shape their attitudes and others who belong to the same racial groups (Poston 1990, p. 152). Identity development is defined as a life span process that relies on internal and external forces such as family structure, physical appearance, and cultural knowledge (Roberta, 2010). Also, multiracial individuals are those whose parents have different racial backgrounds or have two or more distinct racial groups (Ashley, 2011). This study refers to Black multiracial Swedes as people with a multiracial or biracial identity, for example, when you have a European mother and a father from Africa.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.1 Biracial Identity Development: The Global Context

Several researchers and scholars have globally researched in the field of race identity construction of biracial/multiracial individuals. The research on multiracial identity is common in western Anglophone-cultures, where they see identity as something uniquely possessed by individuals (Lawyer, 2014, p.2). In these western Anglophone cultures, the identities for minorities are seen as being in trouble. It carries with it negative affiliations such as criminality, theft, and all kinds of failures (Lawyer, 2014). To answer the research question and to achieve the aim, this thesis will review previous research conducted in the western Anglophone countries and then relate it to the Scandinavian context to shed more light on the research area in Sweden.

Rockquemore and Delgado (2009, p. 25-16) affirms in their research that multiracial individuals with a specification to those who have black and white parents in the US have been central to theorists when developing models of race identity. Their motivation is due to the racial divides between Blacks and Whites in the US (Rockquemore and Delgado, 2009). The article used four approaches of race construction to describe research on mixed-race individuals in the United States. These approaches are the variant, ecological, problem, and the equivalent approach. The problem approach is an early theory of race identity construction for multiracial individuals; meanwhile, the variant, ecological, and equivalent approaches are modern theories of race identity construction. They do predict negative outcomes in having a mixed identity in the US (ibid). The results from the problem approach from the article state that individuals who identify as multiracial face stigmatization, isolation, and rejection from both the majority and minority racial groups in the US These experiences faced by multiracial individuals when navigating American society have enormous negative impacts on them, such as inferiority complex and moodiness (Rockquemore and Delgado, 2009).

The findings of La Barrier’s (2017) research on multiracial identity development in the US in the article titled ‘Multiracial identity development: illuminating influential factors’’ show that multiracial individuals in the United States of America construct race identity through family and community influences (p. 2-4). According to La Barrier, the two essential family factors that influence racial self-identification of multiracial individuals are caregiver's (parents) use of racial labels with youth, and the observed racial predominance within the family (La Barrier, 2007). The role of one's family is significant and has a fundamental impact on the individual and their identity (La Barrier, 2007, p. 2). The article findings also showed that the community has a high impact on the racial identification of multiracial individuals. Community aspects related to the development of racial identity for individuals with multiracial heritage include the diversification of the community and contingent socialization (La Barrier, p.3). The article results show that multiracial individuals in the US who have support from their families, neighbourhoods, social networks, and those with diverse educational backgrounds tend to develop healthy self-confidence and racial identity (La Barrier, 2007, p. 6).

Renn’s (2008) research on biracial and multiracial identity development amongst multiracial US college students shows that physical appearance, cultural knowledge, and peer culture influence their identity development (p.17). By physical appearance, the article looks at attributes such as skin tone, hair texture, and colour, the shape of the eye and nose (Renn, 2008). By using Root’s (1990) resolutions for resolving Otherness that one's option is to accept the identity that the society assigns to them, multiracial student's choice of identification faces constraints by how others are interpreting their appearances (Renn, 2008, p. 18). To Renn, multiracial individuals always need to negotiate the campus racial landscape with appearances that are not easily recognizable by the others (Renn, 2008). In terms of cultural knowledge that multiracial college students learn from families, parents, and community before attending college, those who are well armed with the knowledge of their diverse cultural backgrounds feel more confident in their self-identification (Renn, 2008). This is represented in the appreciation stage of Poston’s model of identity development for multiracial individuals (1990, p.154). Peer culture, resistance from monoracial students of colour, and racism amongst white students are aspects of a peer culture that influence the ways multiracial and Biracial US college students experience their race identity formation (Renn, 2008, P. 19).

In the context of identity development of biracial individuals, Pang (2018, p. 192) study conducted in Scotland explored the identity formation of biracial individuals, and the role family plays in the process. The study's findings show that the actual identification process of biracial individuals are often contingent upon and shaped by structural constraints and relationships across life discourse (Pang, 2018). According to Pang, biracial identities are forged out of social relations and shaped by interactions with intimate ones (Pang, 2018). The study found that individuals with good knowledge about their biracial background were able to negotiate an otherwise stigmatizing non-white identity. Meanwhile, mixed-race individuals who viewed their biracial identity as a peripheral attribute were more likely to be brought up under a unique identification where their non-Scottish heritage was ignored (Pang, 2018, p. 192). The principal arguments central to Pang's study were that biracial identities are constructed by the meanings arising from social interactions with significant others, allowing them to develop self-knowledge associated with collective identity categories (Pang, 2018, p. 197). Also, essential arguments raised in Pang's study were that early experiences at home influence how biracial identities are being shaped (Pang, 2018).

For Root (1998), who conducted a study on the experiences and processes affecting racial identity development for multiracial individuals in the US used an ecological model to examine 20 sibling pairs. The study found out that the experience of trauma-related severely influences the racial identity development of multiracial individuals to racism, discrimination, and community socialization to race-related issues and beliefs. The findings also show the emergence of four factors that influence the racial identity process of multiracial individuals: hazing, family dysfunction, the impact of integration, and other salient identities (Root, 1998). The findings on another study by Tizard and Phoenix (1995) about adolescents with one White and one African or African-Caribbean show that the racial and cultural identities of biracial individuals are being shaped or influenced by choice of school they attended, their social class as well as the degree of politicization of the youth'sattitudes towards race (in Jackson, 2009, p. 295).

Another study conducted by Csmadia et al. (2011) on the racial identification and developmental outcomes among Black-White multiracial youths in the US show that the geographical region is shaping multiracial individual’s racial identity development, type of neighbourhood, phenotype, and family structure (p. 37-40). The experiences with which one’s family has with race help multiracial youths in the US negotiate their racial identification. Based on the family's racial position within American society, parents of multiracial individuals transmit to them access to education and economic and cultural opportunities compared to families that lack such opportunities (Csamadia et al., 2011). Parents who are versed with living in racialized societies tend to teach their children about race, which therefore helps them maximize their success within the community, which leads to their racial identity development (Csamadia et al., 2011). In the US, people are assigned to racial categories that establish a hierarchy and shape social relations amongst groups (Bonilla-Silver, 1996, in Csmadia et al., 2011, p. 37). The types of neighbourhood multiracial youths in the US live in influence their racial identification (Csamadia et al., 2011). Also, individuals assigned to their racial groups in the US are based on socially selected phenotypic characteristics such as skin colour, body, lip, and eye shape and hair texture (Omi & Winans, 1994, in Csmadia et al. 2011 p.39).

Moreover, a study in the US conducted by Mawhinney and Petchauer (2013) examines biracial identity development in adolescent years using fusion autoethnography. The study used an ecological approach to demonstrate how family, peers, and school curricula validate and reject racial self-presentation of biracial individuals (Mawhinney and Petchauer, 2013). This study intended to help researchers understand how complex and fluid biracial and multiracial identity formation relates to everyday school spaces and processes (Mawhinney and Petchauer, 2013, p. 1312). By using the continuum of biracial identity model (COBI), the study found out that biracial identity development is non-linear which means that there are multiple variables of influence and multiracial individuals can locate themselves at different point along a continuum of identity development (Mawhinney and Petchauer, 2013, p. 1326).

2.2 Biracial Identity Development: The Swedish Context

As noted above, there is less research available on the Swedish context of biracial identity development. This is, in part, because Sweden has experienced a large growth in immigrants of colour over the past few decades. One of the most thorough explorations of the mixed-race experience in Sweden is by Hübinette and Arbouz (2019) who conducted semi-structured interviews with 18 Swedes who identified themselves as either “mixed” or “half”. In this study, all of the interviewees felt that they had been treated differently because they had an “atypical Swedish” appearance (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019). The study also noted that Swedes of mixed descent typically grow up in homogenous and White neighbourhoods and attend schools that are also homogenous and White (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019). These researchers suggested that the Swedish experience is different from those of other Western countries in part because of political decisions made there. Mixed Americans or Brits are recognized as their own statistical and social category (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019). It can be argued that hegemonic Swedish antiracist so-called “colour-blindness” means that it is nearly impossible to verbalise issues of race (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019). This is reflected in the fact that, since 2003, there are no race categories provided by the Swedish statistical office and instead people are categorized by the country of origin of their parents. Those who have one or two Swedish-born parents are counted and categorized as having a “Swedish background”, for example (Hübinette and Arbouz, 2019).

Another study that focused on interracial relationships and on transnational adoption is instrumental in understanding how these experiences shape family policies, family building, and everyday life in Sweden (Osanami Törngren, Jonsson Malm and Hübinette, 2018). This study, too, focuses on the fact that Sweden has historically been an ethnically and racially homogenous country until the end of the 20th century (Osanami Törngren, Jonsson Malm and Hübinette, 2018). Again, there is a focus on the “colour-blindness” of Swedes and their perception of themselves as being liberal and anti-racist and the impact that this has for those who wish to identify themselves with their racial background more proudly (Osanami Törngren, Jonsson Malm and Hübinette, 2018). There were three analytical themes present in this research; first, the fear of talking about race in Sweden because of this perceived colour-blindness; second, racialization based on the parenthood of the individuals; and third, the problem of belonging (Osanami Törngren, Jonsson Malm and Hübinette, 2018).

Although these studies are interesting and useful in setting the background for this current research, there is nowhere near the depth of exploration in Sweden that there are in other ethnically diverse countries. The purpose of this thesis is to add to this expanding area of research by focusing on the experiences that these individuals have as biracial Swedes and how these experiences fit into the development of their identity, whether this be as biracial or some other identification.


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How do Black Multiracial Swedes Experience Racial Identity Formation in Sweden?
Biracial and Multiracial Identity Formation
Malmö University
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black, multiracial, swedes, experience, racial, identity, formation, sweden, biracial
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Giovani Nkem Nzeafack (Author), 2021, How do Black Multiracial Swedes Experience Racial Identity Formation in Sweden?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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