Khanna Featured in Time and on NPR

Study Examines the New Dynamics of Racial Identity in America

Nikki Khanna Nikki Khanna, Assistant Professor of Sociology, has been fielding calls from Time magazine, N. P. R.'s "Talk of the Nation," and the Chronicle of Higher Education (to name a few) after her research involving black-white biracial adults passing as black was published in the December issue of Social Psychology Quarterly. Today’s passing, according to Khanna, the study’s lead author, is about adopting an identity that contradicts your self-perception of race—and it tends to be contextual. In her research she shows that black-white biracial adults now exercise considerable control over how they identify and the authors find “a striking reverse pattern of passing today,” with a majority of survey respondents reporting that they pass as black.

“Most people in my sample identified themselves as biracial or multiracial but talked about certain situations, with a group of friends, say, where they might downplay their white ancestry, which can carry its own negative biases,” Khanna says. Other reasons cited for passing as black included a desire to take advantage of post-Civil Rights era educational and employment opportunities sometimes available to those who are black.

The phenomenon of passing as black, according to the study, suggests a changing culture around race relations and politics in the United States. Blackness, the authors argue, is less stigmatized today. In fact, as suggested by the article’s title, “Passing as Black: Racial Identity Work among Biracial Americans,” biracial and multiracial individuals feel more free to experiment with their identity and many express pride in their blackness and take steps to accent attributes that are considered black.

In addition to providing historical context along with research methodology and analysis, the article presents quotes that offer personal accounts of both those who once passed as white to overcome racial barriers and accounts of those traversing black and white worlds and the adaptations individuals make to be accepted.

Read more about Professor Khanna's research at Time magazine. Listen to Professor Khanna on N.P.R.'s "Talk of the Nation". Visit Professor Khanna's UVM profile.