My husband and I have difficulty managing our conflicts. We knew marriage would be difficult. Ours, however, has turned out to be much more difficult than either of us anticipated. Sometimes our anger spills out in front of the children. Can you share something to help us do a better job of dealing with our differences? —Diane, Honolulu, Hawaii
Real Family Talk
Who Am I?
by Willie and Elaine Oliver
My dad and mom met at college when my mom was an exchange student from another country. Twenty-five years later, as a 21-year-old college student myself, I often feel as if I don’t fit anywhere. I tend to identify with people of my dad’s ethnicity, because I am closer to my paternal cousins I grew up with. I love my mom and feel close to her, but I don’t really identify with her ethnic group, nor do I have an affinity to that side of my family. What should I do?
Identity has become increasingly complex during the last couple decades of the twentieth century, and even more so in the twenty-first century. With heightened international travel, the movements of large people groups from war-torn areas, the reality of globalization, and higher rates of inter-racial and inter-cultural marriages, your dilemma is one with which scores of people can relate.
The truth is, similar to other concerns you will face in life, your racial/cultural reality is one you have to come to grips with in order to enjoy a peaceful and honest life. Your situation would be easier to handle if racial and cultural differences were not such a big deal in the world. However, racism, xenophobia, tribalism, and cultural marginalization of certain people will probably be part of the human experience until Jesus returns.
Being more comfortable with one side of your heritage than the other is pretty common among bi-racial/bi-cultural people. This is not unlike anyone else who may have a preference for individuals with certain temperaments or personality types. Even people with two parents of the same racial/ethnic group tend to prefer certain family members. The important thing is to be comfortable in your skin, regardless of how others view you.
The apostle Paul declared: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26). Despite racial/ethnic differences, cultural distinctions, and social stratification humans fuss about, God made all of us from the same blood. This means that more important than being of a particular race—your father’s or mother’s—you, along with all other human beings, are part of the same race, the human race.
If you are interested in the social scientific research on this topic, much literature is beginning to be published in the United States and other countries about this phenomena. One such reference is by prominent American sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva on his piece From Bi-racial to Tri-racial: Toward a New System of Racial Stratification in the USA (Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 27, Issue 6, 2004; published online Aug. 20, 2006).
These days—at least in the United States—you get to choose your racial/ethnic identity, regardless of what others think or say about you. After all, every social scientific study on race or racial identity is based on how research participants self identify.
Having said that, we encourage you to celebrate the gifts of your heritage from both sides of your family tree, and take advantage of every opportunity to get to know members from your dad’s and mom’s families. As long as you acknowledge your connection to both sides of your family, and feel comfortable with the diverse racial/cultural legacy you have received, your racial identity is really up to you. More importantly though, recognize that all human beings are brothers and sisters made in the image of God, and love everyone as God continues to love you.
Should you feel the need to further explore your feelings in a therapeutic setting, we encourage you to find a highly recommended Christian counselor to help you process your concerns on this matter. We will keep you in our prayers.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org or HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.
All Bible references are from the English Standard Version.