Editor’s note: This slideshow accompanies the article “Beyond Biracial: When Blackness Is a Small, Nearly Invisible Fraction.”
What can the experiences and identities of 2014’s cohort of people with just one black-identified grandparent teach us about the evolving nature of racial identity? Stephanie Troutman, 36, who calls herself “a mixed woman who has a child with a black man and a child with a white man,” thinks about this question as it relates to her daughter.
Troutman’s son, Rex, 7, whose father is black, is “very pro black,” she says. For her daughter, Melora, 11, whose father is white, things are more complicated.
Troutman, who’s a professor at Appalachian State University, makes sure that Melora, pictured here, knows that she’s “a person of color.” Because of Melora’s heritage, her looks and the current racial climate, Troutman says, she’s in an “interesting and ambiguous space” when it comes to how she’ll identify.
Troutman says that questions about “passing as white” don’t resonate at this point in American history. But she speculates that Melora might have had that option had she been born at a different time.
When Melora wears her hair in traditionally African-American hairstyles, her mom wonders whether people assume she’s a white preteen who’s emulating hip-hop culture.
Alexi Nunn Freeman, 32, has one African-American grandparent on her black-Italian-Cherokee father’s side. Her mother identifies as a Russian Jew.
Freeman (bottom left), shown here with her mother, father and sister, recalls that both of her parents were adamant that she emphasize her black heritage.
Freeman, pictured here with her 2-year old son, Cheyson, says that black and white people alike have questioned her decision to call herself black.
“I always thought my child would be browner than me,” says Freeman, seen here with her husband, Jim. “I never thought I’d marry a white man who identified as Irish Catholic and went to Notre Dame. I had a stereotype associated with that identity. But my husband is a fierce racial-justice advocate and lawyer who is acutely aware of the privileges he has as a white man and who genuinely wants to support, from behind the scenes, low-income communities of color building their own power.”
Freeman, whose husband has German and Irish ancestry, has come to terms with the way people will see her nearly 2-year-old son, Cheyson. “If I was being truthful, I’d want Chey to identify as black because of what was instilled in me at such a young age,” she says. “However, I will tell him he’s multiracial, and I will tell him that he’s black.”
Freeman, shown here with her sister and their children, says that she feels she “gave up the opportunity to care” how people see Cheyson’s race when she married a blond, blue-eyed man. So far, she says, “People haven’t asked about his background—at least not to my face. But they’ve asked my mom about where he is on the skin-color spectrum. I find it pretty nauseating; he’s a baby. My sister is married to a Nigerian man, and they ask about her child, too.”
Ian Stewart, 31, pictured here as a child with his father, says that his dad—who’s half black—“never considered himself very attached to black culture, always being something of a nerdy outsider.”
Stewart now considers himself “both white and mixed” (“the same way Obama considers himself black and mixed,” he says).
Shown here with his wife and parents, Stewart says that any children he has will be free to identify in whatever way they want.