So What!


Everything you do and say should pass the “So What!” test. If you can’t respond to “So what!” convincingly and persuasively, then maybe what you are worried about, or obsessing over, or concentrating on, or agonizing, whining, shouting, ranting, foaming and screaming about… just isn’t a big deal.

You should be able to knock “So what!” out of the ballpark every time, or else what you are doing just might not be all that important, or worse, it might be pointless.

An example of something that knocks “So what!” out of the park is the response to something like this: “Ok, there was slavery in America. It was more than 150 years ago. So what!” Response: “The lives of half a million people are not trivial in any way. The life of one single person is never trivial. Imagine if you were forced to endure the suffering that the slaves were forced to endure, would you say ‘So what!’ then? Imagine if your children were ripped from your home and sold to another, would you say ‘So what!’ then? Or would you scream to the high heavens to get your children back, and to seek out justice for their suffering and pain?”

Easy.

Because it’s sometimes easy to pass the “So What!” test doesn’t mean that you don’t need to apply it to everything you do. Or at least to the things that are important to you.

Let’s look at another example. I always seek out the viewpoints of those who disagree with me. If I don’t, then how can I be sure that, intellectually at least, I’m headed in the right directions? Untested thoughts and ideas, are usually wrong thoughts and ideas. If I never challenge my ideas, then how can I gauge how strong they are? How can I understand their ability to withstand the “So what!” test?

I found myself recently on a web site that has a more cerebral approach to the question of race relations in America. It’s called “The Root,” and it appears to be a more sophisticated part of the Race Grievance Industry, using, it seems, all sorts of intellectual and pseudo-intellectual sources to agitate for the four goals of the RGI: (1) revenge, (2) free stuff, (3) validation, and (4) excuses for failure.

While on the site, I found this essay, by Jenée Desmond-Harris.

The essay suggests that growing up “multiracial” in America is an incredibly complicated thing.

However, the piece is just loaded to the brim with omphaloskepsistic nitwittery, as the author struggles mightily to parse racial identity at the molecular level in order to “prove” that it’s just so complicated to live multi-racially in America because of all that old-time racism that’s just everywhere.

We’ve explored that notion in some depth in these pages, and we’ve pretty much demonstrated that racism, at least as conceived by the RGI, is simply not a big problem in America anymore. As if to prove this further for us, Harris’ essay is riddled with passages and assertions that simply don’t pass the “So what!” test.

I’ve selected some of these passages from the essay and inserted them into this essay. Then, I responded “So what!” after them, and added the rationale for my “So what” challenge.

Here goes.

Passage #1:

Stephanie Troutman, a 36-year-old professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., has a white mother and a black father. She has her own family’s racial elevator speech down to a single sentence: “I’m a mixed woman who has a child with a black man and a child with a white man.” Her 7-year-old son, Rex, is unambiguous when it comes to his racial identity and “very pro black,” even protesting when he’s described as merely “brown,” she says.

So what!

Whatever. She says she has her “elevator speech” down to a single sentence. Guess what: I’m figuring that, outside of her circle of friends and colleagues who themselves obsess over race, she’s never, ever had to deliver that “elevator speech,” but has been so indoctrinated into the idea that she would have to, that she developed it. I’ve never, ever, not even once, heard anyone either ask for the “elevator speech” about ethnicity, or deliver it.

Fails the “So what” test.

Also, violates xPraetorius’ First Law: “You’re never as big on anyone else’s radar screen as you think you are.”

Passage #2:

 With her 11-year-old daughter, Melora—whose pale, golden-hued skin; light eyes; and long, copper-colored hair prompt strangers to ask if she’s “Mediterranean” or “Arab”—things aren’t as simple.

“For now I’ve told her that she’s a person of color. That’s the best way I can explain it. I want to take it away from black and white because those are weird options for her,” Troutman says. “But I always kind of knew that I’d have a kid who looked white, and I was right. When Melora was born, my friends were like, ‘How did her dad’s white hippie granola genes completely beat out your biracial genes?’ ”

Despite those biracial genes, Troutman realized as a teen that most people see her as “just light skinned” (in other words, black). That hit home one day in the mid-1990s when, in a classically tragic black-identity-forming moment, a Florida stranger yelled “nigger” at her from a passing car.

“At first I was like, ‘Damn, that’s kind of messed up. Who are they yelling at?’ And then I realized I was the only person on the street.”

 So what!

Seriously. So what! Curiosity about someone else’s ethnicity is simply normal, and very natural, and very non-racist. About the “nigger” shout, she concluded that it was about her. Sorry, I’m not so sure about that at all. There are a million ways that could have been about someone else — someone on the radio, for example. We showed here how it could even be a sign of affection!

However, even if it were about her, so what! Seriously — so what! There are a million and one ways for someone to prove that she’s a jerk. Yelling “nigger” out a passing car to someone who might not even be black is hardly the worst. If this woman thinks this is the only time someone will be a jerk to her, then someone has raised her really poorly. Doofuses have yelled “nigger” at my pale, white backside, dozens of times, and there’s no way I’d ever be mistaken for a black person. It hasn’t bothered me for a second. Why? I understood a simple truth: there’d be no negative repercussions whatsoever to me for their jerkishness.

Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #3:

“I don’t think anyone is ever going to be yelling ‘nigger’ at Melora,” [Editor’s note: Troutman’s light-skinned, mixed race daughter] says Troutman. “But she does get asked what she is. She’s definitely in an interesting and ambiguous space.”

So what!

Seriously, so what! What person in her life has never been in “an interesting and ambiguous space?” And, so what? What, is she a plant or something? If not, then she’s probably faced all the same questions and probing about who she is and “where she comes from” that we’ve all faced.

I’ve been asked “what I am,” (meaning Irish? Scot? [neither of these] Nordic? Scandinavian? Yep.) lots and lots of times, and I enjoy the question, though I don’t have a spectacularly interesting response as, I’m sure, most don’t.

Sorry. Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #4:

But people like Melora face a new and different dilemma. Their racial mixture can feel too fragmented for old, no-longer-politically-correct terms like “mulatto” and even the irreverent hybrids like “blewish” and “blexican” that the “biracial boom” crowd created to rename themselves. Making things even more complicated for 2014’s cohort of people with just one black-identified grandparent is the dearth of cultural references providing a blueprint for how they might identify. As Ian Stewart, the 31-year-old son of a biracial father and white mother, puts it, “There’s a lot out there for the half-black, but a lot less out there for the quarter.”

So what!

Sorry, this fails the “so what” test on the face of it. These people fail to realize the opportunities their ethnicity presents for them. They can use it as a nearly automatic  conversation starter. Heck, if everyone’s wondering about it, then that means you can use it to your advantage! The guys says, “there’s a lot out there for the half-black, but a lot less for the quarter.” What does that mean? A lot of what? Programs? Money? Food? Housing subsidies? Other free stuff that you can get if and only if you’re a member of a privileged group? Is Ian Stewart suggesting that he actually might have to go out there and earn an honest living, by working for a living, as most everyone else does? If that’s so, then he should be falling on his knees, thanking his lucky stars that he was able to escape from the stultifying, enervating clutches of the Race Grievance Industry, and has a chance to seize the opportunity that’s hanging out there in America like ripe apples on low-hanging branches.

Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #5:

For nearly as long as people labeled white and black have inhabited this country, there have been people like Melora, who have a racial heritage that’s very mixed, either in their immediate families or intergenerationally. But “quadroon,” the old term for them, has long been retired. Moreover, there’s waning interest in sorting people into any firm, predetermined categories. So “the quarter” and their parents are making it up as they go along, defining themselves in ways that stretch our understanding of racial identity itself.

So what!

Sorry… you can read this last passage to mean that Melora’s mother is “making it up as she goes along,” in order to invent new and creative ways for Melora to get free stuff from a system that used to dole out the goodies to what once were well-defined, well-understood racial categories. That there have always been these other people of more complex ethnicity out there doesn’t throw into question our system of calculating ethnicity, rather it conclusively condemns the entire idea of doling out free stuff itself.

Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #6:

“If Melora was born in a different time, if she had the option of passing as white, especially during slavery, that would be a legitimate choice. But I don’t see that it’s the same anymore,” says Troutman.

She’s right. Things have changed. Melora is unlikely to grapple with outdated questions about passing or not passing, or even with more modern ones about choosing versus refusing to choose. Her challenge, instead, will be navigating the seemingly infinite options for self-definition.

So what!

She wasn’t born in a different time. She was born in this time; a time of historically unprecedented opportunity for people like her, in a country that has offered nothing more than historically unparalleled opportunity for social, economic, class and political advancement to all people of all races, ages and sexes. Why on earth would Melora choose to navel-gaze about just how black she is or is not?

Really fails the “So what” test.

 Passage #7:

An extreme example of how muddy this can get: A self-confessed white supremacist attempting to launch an all-white community in North Dakota made headlines when it was revealed that he had 14 percent sub-Saharan African ancestry. (DNA tests can reveal the geographical origins of ancestors, a piece of information that is, contrary to popular belief, not the same as race.)

Today, when it comes to what heritage means for identity, there are, in Miletsky’s words, “so many more options.”

For a glimpse into Melora’s possible future, Troutman could look at 32-year-old Alexi Nunn Freeman, whose sole African-American grandparent is on her black-Italian-Cherokee father’s side, and whose mother identifies as a Russian Jew. The Denver civil rights lawyer-turned-law professor’s skin is, at its darkest, tan. Her nose is straight and tiny. Her fine, loosely curled hair is, in her words, “like Shakira’s on its best days.”

Like Melora, she is subjected to plenty of guesses about her background—Brazilian and Puerto Rican top among them. She calls scrutiny of her appearance “unfortunate.” [Editor’s Note: Why? Could it really not simply be natural curiosity about someone who might not be from these parts? It has always been thus for me. I’m always intensely curious about anyone who doesn’t share my own experience in life.] But Freeman, who spent her years in high school, college and law school thrusting herself into any and every ethnic-affinity organization to which she could lay claim, is proud to explain her heritage in detail. Thanks to the messages she received at home, that has often meant adamantly claiming and even emphasizing the black part.  [Editor’s note: And, I’m guessing that this means that  every time she “emphasizes the black part” she meets with nothing but positive reactions — or else she wouldn’t do it. In other words, the anti-black animus that most Americans imagine is “out there,” is likely simply … imaginary.]

Good grief! So freakin’ what!

This is not really all that muddy, except, that is, for someone who chooses to obsess over it. I suspect that if you were to eliminate all the free goodies earmarked in America for favored groups, then you’d find a whole lot fewer people trying desperately to “identify” as a member of such and such a group.

How about some new thinking? How about the idea that we all look at all people as people, instead of as representatives of some parasitical grievance group or other. Then, we could shake off the whackadoodle nonsense of people “identifying” as this silliness or that. Heck: people could “identify” as themselves! You know, as what they truly are?

Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #8:

“My dad would tell my sister and I (sic), ‘You’re all these wonderful things, but never be ashamed and never shy away from that side, despite your appearance. Identify proudly,” she recalls. “And my mom would say, ‘Daddy’s right. My daughters are black.’ “

So what!

What? Who talks to their kids that way?!? “Identify proudly?” Lol! What moron is trying to pass this off as something that actually happened in her life?!? This simply never happened. The idea of “identifying” as something or someone other than what you obviously are is new to this millennium  — in fact to this year. No one ever said “Identify proudly” to his daughter. This is the language of the grievance industry. In other words: it didn’t really happen, but the author thinks it should have so she pretends that it did. Furthermore, there’s never any suggestion in here that anyone discussed in this piece had any problems whatsoever stemming from his or her ethnicity.

Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #9:

Can a parent’s instructions really determine whether a kid is black or white?

The entirely different outlooks of Freeman and of Ian Stewart (who lamented the lack of resources for “the quarter”) suggest that they can. Stewart, a software tester and student from Salt Lake City, has a half-black dad who, he says, “never considered himself very attached to black culture, always being something of a nerdy outsider,” and didn’t care to weigh in on his son’s racial identity. His mom, taking what he remembers as a “colorblind” stance, didn’t give him much to work with, either. [Editor’s note: Seriously — what is this idiot trying to “work with?” If your skin color is a large part of who you determine yourself to be, then you’re an idiot. Why? ‘Cause — read it well — you had nothing to do with it.]

The result? Stewart—who grew from a blue-eyed, blond-haired baby who few believed could be related to his black grandmother to a mustached, pink-skinned man—considers himself “both white and mixed” (“the same way Obama considers himself black and mixed,” he says). [Editor’s note: Does this guy mean: “beige-skinned” man? because there are no “pink-skinned” men out there. Honestly, one wonders whether anyone in the RGI has eyes! ] Sure, he knows that he has African-descended ancestors who were enslaved, but his identity is mostly informed by how he was brought up. [Editor’s note: Until, that is, he determines that there’s free money to be had by calling himself “black.”] No one perceived him as or told him he was black. “Effectively,” he says, “I’ve had the white experience.”

So what!

Seriously. So what? There’s nothing in this entire essay that suggests that anyone discussed herein had any problems whatsoever because of his ethnicity or how he grew up. Everyone in this piece is obsessing over something that others barely even notice, if they do at all.

Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #10:

Looks Inform but Don’t Decide Racial Identity [Editor’s note: wouldn’t it be nice if looks did inform racial identity, and it simply didn’t matter? 🙂 The RGI is obsessed with racial identity, and with concocting millions of formulae to calculate one’s racial identity so that one can determine the extent to which he or she can gobble up the freebies in today’s grievance-obsessed society.]

When it comes to racial identity in America, “The mix itself is one piece, but the appearance thing has always been big,” says Miletsky. In fact, scientists say that people register race in about a tenth of a second, even before they discern gender. [Editor’s note: Do these same scientists tell us how important that determination is in interacting with a person? Nope. Why? Because the answer is: usually not all that important.]

Troutman is keenly aware of that at times. Like when Melora asks her babysitter to give her braids with beads on the ends. “I think it’s kind of interesting because we’re in a moment where there are white women in hip-hop culture who wear black hairstyles. [Editor’s note: there’s such a thing as a “black” or a “white” hairstyle? How dumb is that?!?] I feel like it reads that way on her to other people,” she says. “Then some of my students have said, ‘If you move to the hood, you’re gonna have to watch Melora, ’cause she kind of has black-girl booty, long hair, light eyes, so, as she gets older … you know … ‘ And I’m just like, ‘Oh. OK.’ ” [Editor’s Note: Holy freakin’ mackerel! Is the mother of this poor child a moron or what?!? I wonder what would happen to the child if the mother were able to remove her head from her own gluteus maximus and direct it toward who her daughter is, rather than how she looks! ]

Aside from the underlying message that, in the black community, Melora’s ambiguous looks [Editor’s Note: I’ve never met anyone in the world with “ambiguous looks.” Everyone whom I’ve ever met has always looked like him or herself… in other words: a new person whom I hadn’t yet met. That’s it. And I had a pretty much comfortable white, lower-middle-class, New England upbringing. ] would give her points for beauty (Troutman is quick to clarify, “That is not a belief that I agree with”), predictions like this are reminders that wherever Melora’s life takes her, people will be sizing her up—or trying to—and race will always be part of the equation. [Editor’s Note: You mean as it is for each and every one of us who ever walks on two legs?]

So what!

Big flunk of the “so what” test!  Can’t you just hear from her mother’s words above that she is a card-carrying member of the RGI? Poor Melora! With a freakin’ mother who obsesses so much over how she looks rather than who she is, does Melora have a chance? It’s entirely possible to imagine a scenario in which Melora grows up to be a non-race obsessed Conservative, and her mother completely disowns her, all while the dominant media shake their collective, moronic heads at the right-wing injustice of it all … all while Melora finds true happiness in not obsessing over nonsense.

Fails the “So what” test.

Passage #11:

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. “Chey is white, white, white. I like to say he has an olive complexion, but really, he’s fair, with wispy blond hair with a slight curl. I think he’s an absolute munchkin, but he definitely looks like a white boy,” she says.

“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. However, I will tell him he’s multiracial, and I will tell him that he’s black. I will do what my father did with me and tell him about the significance of blackness in this country and the privileges he carries because of the way he looks.”
alexi_jim_baby_vacation

She’s envisioning what author Joseph calls a “politicized understanding of blackness”—in layman’s terms, a “First and foremost I’m black” approach. Joseph says that this view stands out among mixed-race African Americans who, “although they don’t have the phenotypes of race, are still insistent on accepting blackness as a category.”

So what!

Oh, brother! How about not obsessing over what race the poor child is and concentrating instead on what kind of a person he grows up to be?

Here’s this blockhead of a mixed-race mother trying to insist to her beige-skinned child that he’s “black.” Sheesh! What a moron! If that’s the case, then I’m going to declare right here and now that I’m black and I’m going to go find out what freebies there are out there for me!

I can guarantee you that if there were not billions of dollars to be doled out to some-kind-of-color-identifying groups, no one on earth would be wasting a single second on how little Chey “identifies.”

The rest of this passage is nothing more than a mish-mash of pseudo-intellectual flapdoodle. Again, seriously: Who reads, “Joseph says that this view stands out among mixed-race African Americans who, although they don’t have the phenotypes of race, are still insistent on accepting blackness as a category” as anything more than the usual whackadoodle fog from professor-types in search of grant money?

One more thing I can guarantee you: young Chey carries no extra privilege with him because he has light skin. You can trust me on that one!

Fails the “So what” test. Really badly

Passage #12:

Custom-Made Self-Descriptions Come From Inside, Not Out

“Melora has never really asked me directly, ‘Am I black? Am I white? What am I?’ I think she does recognize herself as multiracial, and she knows that she comes from a diverse family,” says Troutman. “The thing is, she’s extremely comfortable and fine, whether we go to my dad’s for family things, where everyone is black, or when she’s around her white friends.” [Editor’s Note: apparently the mother’s not comfortable around her daughter’s “white friends.” Could it be because there’s not any free stuff there? Could it be because the white people were forced to work for everything they ever got, as opposed to obtaining it for free? That’d make me feel uncomfortable too.]

Troutman’s lack of urgency about making a declaration is revealing of a modern attitude about race. Melora will ask when she’s curious. She’ll decide what to call herself and how to think of herself when she’s ready. No one is threatening to do it for her. And in the meantime, nothing about her life is on hold. [Editor’s note: I’ve decided to “identify” as a billionaire, and I think I’ll sue the government until it gives me enough money to make it true. At least then it would be true. White people can “identify” as black all they want — it doesn’t make it true.]

Even Stewart, whose self-conception leans white, [Editor’s note: “Self conception leans white?” Are you getting tired of this twaddle yet? One has the impression that this is really the first time these people have ever thought of this moronic codswallop, and that they figured they needed to tell the mosquito-like, pesky researcher who wrote this nitwittery something so she’d just freakin’ go away.] says that any children he has with his wife, who is also white, would decide what to call themselves. “Of course it would be up to them to determine,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to hide anything, and I hope they would embrace their [black] heritage at least to the extent of being able to say, ‘Yeah, this is where I came from, and it’s only by accident of birth that I don’t have to worry about every interaction with the police, etc.’ ” [Editor’s note: It just might be also by “accident” of good behavior that you wouldn’t have to deal with the police… if you were to pass that message to the rest of American black people, you would save thousands of lives. And, you’d drastically improve the chances that future “interactions with the police” would be positive ones. Just sayin’ … ]

Freeman, too, expects that little blond Cheyson will “spell everything out” when it comes to his background. But she’s more concerned about what that heritage, especially the African-American part, means for who he is. “I hope he stands for justice, equity and fairness. Regardless of how he identifies racially, I want him to understand oppression, structural barriers and the like. I want him to realize we don’t live in a colorblind society and that race—not just class—still very much matters,” she says. [Editor’s note: Correct! We live in a society heavily weighted in favor of black people, or of anyone who could possibly be perceived, thought of, imagined, conceived, or dreamt of as “black,” ie little Cheyson or Melora. One imagines a scenario in which young Chey meets sweet Melora and they fall in love. As they speak of future plans, in their heads they calculate the extent to which each brings government-goodies to the union. If it’s insufficient for one, then the other needs to be really sure that he or she is committed to the marriage.]

Troutman plans to communicate a similar message to her daughter: “I think Melora will understand she’s a woman of color [Editor’s note: even though she’s not actually dark-skinned? How stupid is that?!? Billy’s mom: Really, Billy, you’re a person of color, even though you’re not a person of color! Got it? Billy: Huh? Billy’s mom: If you call yourself a black kid, you’ll get free money, food, housing and education, so, you see, you’re a “person of color.” Billy: Ooooooohhh… Got it. You betcha! I am a person of color, and if you don’t recognize me as such, I’ll haul your sorry backsides in front of this tribunal or that one and you’ll go down!] even though she’s light. She’ll understand that she has this history and it means something.”

In their hopes for their children, there’s a two-part mantra that’s perhaps a peek at the future of racial identity for all of us: “It’s up to me, and it matters.”

So what!

It seems pretty apparent that the racial stuff comes from the parents. There are millions of stories of kids who grew up with no racial preconceived notions that were not imposed on them by their parents. An anecdote might be instructive here: My daughter was growing up in a prosperous suburb of Connecticut’s state capital. One of her best friends in the private school where she received her elementary education was Bonnie.(1) Bonnie is a black girl. To this day, my daughter has never mentioned Bonnie’s skin color, but Bonnie’s parents have spoken of race often. My daughter and Bonnie remain close and delight in each other’s presence. I, also, delight in Bonnie’s presence. She’s a sweet, funny, bouncy, delightful, talented, artistic young woman. Oh, and by the way she’s black.(2) The question of Bonnie’s race comes up only from Bonnie and she got it from her parents. 

Fails the “So what” test. Miserably.

Bottom line:

This was an essay from someone who needs to spend a whole heckuva lot more time figuring out what she actually believes in herself, rather than deriving her sense of self-worth from whatever grievance group or groups she can plug herself into. I’ve often told my children and their friends, ” You need to determine who, how and what you are before you do anything of any lasting consequence. If you don’t do that, then who, how or what you become will be determined by someone else.”

This is the story of the RGI. They have allowed scum-sucking parasites like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Touré, Melissa Harris-Perry and Barack Obama to tell them who, how and what they are. If they were to think for themselves, they would recognize the “thinking” of the RGI for the poison that it is.

It’s important to note that there are lots of things that resoundingly pass the “So what!” test. Wiping out slavery, for example, or eradicating socialism, Naziism, Obamacare, Communism… So what? Wiping out these things did or would improve significantly the lives of hundreds of millions. God and basic human decency demand that of us.

That’s so what.

— xPraetorius

Notes:


(1) – Not her real name

(2) – Yes, I’m aware that I told you before that she’s black.


Below is the text of the post that I used for my own post, above.


 

In the past, these Americans would have been labeled “quadroons” or “octoroons.” Today their options are so much broader. What can they teach us about race in 2014 and in the future?

Posted: May 12 2014 3:00 AM

beyondbiracialsplitmainimage

Alexi Nunn Freeman and son Cheyson; Ian Stewart; Melora Hutcheson

Stephanie Troutman, a 36-year-old professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., has a white mother and a black father. She has her own family’s racial elevator speech down to a single sentence: “I’m a mixed woman who has a child with a black man and a child with a white man.” Her 7-year-old son, Rex, is unambiguous when it comes to his racial identity and “very pro black,” even protesting when he’s described as merely “brown,” she says.

With her 11-year-old daughter, Melora—whose pale, golden-hued skin; light eyes; and long, copper-colored hair prompt strangers to ask if she’s “Mediterranean” or “Arab”—things aren’t as simple.

“For now I’ve told her that she’s a person of color. That’s the best way I can explain it. I want to take it away from black and white because those are weird options for her,” Troutman says. “But I always kind of knew that I’d have a kid who looked white, and I was right. When Melora was born, my friends were like, ‘How did her dad’s white hippie granola genes completely beat out your biracial genes?’ ”

Despite those biracial genes, Troutman realized as a teen that most people see her as “just light skinned” (in other words, black). That hit home one day in the mid-1990s when, in a classically tragic black-identity-forming moment, a Florida stranger yelled “nigger” at her from a passing car.

“At first I was like, ‘Damn, that’s kind of messed up. Who are they yelling at?’ And then I realized I was the only person on the street.”

Given the way she’s perceived, Troutman is “willing to talk about the biracial thing”—her own mixed heritage—in certain contexts, but most of the time, she says, “I don’t think there’s anything new or interesting about it.”

What is interesting to Troutman is the experience of her preteen daughter, who, if you’re doing the crude math, is one-quarter black. She’s the kind of person who would have been called a “quadroon” when that “one-drop rule”-inspired term appeared on census forms between about 1850 and 1920, alongside its also-retired relatives, “octoroon” (one-eighth black) and mulatto (one-half).

Of course, as Zebulon V. Miletsky, a visiting assistant professor of Africana studies at Stony Brook University whose research interests include the history of the mixed-race experience, explains, “A lot of times, the people who took the census would sort of guess those things.”

Troutman is well aware that people still make those guesses. It’s something she considers when she imagines how her daughter will be seen, and see herself, as she gets older.

stephanie_melora_portrait

Stephanie Troutman’s daughter, Melora

 

BENJAMIN STONE/BENJAMIN STONE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

“I don’t think anyone is ever going to be yelling ‘nigger’ at Melora,” says Troutman. “But she does get asked what she is. She’s definitely in an interesting and ambiguous space.”

Attention to Americans who have both black- and white-identified parents peaked during what Miletsky calls the “biracial boom” of the 1990s. They found celebrity touchstones in the likes of Mariah Carey and Halle Berry; validation from support organizations; and—in the ultimate victory for those whose rallying cry was “Don’t put me in a box!“—the creation in 2000 of a new, multiracial census category. With that, says Ralina L. Joseph, author of Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial, came the fading of the “tragic mulatto” stereotype and the emergence of the “millennium mulatto,” along with an accompanying sense of legitimacy.

But people like Melora face a new and different dilemma. Their racial mixture can feel too fragmented for old, no-longer-politically-correct terms like “mulatto” and even the irreverent hybrids like “blewish” and “blexican” that the “biracial boom” crowd created to rename themselves. Making things even more complicated for 2014’s cohort of people with just one black-identified grandparent is the dearth of cultural references providing a blueprint for how they might identify. As Ian Stewart, the 31-year-old son of a biracial father and white mother, puts it, “There’s a lot out there for the half-black, but a lot less out there for the quarter.”

There’s a lot out there for the half-black, but a lot less out there for the quarter.

For nearly as long as people labeled white and black have inhabited this country, there have been people like Melora, who have a racial heritage that’s very mixed, either in their immediate families or intergenerationally. But “quadroon,” the old term for them, has long been retired. Moreover, there’s waning interest in sorting people into any firm, predetermined categories. So “the quarter” and their parents are making it up as they go along, defining themselves in ways that stretch our understanding of racial identity itself.

It’s a New World for Racial Identity

“If Melora was born in a different time, if she had the option of passing as white, especially during slavery, that would be a legitimate choice. But I don’t see that it’s the same anymore,” says Troutman.

She’s right. Things have changed. Melora is unlikely to grapple with outdated questions about passing or not passing, or even with more modern ones about choosing versus refusing to choose. Her challenge, instead, will be navigating the seemingly infinite options for self-definition.

“What is different today than in, say, 1945 is the way in which we have a much more fluid understanding of race,” says Joseph. She’s referring to our ever loosening attachment to the strict red, yellow, brown, black and white racial categories conceived of by 18th-century German scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, whose now debunked idea of natural divisions provided the basis for those who would push for biology-based racism.

Today we know there’s nothing scientific about dividing up humans this way. Alongside that understanding has come an increasing openness, as the country’s self-identified multiracial “changing face of America” skyrockets, to letting people describe themselves. In an implicit acknowledgment that this is all highly subjective, Pew queried Americans in 2009 about how they “mostly see” President Obama—mixed-race or black. There was little consensus, and that’s no surprise.

An extreme example of how muddy this can get: A self-confessed white supremacist attempting to launch an all-white community in North Dakota made headlines when it was revealed that he had 14 percent sub-Saharan African ancestry. (DNA tests can reveal the geographical origins of ancestors, a piece of information that is, contrary to popular belief, not the same as race.)

Today, when it comes to what heritage means for identity, there are, in Miletsky’s words, “so many more options.”

Options for Identity Are Unlimited—Except by Parents’ Instructions

For a glimpse into Melora’s possible future, Troutman could look at 32-year-old Alexi Nunn Freeman, whose sole African-American grandparent is on her black-Italian-Cherokee father’s side, and whose mother identifies as a Russian Jew. The Denver civil rights lawyer-turned-law professor’s skin is, at its darkest, tan. Her nose is straight and tiny. Her fine, loosely curled hair is, in her words, “like Shakira’s on its best days.”

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Alexi Nunn Freeman (bottom left) with her sister and parents

 

COURTESY OF ALEXI NUNN FREEMAN

 

Like Melora, she is subjected to plenty of guesses about her background—Brazilian and Puerto Rican top among them. She calls scrutiny of her appearance “unfortunate.” But Freeman, who spent her years in high school, college and law school thrusting herself into any and every ethnic-affinity organization to which she could lay claim, is proud to explain her heritage in detail. Thanks to the messages she received at home, that has often meant adamantly claiming and even emphasizing the black part.

“My dad would tell my sister and I, ‘You’re all these wonderful things, but never be ashamed and never shy away from that side, despite your appearance. Identify proudly,” she recalls. “And my mom would say, ‘Daddy’s right. My daughters are black.’ ”

My dad would tell my sister and I, ‘You’re all these wonderful things, but never be ashamed and never shy away from that side, despite your appearance. Identify proudly.’

Can a parent’s instructions really determine whether a kid is black or white?

The entirely different outlooks of Freeman and of Ian Stewart (who lamented the lack of resources for “the quarter”) suggest that they can. Stewart, a software tester and student from Salt Lake City, has a half-black dad who, he says, “never considered himself very attached to black culture, always being something of a nerdy outsider,” and didn’t care to weigh in on his son’s racial identity. His mom, taking what he remembers as a “colorblind” stance, didn’t give him much to work with, either.

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Ian Stewart as a child, with his father

 

COURTESY OF IAN STEWART

 

The result? Stewart—who grew from a blue-eyed, blond-haired baby who few believed could be related to his black grandmother to a mustached, pink-skinned man—considers himself “both white and mixed” (“the same way Obama considers himself black and mixed,” he says). Sure, he knows that he has African-descended ancestors who were enslaved, but his identity is mostly informed by how he was brought up. No one perceived him as or told him he was black. “Effectively,” he says, “I’ve had the white experience.”

Looks Inform but Don’t Decide Racial Identity

When it comes to racial identity in America, “The mix itself is one piece, but the appearance thing has always been big,” says Miletsky. In fact, scientists say that people register race in about a tenth of a second, even before they discern gender.

Troutman is keenly aware of that at times. Like when Melora asks her babysitter to give her braids with beads on the ends. “I think it’s kind of interesting because we’re in a moment where there are white women in hip-hop culture who wear black hairstyles. I feel like it reads that way on her to other people,” she says. “Then some of my students have said, ‘If you move to the hood, you’re gonna have to watch Melora, ’cause she kind of has black-girl booty, long hair, light eyes, so, as she gets older … you know … ‘ And I’m just like, ‘Oh. OK.’ ”

Aside from the underlying message that, in the black community, Melora’s ambiguous looks would give her points for beauty (Troutman is quick to clarify, “That is not a belief that I agree with”), predictions like this are reminders that wherever Melora’s life takes her, people will be sizing her up—or trying to—and race will always be part of the equation.

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. “Chey is white, white, white. I like to say he has an olive complexion, but really, he’s fair, with wispy blond hair with a slight curl. I think he’s an absolute munchkin, but he definitely looks like a white boy,” she says.

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Alexi Nunn Freeman with her husband, Jim, and son, Cheyson

 

COURTESY OF ALEXI NUNN FREEMAN

 

“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. However, I will tell him he’s multiracial, and I will tell him that he’s black. I will do what my father did with me and tell him about the significance of blackness in this country and the privileges he carries because of the way he looks.”

She’s envisioning what author Joseph calls a “politicized understanding of blackness”—in layman’s terms, a “First and foremost I’m black” approach. Joseph says that this view stands out among mixed-race African Americans who, “although they don’t have the phenotypes of race, are still insistent on accepting blackness as a category.”

Custom-Made Self-Descriptions Come From Inside, Not Out

“Melora has never really asked me directly, ‘Am I black? Am I white? What am I?’ I think she does recognize herself as multiracial, and she knows that she comes from a diverse family,” says Troutman. “The thing is, she’s extremely comfortable and fine, whether we go to my dad’s for family things, where everyone is black, or when she’s around her white friends.”

Troutman’s lack of urgency about making a declaration is revealing of a modern attitude about race. Melora will ask when she’s curious. She’ll decide what to call herself and how to think of herself when she’s ready. No one is threatening to do it for her. And in the meantime, nothing about her life is on hold.

Even Stewart, whose self-conception leans white, says that any children he has with his wife, who is also white, would decide what to call themselves. “Of course it would be up to them to determine,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to hide anything, and I hope they would embrace their [black] heritage at least to the extent of being able to say, ‘Yeah, this is where I came from, and it’s only by accident of birth that I don’t have to worry about every interaction with the police, etc.’ ”

Freeman, too, expects that little blond Cheyson will “spell everything out” when it comes to his background. But she’s more concerned about what that heritage, especially the African-American part, means for who he is. “I hope he stands for justice, equity and fairness. Regardless of how he identifies racially, I want him to understand oppression, structural barriers and the like. I want him to realize we don’t live in a colorblind society and that race—not just class—still very much matters,” she says.

Troutman plans to communicate a similar message to her daughter: “I think Melora will understand she’s a woman of color even though she’s light. She’ll understand that she has this history and it means something.”

In their hopes for their children, there’s a two-part mantra that’s perhaps a peek at the future of racial identity for all of us: “It’s up to me, and it matters.”

 

 

 

 

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