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The Complexion Question Defining Race Has Never Been Easy

A multiracial writer traverses space and time to find the definitive answer to, “What are you?”


Once, when I was growing up in Arizona, my mother and father sat with me in front of a mirror and let me take in the differences in our three faces. My dad is part African American and part Sioux Indian, and his skin is very dark. My mom, an Ohioan of German descent, is white, but the harsh desert sun has deepened her natural complexion, offsetting her bright green eyes with tanned, sanguine cheeks. My face is a chestnut color, accompanied by brown eyes and a soft nose that’s wider than my mom’s but narrower than my dad’s.

“What am I?” I asked them that day. I was 6 years old.

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