For centuries, the racial makeup of the United States has been viewed as a dichotomy; you’re either white or a minority. Even among minority groups, Americans are classified as either Hispanic or non-Hispanic. But as a result of increases in interracial marriages and biracial births, the average American now checks more than one box.
In National Geographic‘s 125th Anniversary Issue, photographer Martin Schoeller and writer Lise Funderberg demonstrate this by presenting America’s changing face. “I want to challenge the way we use appearance to shape identity,” Shoeller said. The pictorial piece features Americans with varying ages, appearances, and hometowns, while also showing how they self-identify and how they responded on the census. The story challenges the normative ideas of multiracial identity, by presenting people who are not just Black and white.
“I just say I’m brown,” McKenzi McPherson, 9, says. “And I think, Why do you want to know?” Maximillian Sugiura, 29, says he responds with whatever ethnicity provides a situational advantage. Loyalties figure in too, especially when one’s heritage doesn’t show up in phenotypical facial features, hair, or skin. Yudah Holman, 29, self-identifies as half Thai and half black, but marks Asian on forms and always puts Thai first, “because my mother raised me, so I’m really proud of being Thai.”
These images don’t indicate an immediate change in U.S. racial relations, however. There are still great strides to be made toward equality and acceptance, and we are certainly not post-racial. What Schoeller and Funderberg suggest is that this new cultural hybridity makes it more difficult to determine who is just like us and who is not, thereby forcing us to create connections with all types of people.