Creole identity is a complicated thing in Louisiana, says Kristina Robinson, 29, of New Orleans.
It's an ethnicity, a cultural designation for people descended from colonial settlers in Louisiana, mainly of French and Latin lineage.
The term Creole was claimed by the French and Spanish settlers in colonial times but it also referred to Africans and people who were a mixture of races. Those mixed-race descendants became a unique racial group and sometimes even included Native American heritage.
But in popular representation, Robinson says Creole has come to be defined as skin color.
She doesn't want to deny the rich Creole history but she doesn't identify as such if it means moving away from her blackness.
Black people think that her embrace of Creole means a rejection of being black.
Race equals identity, or not?
Race is a social construct; identity is personal.
That's how James Bartlett, 31, views it.
"I'm black, I'm biracial," he says of his black father and Irish mother, who met and married in Louisville, Kentucky, just a few years after a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.
He was raised in an all-black neighborhood; his mother was the only white person on the block.
"I interchanged between saying I am biracial and I am black," he says. "The culture I live in is black. I felt black because black people considered me black. That was because of the one drop rule."
But later, when he went to Ghana, the locals thought he was from Lebanon. Kids called him "Oburoni," the word for a white man.
Bartlett felt as though he were being told he was not who he really was even before he could interact with them, as though they were taking away his black identity.
"It put me on the complete opposite side of the coin," Bartlett says. "The first reaction was to put me in a box."
In America, people thought of him as a lot of things but not usually straight-up white.
"It's difficult for me to separate race and identity," says Bartlett, the newly named executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Diasporan African Arts in Brooklyn.
He is black, he says, because he didn't grow up with white privilege. What is that? The freedom, he replies, to not have to address race.
"I definitely didn't grow up with that," he says.
Being white in America is also knowing that people who look like you are always representing your interests in institutions of power.
"That is the essence of white privilege," he says. "Regardless of changing (demographic) percentages and numbers, racial representation is going to remain out of balance for quite some time."
In some ways, Bartlett says, he has been more attuned to race as a light-skinned black man than he would have been had he been darker.
Bartlett feels white people in America are threatened by the tide of color across the nation and that it will give rise to an us against them" mentality.
"I think blackness will change, too," he says. "The biggest change in the near future will be the end of blackness as a diametric opposite to whiteness."
"I never wanted to distance myself from my black ancestors," says the creative writing graduate student at Dillard University.
"They are the ones who claim me."
In her light skin, Robinson understands the insidious ways of colorism, a system in which light skin is valued more than dark skin.
"Colorism is a major problem within the Creole community and the black community," she says. "It's underdiscussed. It's perplexing and vexing how to work out this idea. I can see how the one drop rule is why we have so much colorism in our society.
"One drop is a lie," she says. "Black plus white doesn't equal black or it doesn't equal white. It equals black plus white."
She calls herself black. But other people think she is from India or the Middle East, especially in her academic work environment, where she does not have black colleagues.
"The assumption is I am not black," she says.
Ultimately, she believes environment plays a big role in identity.
Few people, she says, think that of her sister. One reason may be that her sister has more of a button nose. But another reason is that she works in a field with more black people, whereas Robinson finds herself in academic settings where she is the sole black woman.
Robinson acknowledges her lighter skin gives her privilege in a color-conscious society.
"But in those situations where you have to identify yourself and you choose to identify yourself as white - there's a big denial going on there.
"I do think it's troublesome when someone who is of mixed race chooses to deny that part of them that was oppressed," she says.
Here and abroad
Charles Benjamin Cloud, 63, remembers a time when he was angry at all white people. That was in the time of the white water fountain and the black water fountain.
"They had their side of town; we had ours," he says of his childhood in New Bern, North Carolina.
As the son of a Cherokee man and a part-Cherokee, part-black woman, Cloud could have passed for something other than black.