Hashtag Maternal Heritage

"HashtagMaternalHeritage" oil on canvas. 54" x 30"

I saw this girl in a parking lot one day at UNC, and I asked her if she would let me paint her portrait. Her complexion and her hair color caught my eye. Whenever I meet a black person with skin lighter than mine, I assume they have a closer White ancestor than I'd find in my own family tree. She came to sit for some photos. We talked. Her mother is actually German. That detail about her mother's identity might have been the least provocative thing of everything we discussed. At the same time I realized that I'm obsessed with that question: "What are you?" I know that's ignorant and fortunately it never actually comes out of my mouth that way, but I always want to know details about a person's ethnic background. Most of the time a conversation based on that inquiry falls flat, but somehow my curiosity still feels justified.