Having a multiracial family, I find myself more cognizant of labels that people place on each other according to race. When Micheline first came home at age four, she knew her colors in Creole, and started learning them in English. She was confused when people would label her as black. After all, she knew the color black, and her skin was not black. She began to accept this label, however, until one day in the store when she said, “Mom that lady has black skin just like me!” The woman came over and gently corrected her and said, “No, honey, your skin is brown like mine.”
I’m not wild about the term African-American to describe my daughter because she is not from Africa. She’s from Haiti. So do we tell everyone she is Haitian-American? Just last week a woman called my daughter African-American and when I said, “Actually, she is Haitian”, she replied, “Oh, so she’s a refugee?” Not quite sure how she made that false connection; maybe she didn’t realize one can adopt from Haiti?
When Micheline was in a co-op preschool, one of the other mothers decided to “help” my daughter color a picture one day. I guess in an attempt to be racially sensitive, she colored the child on the page black. As in, really black. As in Crayola color black. Nothing could have looked more ridiculous. Micheline was even puzzled why this woman chose black because as she said, “Mom, I don’t look like that!” Needless to say, the next week when preschool was at my home, I sent each child home with a Multicultural 8 pack of Crayola colors. It consists of Apricot, Burnt Sienna, Mahogany, Peach, Sepia, and Tan, as well as black and white for blending. I found this great site to purchase multicultural art materials, because as they say on their site, “we have come a long way from the days when the box of crayons contained only one ‘flesh’ color.”
Here is a photo I found on my camera that my kids took just for fun. Some of the arms are of my children and one is of a neighbor. Whose is whose doesn’t really matter. Now just because the arm on the left is the darkest, is it black? Is the arm on the right really white? Heck no! Here is the current list of colors that Crayola offers in their boxes. It used to be acceptable many years ago to call people of African descent, “colored”. Aren’t we all colored?
Wouldn’t it be more fun to say, “Hey Mom, can I go play with Mackenzie? No, not the sepia one, the burnt sienna one!” ? Or, “Police say the suspect is a desert sand colored male, approximately 25 years of age.” Better yet, I love the color descriptions in the book The Color of Us. People are described as delicious foods such as the color of chocolate, pizza crust, cinnamon and even creamy peanut butter.
Unfortunately, I don’t see labeling people as peanut butter colored taking off, but you have to admit, it’s much more ingenious than the labels of black, white, yellow, red and brown! Seeing how I was teased once in high school by being called “mayonnaise legs”, it’s not hard for you to figure out just how fair I really am. Maybe after being in the sun and getting freckles, you could call me “french vanilla with a splash of nutmeg.”
It would be best if we were not labeled by color at all, but if you had to choose a color, how would you creatively describe yourself and/or your family? Leave me a comment and let me know. I’ll put the entries in a hat and send a package of Crayola multicultural crayons and markers to the winner.
p.s. We do have a black member of our family…he’s an 85 lb Rottweiler/Lab mix. I prefer to label him as licorice. 🙂