Glimpsing “Whiteness” in a Box of Crayons

“Whiteness” in a Box of Crayons

Due to white privilege and a convoluted racial history in the United States, the average white American does not recognize their color in a way that few black people can be unaware of their race.*

When I was a child, I enjoyed colouring books. Much to my more visually artistic younger sister’s disapproval, I enjoyed staying in the lines and sticking to what I perceived as realistic or proper colours for things, i.e. skies were blue (sky blue, if i had it), grass was green, and tree trunks were brown, etc. To help me lay my hands on the right colour, I put my crayons back in their box in an organized fashion. My own children do not share this need for crayon organization nor my love of colouring books. Using blank sheets of paper, my eldest son rarely even cares about the edges. And once the crayons are out of the box, they never seem to make their way back into the box.

Now, in the days when I was colouring, in the large boxes of crayons, alongside Aquamarine, Sky Blue, Chestnut Brown, Magenta, etc. one could find a crayon labelled Flesh. The colour was a sort of orangey-pink (like the one in the featured image). While it did not match my own skin tone which was paler by comparison at least in the winter or a brighter more painful red in the summer, I understood that this crayon was attempting to represent my skin tone in the same way that Sky Blue was attempting to match the sky on a clear summer day or Chestnut Brown was attempting to match the hue of a typical mature chestnut.

Perhaps, if Flesh had been a nearer match to my own skin colour, I would not have become aware of how odd it was to call this particular hue Flesh or Flesh Tone. As it happened, I grew up in a bi-racial home. So, while Flesh approximated my skin colour (at least for half the year), it most certainly did not match my Dad’s skin colour nor the flesh tones of my younger sister who sat across from me colouring a pink tree and going purposefully outside the lines. Continue reading “Glimpsing “Whiteness” in a Box of Crayons”