Crayons Communicate Stereotypes About Skin Color

May 21st, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

Today, my 4 year old son realized that Crayola has a crayon that he called “body color.”

He picked the color that represented his own skin color and made his assertion confidently and matter-of-factly. It was loaded with all sorts of implications that he could not have been aware of related to stereotypes and skin color. He said it in a way that implied that his skin color was normal and all else was something ‘other’ than that, something different, something not as normal.

I decided to follow my own advice about how to talk to children about exclusionary behavior which I posted as 20 tips in the last month in a blog series on the topic. I combined several tips together (specifically 6,7,8, and 16).

I made a simple casual statement in response to his observation. “Well, there are lots of body colors.”

Before I knew it my son was way ahead of me. He pulled out every potential skin color in the large crayon box. As he pulled out each crayon he said “This is a skin color” and “This is a skin color” and on and on. Indeed, I didn’t need to say anything more. The original crayon might have been the first one he noticed as a skin color, but with one sentence the flood gates opened to the full potential of different skin colors.

With each crayon he added a scribble on his sheet of paper. All of this took no persuasion on my part. The much harder part was getting him to write “Body Color” on the top of the page.

Each scribble is of essentially equal length and width. For him, there was no priority or preference.

Today, my 4 year old son showed me that all people are equal regardless of skin color.

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  1. May 30th, 2013 at 21:42

    I love this post! It’s so true. I am very excited that there are not only separate marker boxes by Crayola of Multicultural colors and I think they did a box of crayons of different skin colors too. In addition, another company makes these cool sticks with people shapes on them, sort of like a thick popsicle stick with an outline of a person, and they come in varying “skin” tones from very dark brown to lighter shades. I also now have a cool “pad” that is paper shaped like a paper doll in a variety of skin tones as well. You can make paper dolls or take the body form and paste it onto another piece of paper and then “dress’ or decorate your multicultural paper doll. Unfortunately I also am sad to report that Caran Dache, a company I love, still labels its light pinky peach crayon as “flesh”. So do many companies that make various forms of paint. So there’s still a lot more out there in the art supply zone to fix so children can be introduced to a variety of “flesh” tones… My daughter thinks it’s funny when we engage in these conversations about how people come in all colors and I say it doesn’t matter if your skin is this or that or “green”, it’s what’s inside that counts, that “mommy, nobody is green” “Yes people sometimes turn green in the face!” I tell her…

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