Conversations with Cristopher: The Color of Skin

One of the neighbor kids came to play at our house last week, playing and painting and hanging out with my 7 year old daughter, Evelyn, and almost 5 year old son, Cristopher. Kevin, the 5 year old neighbor, was painting with the kids, creating a landscape with people in it. Evelyn was teaching the younger kids how to mix primary colors to make new paint colors.

“Evelyn, I need ‘skin’ color; can you make ‘skin’ color for me?” Kevin asked.

I was nearby and because the sociologist in me wanted to see if Kevin saw his own skin as the “norm”, I asked Kevin, “what kind of skin color do you want Evelyn to make for you?”

I wondered if he would see his own skin color as the “normal” skin color. We often see our own skin color as the “normal” skin color, and in the U.S., products often, especially historically, have both covertly and overtly insinuated that white or peach is the “normal” skin color.

I wondered if Kevin would see his own skin color as the norm.

“Skin. Like, you know, the regular skin color,” he replied, as he painted on a large sheet of paper.

I asked Evelyn if she could make ‘skin’ color for Kevin to paint with.

“Sure,” Evelyn replied, and happily started mixing her paints.

I went back to slicing vegetables.

Cristopher, sitting at the table as well, painting an abstract masterpiece (he’s really a horrible painter; no skill at all, sorry, kid), piped up quietly but with confidence, and said what I wish I could have said, but didn’t, because it’s not my place with other people’s children.

“Kevin, human skin comes in all different colors,” he dipped his brush into a random color, brushed his paper with no focus. “It comes in black and gray and brown and white.” He shrugged his shoulders, dipped his paint brush again. “Humans are all different colors.”

It’s such a huge leap, to not see your own skin as “normal” or “regular”. It’s something I’ve never explicitly taught Cristopher; he’s only 4, I don’t have discussions about race or ethnicity with him. But somehow, he’s understanding that there is no “regular” or “normal” when it comes to skin color. He’s seeing it in the world around him, I think, that everyone is different, that his own skin color isn’t the “regular” color.

And if he doesn’t see his color as “regular” or “normal”, then he won’t see other colors as “irregular” or “abnormal”. It gives me hope that maybe if he’s able to understand that “normal” isn’t really normal at all, then he won’t place the value of a human in the how well their skin color fits his “norm.”