Lori Curley: My kid recently asked, "What color am I?"
Given the assignment of drawing a self-portrait in the fifth grade, my son was perplexed. He could not decide which crayon best matched his skin. Beige? Not exactly. White? No way. Gray? Nah. Brown? Nope. He settled on "burnt sienna," an off-brown/tan color, but it still wasn't right, either.
Skin color, I explained, is complicated. He agreed. "You are not exactly white, Mom," he said. "You are more like a dirty countertop or a bookshelf left in the garage." (I am covered in freckles.) I have friends who some may call black, but upon closer inspection (and after a flip through Benjamin Moore's color wheel), are actually more "wrought iron" or "winter velvet" instead. If I compared my friend Tanisha to coffee blends, she might be "jungle java." But Kay -- who is also black -- is more of an "English tea."
It would make a lot more sense if they assigned us color numbers to reference when we apply for jobs or fill out census forms. That way, the data crunchers would have a more accurate picture of the skin colors that make up this country. We are not simply black and white -- or yellow, or brown or red. They could borrow the descriptions from the nail polish and lipstick manufacturers. They know color best. To them, we are suede, dark roast, razzmatazz, fever, boiling point, sand in my suit, vodka, Nantucket mist, midnight in Moscow, baby seal, sugar cane in the morning sun, woodland snow, black raspberry, vintage wine, bronze heat and bittersweet chocolate.
Last weekend, after four solid hours in the Florida sun, my fair, cornsilk daughter turned lobster red. I was surprised and pleased to see her claw her way to school this week. Had it been my skin and my middle school, I would have faked a stomachache to avoid the boys. She is a trouper -- true blue.