When I was little, I called the apricot crayon “the skin color one.” I meant no harm by it, so I saw nothing wrong with it. Psychologically, I was in the preoperational stage of cognitive development experiencing egocentrism, so I was unable to see other points of view on my own.
However, a little later on, I came across a picture book in which a Black child felt hurt and unimportant after a white child called a crayon “the skin color one.” I then realized the effects of what I was saying. Even though we may have harmless intentions, our impacts matter more.
I began to work on calling that crayon “apricot,” which is what it’s really called. I’ve worked a lot with kids, and I’m constantly reminding myself to make sure I call that crayon “apricot,” no matter the race of the kids hanging out with me.
I’ve learned a lot, especially in college, about how important representation is. We need to see people who look like us succeeding and overcoming barriers. We need to know we’re not alone in the obstacles we face.
For an article I wrote for school, I talked to several Black men from my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, who said the lack of representation of Black men and Black men succeeding made them feel isolated and unable to do well themselves. Additionally, professors and academic advisors made them feel like they weren’t good enough.
These feelings are not only deeply real, but they have harmful academic effects as well: While 74 percent of Asians and 64 percent of Caucasians graduated college, only 35 percent of Black men graduated. Black men are certainly smart enough, but when they’re told they aren’t and don’t have that representation, no wonder they struggle to succeed at similar rates.
In addition to seeing success in those who look like us, we need to see it in those who don’t look like us too. When we see stereotypes or harmful, one-dimensional views of an identity group, they negatively affect our biases.
Biases, race and racism aren’t topics only for adults — these conversations involve children as well. Even kids will witness, experience and maybe even be the cause of discrimination.
In her biomythography “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name,” Audre Lorde shares times in her childhood when she learned about racism. For example, because of the Jim Crow laws, she and her family couldn’t eat their ice cream at the counter. At school, she runs for vice president despite her mother’s warnings, but loses to a white student even though she’s more fit for the position. These are only a few examples she shares; Lorde experiences racism abundantly throughout her life, as many people of color do.
Research shows kids learn about race and racism as early as preschool. At this age, they begin to notice racial differences and even exclude others. They aren’t able to see people as multi-dimensional, so they’re quick to divide themselves over differences in appearance.
Research also shows Black parents are more likely to discuss race with their children than white parents are — likely because of the experiences they’ll face like Lorde did.
But we white parents, teachers and people need to talk about race earlier with kids too.
Anti-racist educator Abdullah Muhammad suggests people educate themselves first. We must understand not only racism and how it’s prevalent in our country, but also our implicit biases and how they affect others.
Parents and teachers can also buy Crayola’s new box of “Colors of the World” crayons that show many skin tones. In this box, no one “skin color crayon” is included — they’re all skin colors.
Children need to grow up with an understanding of how race and racism impact others, as well as the importance of their empathy in the matter. Further, children retain many experiences and environmental cues when they’re young. By taking advantage of that plasticity in their brains and affecting their viewpoints early on, we can cause a positive change that will affect them and others for the rest of their lives.
Calling the apricot crayon “apricot” is more than just that — it’s changing how we see and respect people of other races. It’s how we help children and people feel included and important. It’s how we give them the representation they need and deserve to succeed at the same level. It’s about equity, knowing the “playing field” isn’t equal for everyone, so we need to level it for those who don’t have the same advantages.
No matter if we work with kids or not, we can educate ourselves about racism, our implicit biases and how we can fight against the two. I’m personally a fan of the show “Dear White People” on Netflix; it’s taught me a lot about experiences Black people go through that I don’t as a white person.
The lives and well-being of people of color are at stake, so let’s get moving.
Ashley Broadwater is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied Public Relations in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She’s passionate about mental health, body positivity, relationships, Halloween and Dad jokes.