50 Shades of Skin

I know that in my first blog post, Our Multicultural Missteps, I emphasized pretty fervidly that multiculturalism is about much more than just race. However, I have recently been feeling quite passionately about the way we reference race in our everyday conversations.

I’ll start with a tale! Last week before uploading my post to the blogosphere, I had a few friends read it over and provide me with some feedback. One of my friends was particularly taken aback that I used the phrase “white girls” so casually in my piece. I explained to him that I wasn’t being disrespectful in any fashion. They are white, and they are girls. Plain and simple, right?

Well, as I have come to observe, not everyone thinks this way. I have frequently heard people make the claim “I don’t see race.” To be frank, the only people who can actually make this claim are those who are legally colorblind. When we look at people, our eyes automatically work to perceive the color of their skin, and this information is relayed to our brains making us actively conscious of race.

Sure- I know that’s not the exact expression behind the claim. It’s more so a way for people to justify that they aren’t “racist.” However, recognizing that someone is African American and referring to him as “black” does not display racism. Racism comes into play when prejudices and discrimination are employed or implied. Someone’s skin color isn’t a secret (except potentially for the colorblind crowd), but there seems to be a common belief among society that we need to keep it one. Failing to recognize our racial differences does nothing but perpetuate an environment of exclusiveness and mental segregation in which we are too apprehensive to celebrate our diversity.

As a society, it is our current job to stop avoiding conversations about race and create them instead. We need to eliminate the awkward comments and minuscule mentionings (Oprah provides a handful of far-too-relatable examples here) of our differences in skin color, and instead adopt a fresh perspective in which we appreciate them. As the knowledgeable Eleanor Roosevelt once said …”if we are to live together, we will have to talk.”

Let’s jump into a more concrete context to highlight our lack of racial communication. Each and everyday, we encounter subtleties of racial complications that we rarely seem to recognize. One of the most prominent ones to me is the lack of a diverse color spectrum in the sales industry.

One of the most easily noticeable instances of this is with makeup foundations. In recent years, a spotlight has been brought to the trouble that people of color frequently have while shopping for makeup. This article from Cosmopolitan explains the rigorous process that some women go through to find a foundation that perfectly matches and flatters their skin complexions. But I’m sure that if you’re a woman, you noticed the racial barrier that makeup presents when you tried to borrow foundation from a friend but quickly realized that it simply would not blend into your face.

How many of you recall drawing a picture of yourself in elementary school? All you had were the school-provided crayons, so you and your peers widely referred to the apricot-colored crayon as “skin color.” You may have found it a little strange when your friend with brown skin asked you to pass the “skin color” crayon, but at six years old, you were too young to say anything about it, which is understandable. After all, do you recall your teachers ever trying to address it? Doubtful. However, now Crayola has marketed their pack of eight “multicultural” crayons, so hopefully kids in the second grade today are more able to express their individual skin colors than my peers and I were in 2005.

When you think of the color “nude,” what pigment do you envision? Oftentimes, people talk about a need for nude colored undergarments, and still today, women who have less popular shades of skin struggle to find bras that complement their complexions. Just last year, Aerie launched a line under their Real Me collection that introduced some new colors of bras that are hard to come by in stores.

But what about things that we might not consider much? Stockings are typically only sold in two shades- the (usually poor) attempt at “latte” and a stark “black.” How about band-aids? Leotards and ballet slippers?

To conclude, we have only begun to soften the racial confines that many individuals have been stuck behind for years now. And the way that society was able to materialize adjustments that overcame these confines was by talking. Groups of individuals found courage and used it to propel dialogue regarding racial equity and recognition. Do you know what happened? The voices were heard.

There is no way for us to learn about each other’s endeavors with race if we keep our thoughts bundled up in our brains. So instead of writing about racial conflicts in our diaries, let’s become one another’s verbal diaries and think aloud. Let’s articulate, exchange, and share.

One thought on “50 Shades of Skin

  1. Hi Caitlin.
    I really enjoyed your blog. It really opened my eyes to a lot of things that have always seemed so innocent to me, even back when i was just a young kid. Your write up on the skin color crayons was fascinating. I know that my friends and I always referred to apricot as skin color. I’m from a very very white town myself so at that age it never even really occurred to me until much later that people of different races would think it’s weird asking for the skin color crayon when it’s not even the same color as their skin.
    I also really enjoyed the part about companies beginning to release products designed for people’s races. It never occurred to me until reading this blog that people would want band aids to match up with their skin. I thought about what it would be like for me to have to wear a darkly colored bandage and I know I would not like how much it stood out on me, so I can’t imagine people of other races would like lightly colored band aids sticking out so much. The race neutral bras was another thing that I’ve never thought about, but that’s more because I rarely, if ever spend time shopping for bras.
    Your blog was really eye opening and it has a lot of cultural significance. We absolutely shouldn’t ignore people’s races to avoid feeling racist. We should be able to celebrate everyone for their heritage rather than sweep it under the rug, Great work I can’t wait to see what you wrote about in your passion blog this week.

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