“Tannish-beige”

Back before the turn of the century, when my kids started public school in El Paso, they would describe friends by their names and actions.  You know, Mom! Frankie, the kid I play with at recess.  (As if I was there at recess to watch and know who was who!) I would be confused as to which child was being discussed, so I would ask for more details and the response might be, “He wears red shoes” or “He likes dinosaurs.”  It never even occurred to them to bring up color.

I admit that skin color was the last thing I would ask, because I didn’t want their first inclination to be to categorize anyone by skin color unless that was the natural thing for a child to do. (Maybe it was my own little experiment? I don’t know.) At any rate, if I couldn’t figure out which friend was being discussed, I usually had to ask, “What does he look like?” (I wasn’t there at recess!) and then it was light brown or medium brown or dark brown, or even “tannish-beige” (which is how my kids described their own skin. They “knew their colors” before going to school and they were sure that they were definitely NOT “white”, nor did that new friend have “black” skin. It was just a shade of brown or beige, really no different than anyone else. Even at the age of 6 or 7, my boys must have noticed that everyone in our family had a slightly different shade of beige or tan. The baby was the palest, because he couldn’t go outside and run in the sunshine. Daddy didn’t have much of a tan because he had to work in an office all day. Perhaps my kids thought that some of the other kids got to play outside more often and that was why they had darker skin?  Besides, in Sunday school they sang that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world — red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight — Jesus loves the little children of the world!”  They didn’t know any kids that looked like a primary color but they understood love.

My four boys, summer 2000. Note the very dark tan hand around the baby's middle.

One of my favorite pictures of my four boys, summer 2000. Note the tan hand around the baby’s middle.

I suspect that this thought process of theirs is what the younger generations now see: many colors, all different, and just that: a color. The kaleidoscope of color is a beautiful thing — a beautiful thing that isn’t what defines the person.

Admittedly, I am coming from a life where I was not discriminated against nor were cruel things said to me because of my skin tone. And yet, I still don’t like checking that box on school forms, the one that makes me choose my race. I’d rather give my heritage (German, Scotish, and a mixture of many others) than call myself “white” — especially since what really matters is what a person is like on the inside: heart, mind, and soul.

This post was inspired by another blogger’s post, found via Hilary’s “Post of the Week.”

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I’m a little early this week, but this is my submission for Time Warp Tuesday, which is the brainchild of Jenn at Juggling Life. Please visit her on Tuesday to see the other participants and their photos.

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8 thoughts on ““Tannish-beige”

  1. Cute dudes! While I was working as an aide in various first grade classes, the children painted life size portraits. We had a variety of tannish-beige colors they could choose, and we didn’t care what color they chose. The blonde girls often chose the darkest color because they were tan from the summer sun.

  2. I love the way you kidlets describe colours.. tannish beige, indeed! Kids are so much better than we are at pure acceptance. Adorable photo of your boys. Thanks for the linkage, KC. 🙂

  3. It’s always so funny what kids pick out as identifiers. My mom was HORRIFIED to hear me talk about “that black kid” when I was in kindergarten. Then she discovered he had BLACK HAIR, which, of course, made that a totally reasonable way for me to describe him, right?
    Those are some terribly cute kids in your world. Well, “were,” really.

  4. Oh, that picture–it really reminds me of those days.

    I’d like to think the younger generation is less racist than older ones, but I see so much evidence to the contrary. There are man kids out there not being raised with the attitude yours were.

  5. Hi Karen. As I sit on my bed with the flu, surfing the blogs, I found this post. I’m glad you were inspired by my post because you’ve told a sweet story with an important basis.The more open we are, the more everyone can understand that racial differences and what we call each other is slowly headed towards being a thing of the past.

    Your self-proclaimed tannish-beige boys were so cute! I’m sure they’ve grown into handsome young guys.

    (By the way, I too, tried my best not to ask my kids if someone was black or white when they were little. I think it worked because they have the best attitude toward their group of multi-racial friends.)

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