On Culture and Crayons

I have just returned from the Families in Global Transition conference held in Washington DC this past weekend. It will take some time to process all of the talks, quotes, and challenges that were given formally at the conference, and even longer to process the individual conversations. They were rich and meaningful at every level.

For three days I was with a group of people that get identity struggles of the person who lives between; that understand the paradox of place and home; that struggle at different times with belonging; that have said hundreds and hundreds of goodbyes.

I will be doing separate blog posts about the different sessions I attended but for now I want to leave you a quote.

This morning on social media I shared this quote from the conference key note speaker, Teja Arboleda: “the color of your skin has no bearing on your culture…there can be no multicultural crayon.” Teja gave an excellent talk called “The Ethnic Man.” His ethnicity and background are complicated, so he has used his experience to speak into issues of culture, race, and identity. He talked about finding out that Crayola had come up with the idea of marketing a box of “multicultural crayons” and his reaction to that. He also talked about his frustration when he first saw a ‘flesh-toned’ crayon. Because flesh is all kinds of colors, and with a simple child’s tool, the creators of those crayons dismissed a huge number of people who live in our world and also have flesh.

The quote resonates with a friend who responds within minutes:

“…here in Toronto, we’ve met a family from Jamaica who look Chinese…a family from Trinidad who look Indian…and another family from Zambia who look Indian! Meanwhile, my own 3 children could hail from any country in the world with their mixed-race skin color! I just wish there was a question on forms to allow them to claim “mixed race” status instead of ‘other’.”

My friend is living in a multicultural city, in a multicultural marriage, raising a multicultural family. And crayons won’t do it. The marketing of this small box of crayons, complete with eight ‘skin tone’ colors makes strong and incorrect assumptions about culture and race.

While I appreciate that companies want to be ‘inclusive’, there are ways to achieve this objective that are smart and true, and there are ways that just perpetuate division. Culture, in all its complexity, can never be reduced to a box of multicultural crayons. It’s too important.

What do you think? 

crayons with quote

2 thoughts on “On Culture and Crayons

  1. I think some people disagree with the first part of that quote because for many people of color there IS identity found in their culture based on their skin tone. But I agree with the second part because when we are multicultural beings it is impossible to find a crayon that fits the insides of us.

    I think the conversation needs to be shifted from what is on the outside to what is within and until we have that type of conversation we will be stuck judging someone’s cultural norms and worldview based on skin when, more and more, skin just doesn’t do it for describing someone.

    Great post, though, and good reminder that we all have a lot of growing to do in order to get out of a skin color dominated conversation.

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  2. Oh, I love this post!! It’s made me think and think. I don’t agree on full face with the quote — although I agree there can be no multicultural crayon (what a terrible idea), but I DO think skin color has a bearing on culture. I think I understand the intent behind the quote, but I would prefer to say: Your skin color is not your culture, just as my skin color is not mine, nor is my ethnicity, nor is my family, faith, or education . . . but all those factors become a part of the learning that shapes the culture I have today. If culture is my learned view of life, my skin color, for good or bad, has been part of my learned view of life. It has absolutely had a bearing on my culture.

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