To keep myself entertained -- rather, to keep myself from going nuts -- I often try to find humor in my non-diverse working world. A game I typically play is "How many brown people will I see when walking from my office to the dining hall?" I've been playing this little game for about 3 years now. In those first three years, unless I saw my own reflection in a mirrored window, that number was ZERO. Yup. Zero. And, this is no short walk, mind you. It's a good 7 minutes, and I'm typically walking at a time when classes are just getting out and everyone is rushing to the dining commons.
This past year, with increased efforts to increase diversity, I'm shocked at the number of SOC's (students of color) that I see --- I see an average of 4-5 students during my 7 minute walk! C'mon... I know that's not a huge number, but for me, that's a 500% increase! I'll play those odds any day!
So, here's an interesting twist to the game. Sometimes, if I pass by a tour that is being given by the admissions office, I'll even count "visitors" to campus. Alas, that doesn't change the number.
Today, however, I was walking with a friend to the dining commons from my office, and exclaimed "Oh my GOD! Stop everything! There are two brown families on that tour!!" My friend looked over and said, "Where?" I said, "Are you freakin' kidding me? There are brown people on that tour!!" His response: "Who?"
"Those three people of Asian heritage! Look!!"
And my friend replies, "They're not brown, are they? Wait, you count Asians as BROWN?"
"Listen, friend. I take what I can get on this campus.... and, yes, Asian is BROWN. I am BROWN. My skin is BROWN."
** So, let me briefly stop here and say that I have the best conversations with this friend. He's probably one of the most aware people I know. And, he loves Obama. So, therefore, I love him (in a professional way, of course). For me, that fact highlights that even the most aware allies sometimes don't quite get it. **
We were already getting close to the busy lunch line (where you have to throw elbows just to get some chicken nuggets and curly fries), so I didn't continue the conversation. But, the comment stayed with me.
Brown. Am I brown? Yes, I am Brown. When I talk to my daughters, we talk about our skin being different shades of brown. My older daughter's skin color resembles my husband's dark chocolate skin shade. I'm a lighter shade of that brown. And, my younger daughter is a very light brown. But, we are unmistakably BROWN.
Not Yellow? I'm not sure if my friend was trying to get me to say that I was "yellow" -- a common color so wrongly associated with people of my heritage background: Asian. When people say they have friends of all different colors, "black, white, red, yellow....", they mean "African American, Euro American, First Peoples, and Asian." But, I am not hella' yella' people. I'm just not.
Well, then, that got me thinking further -- what is my dad, who's racial background is made up predominantly of a Chinese lineage. His skin is as white as the Mac laptop I'm typing on now. Is HE BROWN? The shape of his eyes keeps me from calling him white. And, aside from jaundice when he was born in 1947, he hasn't ever been yellow. Is Dad BROWN?
So, naturally, I have the answers to these questions that I pose here....
Skin "color" is more about political connotations than it is about "color." I have had plenty of white people email me and say, "I don't like the term 'people of color'... we all have 'color.'" And, I respectfully disagree. The term "people of color" is less about the actual Crayola shade and more about the political, systematic, and institutionalized implications that go along with color. So, is my dad's skin physically WHITE? Yes. Has he ever in his entire life been given the same privilege as a White person? Uh, no....
Why do I emphatically disagree with the "yellow" part? Well, honestly, I'm just not yellow. That's weird. That's like some f'd up Big Bird shit or something. Peeps are Yellow. That neon bubble gum that's been sitting in the $.25 dispenser since 1987 is Yellow. That damn "Have a Nice Day" smiley face is Yellow.
I am a shade of Brown. Beautiful. Blessed.
And, before people start to do the jump off of "Well, then, as a white person, I embrace my Peachness...." realize that the conversation here is around politics of color. Go on and embrace the Peachness, because, you're right, I don't believe that anyone is a true "beige, eggshell, ivory" or any other paint color that's a version of White. But, we'd be crazy to think that the politics, the institutionalization of privilege and power, and equity and resources aren't given to those of the "peach persuasion."
Mellow? Maybe. Yellow? No.