What Colour is Skin Colour?

New Crayons

There are certain questions that our children ask that we’re ready for. And then there’s the other 99%.

That’s not to say these questions are entirely unexpected. Just that they’re unexpected in the moment.

And so you um and er and babble a bit while you desperately try to figure out the right thing to say. Because, above all, you don’t want to say the wrong thing and horribly scar your child for life, dooming him to a sad and degenerate life of poverty and drug-use.

Because one not-quite-perfect answer is bound to do that. Right?

Anyway, I had one of those questions the other day.

One of those questions that means nothing to the child, but hits a social or political nerve with the adults around him.

“Mummy?” Big Brother asked, not even looking up from the picture he was colouring in. “What colour is skin colour?”

“Um,” I answered eloquently. “It’s… um…”

My impressive non-answer got his attention and he looked up at me, all big blue eyes and trusting expression. Because Mummy knows everything, right?

Yeah. Right.

“Well…” I said, my brain running on overdrive. “What colour do you think it is?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why I asked you.”

Mutter mutter smarty pants mutter mutter.

“Well…” I said again. Then a moment of inspiration. “What colour skin do your friends at school have?”

He thought for a few seconds. “All different colours,” he said. “Some have blonde skin like me. And some have brown skin. And all sorts of different colours.”

He went quiet, and then looked at me with the intensity that says he’s just made some kind of intuitive leap of logic. “Can I look at your arm?”

I nodded and moved closer.

He put his arm next to mine. “Mmmm…” he said. “Your skin and my skin are a bit different.”

Then his little face lit up. He knew the answer. “Everyone’s skin colour is different!” he announced.

I smiled and nodded. I wouldn’t have thought of that answer myself, but it’s true. And you can always rely on a five-year-old to see what’s in front of him.

“Why did you ask?” I said.

He picked up a crayon and looked back at his picture. The conversation was done. “I just wanted to know which crayon to use for the boy’s skin.”

“Well, I guess you can use any colour you’d like,” I said.

And that’s why we have a picture of a blue-skinned boy on the wall.

Have you ever felt put on the spot by a child’s question?




Filed under Life With Kids

12 responses to “What Colour is Skin Colour?

  1. Lots of questions that I er and um through like “where am I from?” And “what is die?” And the skin colour thing comes up often. When my then 2 year old daughter saw a pic of a hairy Indian man in a book, she said he was dirty. Mind you I am ethnically Indian so she is half brown too!! Then she would also call people black for a while, and I would try to figure out what was up until i realised there were green people because it was the colour of the clothes they were wearing. until more recently. A few weeks ago we had a conversation and she ended up saying she was white, until I showed her she was quite brown 😉 anyways- I have a couple of things to share with you about this. Would you mind sharing this on a blog http://multiculturalmothering.com

    If so, contact me pls at nat.devalia@gmail.com

  2. Oh Jo! BB has reduced me to chortles yet again! Which one of his school friends had blue skin?! Someone feeling the cold I guess…?

  3. I’m stealing his answer from now on. Seriously, best answer ever.

  4. It’s great that he found the answer for himself. That’s so Socratic of you. 🙂

    Something Dear Wife and I learned recently is that avoiding talking about things like that only re-inforces to the child that questions and topics like that are taboo, which does more long-term harm in perpetuating subconscious racism. Being open to having these discussions and allowing children to recognize, first, that people are different and, second, that the differences are natural and good and make for the wonderful variety of the human family is a much better plan.

    • I’m a big believer in letting people find the answer by themselves. Not because I’m overly wise, just because I’m usually clueless as to what the answer should be. (I wonder if Socrates was the same?)

      We are definitely on the same page in regards talking openly about “taboo” subjects. I often remind myself that although there are times the conversations are difficult for *me*, I don’t want them to be difficult for my kids in years to come. And the best way I can do that is to have open dialogues about those topics.

      • My child forces me out of my comfort zone all the time, anyway. What’s one more barrier broken? You’re spot-on about making it so it’s easier for them to talk about someday.

  5. Blue skin sounds great! Our kids are very literal, still, when they see colors of skin. It’s not because of any notions about what different ethnicities there are, or stereotypes….it’s just simply that our daughter’s skin is light and peachy and her brother’s skin is browner. 🙂 They don’t understand why people use the term “black” when they have never, ever seen any skin that color. Really, the logic behind their confusion is kind of founded! We have made labels where there is much spectrum to cover! 🙂

Leave a Reply to Jo Eberhardt Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s