The yellow crayon
When my oldest, Alana, was two, she was obsessed with her crayons and categorizing the world around her. By that time, she knew that she and her daddy had beautiful shades of brown on their skin, and she loved being able to draw herself using the brown crayon (even though she also knew it didn’t quite match). With me, she’d happily pick up the yellow crayon and excitedly say, “Mommy, you’re yellow.”
Now, the last time I was referred to as yellow is not a memory I wanted to rekindle. I would then say to her, “No baby. Mommy’s not yellow. Mommy is brown like you, just lighter.”
And she’d shake her head, with her soft curls bouncing side to side, and say, “No Mommy. You’re not brown like me or daddy.”
I wish I could say I stopped going back and forth with my toddler on which crayon in a box of 12 matched me the best. Why were crayons so limited in color? Didn’t Crayola know that there’s more than one brown shade and that no one is pink? After a couple of those arguments, I used the ever-knowing Google and purchased the People Colors Crayon Pack from Lakeshore Learning*.
Oh, we had so much fun exploring the different shades of colors in the pack and began using food to describe our skin colors. I was no longer yellow. I was pancake. My Alana became chocolate milk or caramel, depending on her mood.
But here’s the thing. It was never about the range of colors in her crayon box, or the lack of. It was about my inner demons seeping through my ability to have a healthy enough conversation with my toddler. I realized that to be able to have courageous conversations with my kids, I needed to check myself and be aware of my own triggers and biases.
Being called yellow was/is a trigger for me and instead of asking Alana open-ended questions, I argued with her about her crayons. Even deeper than that, the notion that I was not brown enough to belong stirred a long-ago buried insecurity about my racial identity (that’s for another time). That’s why I became defensive in front of a little girl who just wanted to draw a family portrait. That’s why my first reaction was to correct her instead of engaging her.
As adults we have a lot of hidden wounds. For BIPOC folks, the effects of these wounds, intertwined with racial trauma, sometimes show up in the most inconvenient of times. Part of why it’s important to uncover our traumas, pain, biases, etc. is the danger of projecting them onto someone else. As a parent, I know this will inevitably happen but I can choose what the outcome will be.
So when it does, I also have to be prepared (to the best of my ability) to demonstrate vulnerability and accountability and admit my mistakes.
“Huh, mommy had a stronger reaction than I expected. Let me think about why.”
“I should not have said it that way. I’m sorry.”
“Mommy is having a hard time sharing what I feel. I need a break.”
“It’s important that we are talking about this and I’m so glad you are so curious, but right now mommy needs a moment to myself.”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m so sorry I became upset. It was not because of you but because of a feeling inside of me that I need to take care of.”
As someone who has experienced racial trauma, I will always be practicing this. It gets easier over time to have full discussions with my kiddos about race and racism without emotional remnants trying to cloud our interactions. But healing does take a long ass time.
How are we confronting our own biases and removing our defenses? How are we reexamining the ways we interact with racial trauma so that we can minimize its impact in the conversations with our kids, students, youth groups, and other young people in our lives?
And when it does -- because no one is perfect and it may still show up -- are we willing to model what it looks like to grow and learn, while also extending some grace to our healing bodies?