At work last Friday, each student was able to have 30 minutes of free time because they turned in their homework in school that day. One 2nd grader Brendon was coloring. I was walking around the classroom when I heard him ask, “Where is the skin color colored pencil?” I walked over and said, “Here’s a brown colored pencil.” Brendon replied, “No, I want a peach color. I don’t want to be a black boy, I want to be white.”
I was so taken aback by this observation, by Brendon’s assertion that he wanted to be white. At first I didn’t really know how to handle the situation. I explained to him that nobody got to choose their skin color, and that every skin color was equally important. But I kept thinking about how I could have handled the situation differently. Why hadn’t I asked him to explain why he, and not his drawing, wanted to be white? Why had this simple assertion made me feel so uncomfortable? Brendon and his fellow classmates didn’t seem to be made uncomfortable by this statement…
After reading about White privilege this week, I began to better understand why Brendon said what he said. Being White in America is a privilege, with the system stacked against people of color. What was interesting is that Brendon specifically said that he didn’t want to be black. Was he witnessing prejudice against black people? Were his parents influencing him? Or was it purely simple observation at school, on TV, or in public in general?
I went to a primarily White elementary school, and I am fairly certain that none of my white peers would ask aloud to be of a different race. Brendon’s innocent comment is actually not so innocent, and emphasizes the existence of White privilege.
My reaction of feeling uncomfortable also points to how race is a touchy, sometimes awkward or taboo topic, and it shouldn’t be. The day that we can talk about race openly is the day that prejudices will begin to crumble.