i am fortunate to be surround by a force of beautiful creative women of color. i am a part of them, and they are a part of me, they are my loves, my wifeys, my sisters, my sistas, mis hermosas, mis corazones, mi mati(s), my “guurrrrlll”s, they are my partners in creation, my queer shipmates on this middle passage. they inspire me, challenge me, and push me to find the points where our experiences intersect. they create spaces where my experiences are never questioned, they never seek to invalidate me or tell me to be quiet, and for that i will always love them and undeniably have their backs.
my friend Amber Burns wrote a great piece entitled “the peach crayon”, which you can read below, and i realize that maybe all children who are schooled in the US and considered non-white have a peach crayon story. it made me pause and reflect on my own, i dusted off a memory that i hadn’t thought about in almost twenty years. a little bit of background on Amber, she is an artist and poet, a community educator and a fierce advocate for decolonizing our food systems, she carries her presences, grace and beauty with her into every space she occupies….she is one of my greatest teachers. you can find out more about some of the work she does here (New Roots is an organization where Amber serves as Assistant Director, and is fucking amazing at what she does. the facilitation she creates in neighborhoods around food justice and sovereignty is pure magic to be a part of).
below are two narratives about the “Peach Crayon”…if you have your own experience with it, feel free to share in the comment section of this post.
At ten years of age I was an artist. My sketch book and pencil were my constant companions. I spent every spare moment honing my skill by imitating my favorite cartoon characters. Never stopping until every line was just right. It was no surprise when my school art teacher recommended I join an after school youth art program. I quickly gained popularity and was named the most gifted student in the class. I was not humble in any sense of the word. A few weeks into the program, we began what would be our large project. I drew a woman surrounded by desert sand and pyramids. She wore her hair in a high ponytail. Her hair was down her back. She was dressed in my 10 year old interpretation of Arabic clothing.
The instructor of the program was a beautiful woman with cinnamon color skin. I could not recognize her ascent but it was obvious she was international. I stared at my pencil drawing, debating on which crayon would be used to color her skin. I chose the peach crayon. I then decided her hair would be bright yellow. As I began to cover my drawing with color, the instructor placed her hand on my shoulder. She asked, “Why did you make her white? Is she lost?” I looked up at the instructor with a puzzled expression on my face. I did not understand the question. Why would the woman in my drawing be lost? There must be white people in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in every corner of the world. I could not imagine a civilization that white people did not inhabit. The woman in my drawing was supposed to be beautiful. Her hair was long. What Black woman could grow her hair to such a length? What Black woman was royal, surrounded by one of the wonders of the world? I did not answer her question. I was offended that she would challenge my decision; I was after all the most gifted student in the class. I turned around and continued coloring.
I wonder what thoughts filled my instructor’s mind. Remembering the tone of her voice, there was a larger question she wanted to ask me. “Are Black women not beautiful? Are you not beautiful? Is this the unattainable image of beauty that you yearn to reach?” She didn’t ask those questions. She could sense my frustration and allowed me to continue coloring with my treasured peach crayon. Today, over 10 years later, her voice echoes in my mind and I realize how her spirit cried for me that day. As a black woman,her spirit cried for the self-esteem of this black girl
Mine is not the beautiful prose that Amber was able to create. my story also happened in an art class, like these stories do. i remember we were making self portraits, oval faced, circular-eyed portraits which were the crude formation of tiny hands. in my hand a peach crayon ready to happily color my face like everyone around me. my brow already furrowed in determination, i was going to get this right, but my hand never made pigment to page. i remember my teacher slapping the crayon out of my hand and handing me a yellow crayon, it wasn’t even the regular yellow…it was almost a fluorescent yellow…”you are this color” she said coolly. i paused blinking back tears, hoping that none of the other students around me had heard or witnessed this interaction, but knowing that they had. there was a silent tension that filled the classroom and made me feel claustrophobic in my own skin. i was six, and this wasn’t the first time that my skin color has become a space of violence. (i suffered my first sexual assault the summer before, we were at our local public pool when i was encircled by teenage boys while i waited in line to purchase ice cream. they called me names like high yellow, demanding to know if i was Arab or Mexican, and groped at my non-existent chest while calling me little yellow one. my mother intervened, only for management to throw us out of the pool) i learned valuable lessons in art class that day which would become central themes to my social conditions of existence. one: i was not white, and therefore “other” two: being ‘other’ meant violence. 3: in art and beauty i had no place 4: shaming is a powerful method of control.
these are lessons that have taken time to unlearn. lessons about what it means to have self-determination over our cultural creations, about self love and healing from trauma. lessons that cannot be contained in the simplicity of a 24 pack of crayons.
again, if you want to share your own experiences with the peach crayon…i would be honored to hear them.