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Sep 17, 2007

Wow...

I'm speechless and vaguely insulted. Aghast at the response, surprised. So many thoughts swirling in my head.

See, I read this.

And then I responded with

Tricia says:

Um…what kind of flesh? Taupe, Peach, Beige, Mocha, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Cafe au Lait, Rosy, Splotchy, with freckles… Flesh comes in different colors.

“In 1962, Binney & Smith chose to change the name Flesh to Peach in response to the Civil Rights Movement, since not all people are the same skin color. While this is accurate, in reality, Crayola had changed this color from its original 1903 ‘Flesh Tint’ to Flesh then temporarily to ‘Pink Beige’, back to Flesh and then finally to Peach.” Wikipedia

Just sayin’


And then this happened.

I thought it was a friendly reminder that using 'flesh' to describe a color is outdated and could be considered racist. Apparently, it was not taken in that spirit.

Someone pointed out to me that by saying that I wanted to be re-born a black woman- because black women have rhythm- would be considered racist. And what's the difference between saying that, and using the phrase "Jewed me down"? Good point. In my head, what I said was a positive and what my neighbor said was a negative. Making one a racist statement and one not...? But, just because it is positive doesn't necessarily make it not racist...

Last week I was on our school campus and the twins had wandered out of my sight. I laughingly asked one of the recess aides, who I know well, if she had seen my two brown kids who had wandered off. She remarked, laughing, "Oh, Trish, only you could say that". Uh, oh... I turned back, cocked my head, and we chatted about what I said. Did it sound racist? Would someone be offended by what I said? Did I offend her?

Am I being too sensitive, not sensitive enough? Or am I just thinking too much?

I found this. A little blurb from Bartleby.com.

And I read a Town Hall Article by Paul Jacob.

Cultural Racism
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as "other", different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

It's interesting that of the five examples of "cultural racism," only one speaks to the usual key identifier of racial categorization: skin color. The others address ideas and speech patterns and cultural achievements, things that non-racists wouldn't normally attribute to racial factors at all.

It's worth remembering that for a "white" person a pinkish hue is "flesh," just as to a "black" person darker shades of brown would qualify. It's not racist to call some shade of pink "flesh" if you yourself are white. Nor is it racist to call "Burnt Sienna" "flesh" if that crayon is closest to your skin color. In these cases it's not racist, but apt.

What's racist is, upon seeing the relativity, to deny to the person of a different skin the term "flesh" for their color.

Some white Americans may have been a bit shocked to witness Crayola change the names of one of its crayons, back in the '60s, but it would have been racist for the company, upon noticing that their "flesh" didn't fit a huge segment of their clientele, to continue. "Peach" was more accurate.

Philosophers like to remind us to distinguish between fact and value. So let's do that here. It is a fact that "peach" is closer to the color of my flesh, or skin, than is "Burnt Sienna." It is also a fact that "peach" is nowhere near the color of Walter Williams's skin. Most of us can see the relativity of the terms, and most Americans have outgrown this issue.

You can read the whole article here

I read an article questioning band-aids as possibly racist. I found many references to the Crayola company changing their "flesh" color to "peach" and their "Indian Red" to "Chestnut".

My neighbor (different neighbor) and friend suggests that when we cut our skin open we are all the same color inside. Could that be construed as "flesh" colored? Another good point.

Bottom line?

I think about these things. I like it if people let me know if my remarks are offensive or could be deemed offensive. Could someone take offensive at everything I say? Sure.

I still appreciate the heads up. And that, Chris, was my goal.

And my last questions.

Would the response had been different if I was Black... Mexican... Asian...instead of Caucasian?

Or different if Chris knew me and knew the spirit in which my comment was intended? There is quite a lot lost over the internet.

Or different if I was one of the "known" bloggers in the blog world? Perhaps I was treading where I should not be...

Certainly, lots to think about.

15 comments:

Cate said...

You know what Tricia? I came to your blog via Chris's, and I like you! You are crazy interesting and I will be back. And I actually went to high school with a black girl who told me band aids were racist. I had never in my life thought of them that way, and I still can't... some things are just band aids. Have a great day! :)

the individual voice said...

Personally, I believe there are levels of racism. There's exclusionary racism, like treating anyone who's flesh isn't pink as invisible, or not a member of this club. There are stereotypes that are positive, like you wishing you had rhythm, but still a stereotype, since not ALL people of color have rhythm, just like not all whites don't. And then there is downright vicious racism, that stereotypes all Jews as such consistent cheats that the word "Jew" itself can substitute for the word cheat. Calling your brown baby brown is only racist in the eyes of someone trying very hard to be color-blind.

Then there is the whole other arena you unwittingly tread on which is much worse than all of the above: You breached blog etiquette which is written nowhere and can be interpreted soley by the blogger you are commenting to. In this case: never criticize the blogger, even if she is a racist (the face of Uncle Ben next to the whole episode was priceless.)

Sunny said...

I also came here via Chris's blog. I love that you took the time to explain what you meant, and stood up for yourself. In a way, you were right. Who's to know? Since Chris is the "peach" flesh color, is it racist? Or, since many people read her blog, of all colors, is it racist then? That made me think. Thank you. =)

LeLo in NoPo said...

Wow, Tricia. I read your post, and the links you provided, and I have to say first of all, kudos for raising the flag and for doing so in a way that I thought was totally cool and not calling anyone out as racist, bigoted, etc. I am shocked to see the response though, and as I read through all of the comments, I couldn't help but think how incredibly racist all of the comments were. Sad, really. I read that blog and thought to myself, this is totally not a place I would want to visit or continue reading, yet you say you will because you like it. I'd say you're the bigger person.

chris said...

I am loathe to continue the conversation any longer, but I just can't make myself shut up ;-)

I always thought of "flesh" colored as being that inside thick pinky color...you know when you see those shows where they have a big slab of whale blubber? That is what I considered flesh toned.

Peach doesn't convey the color I think my son's room looked. Peach is sort of a nice peachy color.

Flesh is that yucky orange tinged pink color. (As an aside I sort of find it interesting that flesh color is a color that no one even likes.)

I am sorry if you felt that I was venomous toward you. Sometimes it feels that no matter what I write someone somewhere is not happy. I was trying to be funny, but guess I missed that mark as well.

And you are right that the internet loses the nuances that give us clues to the spirit in which something was intended. Also, sometimes email is better. Probably now would be one of those times.

But to say I am a racist because I used the word "flesh" to describe a paint color? That seems like an awfully big leap.

Tricia said...

I would like to be clear. I did not feel that Chris was venomous. And I never called her racist.

"I thought it was a friendly reminder that using 'flesh' to describe a color is outdated and could be considered racist." is what I said

I will also e-mail Chris.

the individual voice said...

Let me correct myself. I fell into my own trap. Never criticize a blogger on her blog, even if you suspect she might be a racist or unwittingly made a statement that someone might construe as racist. These discussions can get extremely tedious, but I always think, in the end, with thoughtful people, worth all the word-churning. Everyone learns something, on all sides.

angie said...

Tricia, I think this is very well done. Again, I didn't think you were calling Chris a racist; I just thought you were making the point that my daughter made when she read that post--whose flesh?

As for the bandaid issue, my daughter also brought that up when you're talking about flesh colored. I had no idea that bandaids were supposed to be invisible, until I saw one on a white person! Then I was a tad perturbed that I couldn't find one in my complexion. To risk sounding stereotypical, skin tone to black folks is like hair/eye color to white folks--EVERYBODY is different, and it would be an exercise in futility to try to match every single variation. It would be cool to see, though. . .

Esme said...

Hi, Tricia,

Someone once asked one of my ethnically mixed children, "What color are you?" And my daughter replied, "Plaid. You?"

Came here from Notes from the Trenches... It was good to read about your perspective, and I'm happy to have found your blog. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

Anonymous said...

What interests me is that you, and those defending you, are commenting in careful, gentle terms, with caveats like "but I enjoyed Chris's post!" (And I never read anywhere where anyone called Chris racist!)

However, those who disagreed with you, or who thought you were somehow being mean-spirited are name-calling (dumbass, people with sticks up their butts, etc.), maliciously pleased that you got a "smack-down" and incredibly eager to say "me too, me too, I'm on Chris's side!!" It reminds me of sophmores trying desperately to prove that they're on friendly terms with the most popular senior.

Of course we all knew what Chris meant. We all "know" that "flesh-colored paint" means the flesh of a Caucasian. And perhaps THAT is the problem...NOT Chris's post, but the fact that we all know exactly what color she means. Not ONE of us assumed she meant the flesh color of anyone other than a Caucasian.

I didn't see Chris's post as racist (except through the casual and not-at-all-meant-in-that-context use of a word with racist connotations), and I thought her "lighten the hell up" was meant to be a humorous response to your gentle comment. I can't say the same about some of the mean-spirited comments from some of her readers.

Kudos to you for your thoughtful, courteous and well-written response. (Now I just have to hope my own indignation didn't just buy me a bunch of flames of my own!)

the individual voice said...

Trish, there are just some times in life when fires need to be lit under the most complacent asses under the most inopportune times and it just seems that you as well as I are two of those designated unfortunate people, so enjoy it, because it's a gift and even more so to do it with grace.

Anonymous said...

Glenn Singleton refers to having "courageous conversations" about race and white privilege. As a parent in a transracial family I thank you for being part of one. I feel like the conversation helped several people think differently for a moment.

Julie

Nicki Mann said...

I noticed that Chris responded what she thought of as flesh was the inside pinky peach color... and I laughed because that was exactly what I was going to say!
Once when I was a teenager I was in this art therapy group and an old lady asked the teacher for "Fleshtone" paint. The teacher said, "Like, what kind of flesh? A black person's flesh, maybe?"
At that time I was confused because I thought EVERYONE had the same color flesh! I thought of FLESH as the inside part of the skin. Like if you cut off someone's skina nd turned it inside out, you would see peachy-pink flesh.
Maybe because I always heard the phrase "flesh and blood", I thought flesh was some sort of internal organ! And thought it was odd that they'd name a crayon after that! ;)

Clare said...

Hi Tricia.

I want to commend you for standing up and pointing out how language is racist. Most people just let it slide. And, when I say language is racist, I mean all the ways in which we don't think about how language conveys meaning that inherently excludes some (the flesh tone) or demeans some (to gyp someone). I know that these may seem like small things to some people (usually the ones who don't notice as they are not directly affected) but they add up. Moreover, they are unnecessary and hurtful. Thank you for taking the time.

La_Bella said...

Thank you for commenting on the other blog and for posting about this. I was pointed here from my partner’s blog, and I appreciate that you shared this story and the exchanges that resulted from it. There is indeed much to be learned from situations such as this one.

To me, the reactions in support of Chris seem primarily defensive, ones that clearly point to their posters' awareness of the problem. However, these persons, whom I assume are in the racial majority, are relieved they can offload their frustrations about PC-ness, how burdensome and tricky it is, and how happy they are that for once someone went there and just said what they meant without the filter! Now they too can vent!

I won't go further into a discussion of PC-ness in America, but what Chris' and her supporters are thinking of as a burden, they ought to begin framing differently. Their reactions show they know what the problem is, and we all know how uncomfortable it is to be confronted by/about one's hidden or otherwise silent prejudices. Words such as flesh and nude are not merely words devoid of subtext and context, they have special meaning which you began to address, hence the mob's reaction to your challenge.


You ask if you are thinking about these issues "too much", in my opinion, there is no such thing as thinking too much about language, identity, and meaning. As a black woman born abroad and now living in America, and as one half of an interracial relationship, I know (because I live it everyday) that thinking about these issues is part of the "double consciousness" (cf. W.E.B. Du Bois) that persons of color live with and operate from as part of their identities. Like Clare (in the previous comment) said, the little things that mean nothing (to most) do add up (for me), the little things that others miss can hurt incredibly, the sick feeling in my stomach matters, and it all adds up to a lifetime grand total that is unbelievably detrimental. Being aware of and attempting to rectify the negative elements of social constructions is a truly worthwhile cause.