Down With Brown




He always starts out his questions with that sing-song inflection in his little high pitched voice.

“Yes, Nico?”

“We’re brown, right?”

He holds out his arms for my examination. I lean in to take a closer look.

Yup, still brown.

“Yes, honey. We are brown,” I say.

“I am dark brown. You are light brown,” he informs me.

I smile at the distinction and wonder what’s making him have this conversation with me at his close to, but not yet five years of age.

He goes on to tell me the colors of all his classmates. They make up quite a rainbow. Nico relays his observations in a matter of fact way. The different colors don’t seem to bother him or affect him – he just recognizes that they are there. I am thankful for that. I want him to applaud his differences and the differences of his classmates, but I don’t want him to feel like an anomaly in a sea of white faces. Being the only one that is different is hard and I remember my own questions at his age:

“Mommy, why does nobody else look like me?”

“Papa, is my skin just dirty?”

“What color crayon am I supposed to use to draw me?”

“Why did those girls say they won’t play with me because I’m brown?”

The crayon question raised a particularly challenging dilemma. I remember friends holding up the peach near my skin and dismissing that as an option. Then the yellow. Nope? Maybe Burnt Sienna? No, that was too dark.

They never did quite find the right match, so I am pretty sure I ended up orange.

Close enough.

Growing up as an ethnic minority in a predominantly white, blue collar town was not easy. My differences were called out to me by some of my less subtle classmates. Often. Whether it was the color of my skin, the way my parents spoke, or the small dot on my mother’s forehead, I always felt like these differences set me worlds apart from the crowd.

On Halloween, some of the kids would be so sweet to us! The would gaily wrap toilet paper around our front yard. The trees, the house, EVERYTHING. Man, it was so pretty. I think they even used the 2-ply stuff. That’s some quality shit. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even wait for Halloween. They would do it, “just because.” I especially loved when people would write creative signs on our doors or windows. Stuff like, “Go Home!” As if I was E.T. or something.

Yeah, that was really special.

I know this may sound hard to believe, but some of the teachers weren’t much better either. Some of them were just as scared of “different” as some of the kids. To this day, I don’t understand how some of my elementary school teachers ever went into teaching. Some were better at hiding their distaste towards the few minority kids than others, but some were just blatantly hateful (Hmmm, hmm. Yes, I’m talking to you, Mrs. Williams). You made 3rd grade a dark and dreary place, indeed.

In high school, when I got into my first choice college, the University of Virginia, and nobody else in my class who applied did, my teacher informed everybody else not to worry. After all, he said, pointing at me, “Look who’s the minority.”

Growing up different was hard. There is no way to sugar coat it. The experiences I mention here hardly can touch on how powerfully hurtful some of those life lessons were.

My child is starting to recognize a little of how the world sees him. I like to think that the world has become a little kinder and that the things that made me so different so many years ago have been diluted as diversity has grown, especially in the area we have chosen to live and raise our children. I like to hope that what Nico will experience being brown today, will be nothing like what I experienced as a child.

I intertwine my light brown hand with my child’s darker brown hand and hold it tightly. I look him in the eyes and smile when I say, “Yes, Nico. You are brown.”

He smiles back up at me, his big brown eyes poking through his wayward bangs.

And then I say something to him which nobody ever, EVER said to me.

“And no matter what color your skin is, you are absolutely perfect.”

Because he is.

17 Comments on Down With Brown

  1. Lady Jennie
    June 5, 2014 at 8:38 am (1 year ago)

    I just can’t even believe that it could be like that in New Jersey! That’s a coastal state. You usually get this in the landlocked areas, not that it should be acceptable anywhere ever.

    I just can’t believe what you went through.
    Lady Jennie recently posted…Summer Rice SaladMy Profile

    • masalachica
      June 5, 2014 at 9:00 am (1 year ago)


      When I grew up in a small town called Old Bridge, NJ (right on the outskirts of the Outerbridge Crossing into Staten Island) it was a small-“ish” town. It has grown exponentially since then and has become much more diverse, but the town still remains highly segregated in many ways. When I was Nico’s age, it was 1981, and teacher’s weren’t being versed in political correctness – they just said insensitive shit all the time. There wasn’t much recourse because most of the system was like that. Now, if a teacher had said that the only reason I got into a university was because I was brown (despite busting my ass for the greater part of my high school years), he would be spoken to if not get into serious trouble. It was just a different time . . .

  2. Kerstin
    June 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm (1 year ago)

    I hope that the world keeps getting kinder (and colour-blind), unfortunately there are random dillholes we come across, who make people feel bad about themselves, no matter for what reason.

    You should ask Crayola which colour they recommend and if they don’t have one, they better make one! :)

    Kerstin recently posted…Experience2014 – May Round-UpMy Profile

    • masalachica
      June 5, 2014 at 7:15 pm (1 year ago)

      You know – I think they actually started making “flesh” colors according to someone I spoke to recently. I never went to investigate, but I hope they did so with the same alacrity as the MAC or Bobby Brown makeup lines ;-).

    • masalachica
      June 5, 2014 at 7:13 pm (1 year ago)

      Roshni, thank goodness for that. I would have been better off homeschooling myself than being exposed to some of the early teachers I had. People talk about “political correctness” being a bad thing, but yes, some people need to be taught a little sensitivity.

  3. julie gardner
    June 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm (1 year ago)

    I hope, with each generation, our world gets kinder.
    Because your son could not be any more beautiful.

    • masalachica
      June 5, 2014 at 7:12 pm (1 year ago)

      I hope so too, Julie. Thank you, your words are always so sweet and so damn kind. Kind of how I hope the world does become. XO

  4. Alison
    June 6, 2014 at 1:29 am (1 year ago)

    Yes, yes he is. And so are you.
    I grew up in a multiracial, multicultural country, where everyone pretty much looked like no one else, so color never fazed me.
    When I was 19 and living in the UK for the first time, I experienced racism for the first time. I lived in an off-campus student apartment with 4 other white girls. Everyone else in the apartment block (all 4 of them) were full of white boys (we were the only all-girl apartment). The lads were horrid to be. They wrote on a communal board, “Alison is a witch”, they wouldn’t give me my phone messages, and once, they threw a basketball at me when I was heading into the block.
    I shrugged it all off, and told myself that if I reacted, I would be no better than the little witch they thought I was. I’m proud to be Chinese.
    Alison recently posted…Through The Lens Thursday #23: SunsetMy Profile

  5. Laura
    June 6, 2014 at 8:12 am (1 year ago)

    I grew up in a place with very little diversity. With the exception of an aboriginal friend that I can think of, my classrooms were full of faces that looked just like mine. (And, to be honest, hers pretty much did too). Still, I really truly hope that I never made anyone feel like you felt. Now, I live in a city that is more diverse. And I visit places where I could no longer be the minority among the beautiful multi-coloured sea of people. But I am always taken aback when I am *there* because it is the only place I witness such a focus on skin colour. People I know who live in those places comment on it (and often include stereotypes) more than I could ever be comfortable with. I think they believe in their hearts that their comments are not awful and alienating, but they are, and it sickens me.

    I pray that your children never feel isolated for the colour of the skin and that my children never see skin colour as something that differentiates.
    Laura recently posted…That Time I Talked with John GreenMy Profile

  6. Kim
    June 6, 2014 at 9:59 am (1 year ago)

    I hope that the world is kinder now in some ways. I hope that, as social media has spread throughout the world, so many stories bring knowledge that will mean more kindness for all.
    Kim recently posted…Just Like ThatMy Profile

  7. Ana
    June 6, 2014 at 10:18 am (1 year ago)

    This brings back a lot of terrible memories of growing up in the deep south. My kids have not yet asked anything about skin color. Their daycare right now is extremely diverse, so they are part of the rainbow of skin colors.
    Ana recently posted…Calorie DeficitMy Profile

  8. Greta
    June 6, 2014 at 10:37 am (1 year ago)

    “Look who’s the minority.” AHHHHHH. All of the shades are beautiful. You’re a beautiful family and perfect.
    Greta recently posted…Through The Lens Thursday: SunsetMy Profile

  9. MomWithaDot
    June 18, 2014 at 11:07 am (1 year ago)

    Gosh! Girl, your writing makes my eyes moist – every time! Can’t imagine what you went through when you were in school You say the most beautiful things to your kids, I’m sure they’ll cherish them.
    MomWithaDot recently posted…ComplexMy Profile


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