The Colors of Me

This post is dedicated to Sara Esther Regalado Moriel.

Sara and her husband, Adolfo, will be deeply missed by their friends and loved ones. Sara and Adolfo were parents to three daughters. and 4 grandchildren.

“I’m not racist. I have friends of all different races.”

“I don’t see color.”

“I wish they would focus on kindness and inclusion and less on being divisive. Why does everything have to be about race?”

It wasn’t that long ago I thought these things. Several years ago, I started noticing a trend on social media. Teachers were talking very vocally about race. They were using terms like “privilege” and “white supremacy.” It was uncomfortable for me. Really uncomfortable.

But I sat with that discomfort. I thought about it a lot and tried really hard to listen and learn. I learned that I don’t get to decide what’s racist. If a Black person says something is racist, I NEED to listen. And I’m trying everyday. So when people started saying we would see more white supremacy, I believed them. And they were right.

I don’t listen to the news and I use Spotify in my car. If it hadn’t been for Instagram, I wouldn’t have known about the El Paso shooting for several days. Unfortunately, one of my favorite friends on Instagram posted about it. Because her daughter and husband had just been at that Wal-Mart. A hateful, racist man had driven down to shoot Mexicans and Mexican Americans. And my friend’s family could have been the target. Because they are brown.

I can’t separate this truth from my teaching. We have an obligation. We want our students to leave us knowing how to read and how to add. But how much more important is it that our students leave us knowing that all people are worthy of love, rights, safety and opportunity. When Chrissy asked me to participate in 22 Days of Anti-Racism, I was so honored. Not only because I value Chrissy as a friend and teacher, but because she was there. She has lived through the racism and hate and has chosen to give back in this way.

So that was a super long (but important) introduction to this post! Today I wanted to share a simple but powerful lesson you can do with your students. I hope you’ll be able to include it soon, as well as other lessons from 22 Days of Anti-Racism! There are a ton of other amazing lessons from teachers just like you. We’re working everyday to change the world…one classroom at a time. We want students of every color to grow up knowing their value and the value of others.

For this lesson, you’ll need a few things. You may choose to split the lesson up into two days.

  1. A projector
  2. “Skin” colored paint (you could also use crayons or markers, but I think it’s more powerful to have them mix the paint)
  3. A copy of The Colors of Us (Chocolate Me is a great choice as well)
  4. White card-stock
  5. Optional sentence stem

If you have access to Sesame Street, episode 4503 is all about skin. My daughter and I watch it on our HBO Go account but you can still watch it on PBS as well. I couldn’t find this video online, though, so I made the lesson without it. In the video, Segi is reading a book about finding the perfect toy. The main character says she can’t choose the teddy bear because “its too brown.” Segi is heartbroken and the grown-ups on Sesame Street come to talk to her about it. It’s an awesome clip and I wish it was available to everyone. It’s a great way to start the conversation.

To begin this lesson, I would ask students to share what they know about skin. Students will most likely share things like “it covers our bodies” or “it . can be different colors.” Allow students to share their thoughts with their neighbors before sharing out with the class. You could absolutely collect their thoughts on a circle map if you wanted!

After a quick discussion about skin, introduce the book The Colors of Us. You might say, “I love the way you are all thinking about skin! Our skin is such an important part of our body. It keeps us safe from the sun, keeps us warm and protects our muscles and blood. We are going to read a book called The Colors of Us. In this book, Lena talks about the beautiful skin she sees on the people around her. As we’re reading, pay attention to the way she describes the skin and think about your own.”

If you don’t have a copy of the book, here is a Youtube link. Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs is another great choice for this lesson!

After you’ve read the book, allow students to share ways Lena described the skin of her friends and family. Some examples include:

  • cinnamon
  • french toast
  • creamy peanut butter
  • chocolate frosting
  • honey
  • leaves in the fall

Say something like “Lena did such a great job noticing and commenting on the skin around her. I love that she find something beautiful about each person’s skin and she does such a great job describing it. Now that we’ve read the book we’re going to listen to a song. This song is one of my favorites! It talks about skin too…just like Lena does! “

Show the video- Color of Me by Sesame Street.

After the song is over, you might say something like “Did you enjoy that song? I know I did! I love the way they describe their skin in the song!”

If you are planning to continue the lesson tomorrow, this is a great stopping point!

Introduce the art part of the activity by saying something like “Now that we have listened to others talk about their skin, we are going to do it ourselves. I am going to give each of you several colors of paint. Some of the paints are lighter and some are darker. You are going to mix your paints so that it matches your beautiful skin. After you’ve found your right skin color, you’ll paint these faces to look like you. I can’t wait to see the beautiful colors of your skin!”

Give each student a paper plate with several shades of paint and a small paint brush. Take note of student skin tones and try to match their paints accordingly.

This set of Crayola paints is wonderful and includes many different shades!

I suggest setting aside at least 30 minutes for this activity so students can truly mix the colors and find their right skin tone. As they are mixing, walk around and help students. Say things like “Wow! That looks great. Put your hand beside it…how does it match? Should we add a little more of this one (pointing to a matching shade.)”

After students have found the shade they’d like to use for their self-portrait, have them begin painting. I suggest printing these “heads” on cardstock or letting students use blank cardstock. Please don’t use manilla paper. For many students, they’ll see that as the “correct” or “normal” tone and they’ll have to darken it. If you’d like for students to add a face, I would let them dry overnight and they can paint their faces the next day. They can also easily use sharpie.

After painting, I would encourage you to have students describe their skin. I’ve attached a few sentence stems you can use if you’d like to print or you can have students just write on their portraits.

I also included a picture bank they might be able to use to describe their skin. If your class comes up with other objects, I would love to add them! I tried to included a wide range, but you can also add the examples from the book and song!

This lesson is definitely not finished once you hang the art on the walls. The most important part of any lesson comes through the discussion and the way students apply it later on.

Discussion Questions

  • Did anyone use only white or only black paint? (No, everyone’s skin is made up of different shades.)
  • What do you love about your skin?
  • How should you treat people with the same colored skin as you?
  • How should you treat people with different colored skin?
  • Should friends look the same?
  • Is it okay to play with people who look different than you?

Even though this lesson is fun (who doesn’t love paint?!) it can be the beginning of a powerful shift in our classroom. Ignoring color is no longer enough. We must be intentional with our classroom discussions and culture. Our students see differences and they aren’t afraid of them yet. Let’s choose to be leaders in the fight against bigotry and racism. The future of the world is in our classrooms!

If you’d like to learn more, I highly suggest checking out Tolerance.org There are so many great ideas there. I think you’ll also find a ton of great resources at Teaching Tolerance. Don’t forget about the other lessons from teacher-bloggers that Chrissy helped organize.

Not sure what steps to take next? I’d love to chat with you. Drop me a comment or find me on social media and let’s continue the conversation!

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