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2 There Are No Girl Colors It was not only colored people who praised John, since they could not, John felt, in any case really know; but white people also said it, in fact had said it first and said it still. It was when John was five years old and in the first grade that he was first noticed; and since he was noticed by an eye altogether alien and impersonal, he began to perceive, in wild uneasiness, his individual existence. ―James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain Our kitchen is filled with all manner of children’s supplies —sippy cups, plastic cutlery, and a half dozen small, white plastic bowls with blue or pink rims. We fill them up with cereal and pretzels, fruit and popcorn—basically, anything edible. Sometimes we find them around the house, serving as a bathtub for a Lego figure or a My Little Pony, or as a nest for a pile of flowers. I never followed the conventional rules of “pink is for girls and blue is for boys” with them. But at some point, out of nowhere, my children verbalized their demands for a specific color. I gave in very quickly. Our boys—mostly Desmond, but his younger brother, 25 Ozzie, quickly followed suit—wanted the blue-rimmed bowls, protesting obnoxiously, as if the wrong color would curse them or curse their food. They threw full-on temper tantrums, so much so that I couldn’t tell if there was something deeper going on: Was he actually obsessed with the color, or was it the bowl itself? Our daughter, Anna—twins with Desmond, but their birthday is really the only thing they have in common—gravitated to pink, arguing that “the color was pretty,” and once, to my surprise, she said verbatim that pink is “for girls.” I finally put the kibosh on the color preferences, because I didn’t want them to think in terms of girls do this and boys do that, as if there were limitations on their desires because of some arbitrary associations between gender and color. First it’s gender and colors, then it’s gender and toys, then clothes, then work, and suddenly a slippery slope loomed in front of me. Probably, I was overthinking it. Really, it was just inconvenient. We didn’t have enough bowls for them to always get their preferred color. Sometimes I purposefully gave pink bowls to the boys and a blue bowl to Anna, to mess with them a little. I did it because I don’t want there to be colors, or anything, just for girls or just for boys. Now they hardly even notice the bowl, as long as there’s food in it. Identity is deeply important. It frames how we see, how we color, how we move and breathe through this world. It’s a point of contact for others and the way we get under each other’s skin and, eventually, connect to one another. But Outside the Lines 26 it’s mediated by generations, economic systems, and cultural processes, and it’s imposed upon us by social, familial, political expectations. Identity is clothes and gestures, language and eye shape, hair length and skin color, body shape and genitalia. Identity is reiterated through language and images, and then regulated by structures of power and ideology such as state agencies and religious institutions. We are all constantly negotiating our identities in relation to each other and to what is happening in the world, and this process takes place within the communities and networks we find ourselves. It’s no wonder that we gravitate to colors to begin organizing human existence. Identity is so complex, and we have to start from somewhere. And yet, the more I look around, it is clear a kind of revolution is happening around identity. People are recognizing the tenuous boundaries around their selves, whether it is the child who was assigned female at birth but verbalizes feeling like a boy, or the movement for black lives that resists violence against black bodies, or the Asian American woman who is regularly told that she is viewed as white by her white peers, who don’t recognize that this effort to make sense of her existence becomes instead the cause of her erasure. It is happening as we see more and more representations of Jesus as other than the blue-eyed shepherd with flowy, shiny blond hair, creamy skin, and some kind...


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