Our Sunday Diversity Training

July-August 1999

It’s nice to see passion in the pages of Our Sunday Visitor for a change. But about crayons? In the April 25th Visitor, Colleen Smith tells us that the Crayola Company is changing the name of the color it has called “indian red” (the word Indian being denied a capital letter, for some reason). Delighted with the change, Smith informs us that the name is a “racial slur.” How so? Smith, who is white, reports that “teachers complained to the manufacturer that students assumed the color referred to Native Americans,” with Smith adding that “in the ignorance of my coloring years [as a child], I assumed ‘indian red’ referred to the color of American Indians’ skin” — for she had heard “Native Americans…called ‘redskins.’” Well, does indian red refer to redskins or not? It doesn’t matter to Smith, for she’s sure it’s a racial slur — a “stinging label.” Smith also informs us that “political correctness” has “heightened our sensitivity to diversity,” and so she tells us she’s “tickled pink” by the banishment of indian red, which will “increase awareness.”

Ms. Smith’s enthusiasm is duly noted. But in the interests of really increasing awareness, we feel the need to make it clear that Indian red (or indian red) has nothing to do with anybody’s skin color. Even our politically correct American Heritage Dictionary confirms this, reporting that Indian red is simply “an oxide used as a paint and cosmetic pigment.”

Smith herself notes that the Crayola Company “claims the color’s name was based on a reddish-brown hue commonly found near India,” which she doesn’t dispute. And she allows that the company’s choice of indian red back in 1958 was “innocuously intended.” But she remains unfazed.

At the risk of turning Smith red with anger, we must note that she simply hasn’t demonstrated how indian red could be a racial slur. And far from raising our consciousness about an insult to American Indians, Smith’s account inadvertently slurs America’s teachers. Can it be true that they are as niggardly (careful now!) with their pupils as Smith indicates? When all the Jacks and Jills across America first indignantly opined that indian red is an offensive term, did their teachers pass up the opportunity to show them the dictionary? Didn’t they show Jack and Jill how, by looking up just one word, they can begin to enter a wondrous new world? Did the teachers really leave Jack and Jill ignorant, while only teaching them the dubious lesson that ignorance, organized into a letter-writing campaign, can induce trembling in a mighty colored-wax company?


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New Oxford Notes: July-August 1999

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