Sharing Mana‘o

My face is Copper Hide. Not literally, of course. I’m talking skin tone. That’s tone as in color, not physical condition.

I should explain.

The other night, while scrolling through Facebook, my attention was caught by an African-American comedian declaring, “I’m not black.” Sam Adams said, “Think about it. If someone’s dark like me, we say ‘black.’ Somebody’s light, we say ‘white.’ Those are the two blandest colors in the crayon box. (But) we all have a true color.” He went on to urge his audience to find their true colors in the way he did:

“Go to the hardware store. Go in the paint section. Spend some time. Grab those little paint chips. It took me about 15 minutes, but I found my true color. I’m a shade of brown called Chocolate Indulgence.”

Sam’s riff on true color hit me in the gut as well as the funny bone. As a child of Japanese and Okinawan ancestry, I was dumbfounded the first time I heard Asians classified as “yellow.” Back then, “colored” was often used to describe African-Americans and I remember thinking, “Well, I’m colored too, and so is everyone else I know.”

Inspired, I went to Home Depot the next morning and discovered that there really are fifty shades of gray, and far more varieties of brown. I brought home a stack of paint sample cards, more than four dozen hues, and confirmed what I’d instinctively known since the age of 5: I am not yellow. Even in the parts where the sun don’t shine, I am nowhere within the yellow spectrum. Chances are, you’ll never see those areas, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that my natural, untanned color is Cinnamon Brulee. That’s so much nicer, and definitely more accurate, than yellow or, as I was told I was in my teens, olive.

My research also proved that I’m not just colored, I’m multi-colored. My legs are Chocolate Cheesecake and my chest is Coffee Gelato. I couldn’t find a perfect match for the darkest parts of me, my arms; the closest I found was Rio Grande Mud. That’s almost as unpleasant as yellow. But if I spend more time gardening, I’m pretty sure I can achieve the more appetizing Italian Roast, maybe even the elegant Dark Rosewood.

After nearly half an hour of color matching, I returned to the Dry Bar Comedy page to ensure that I quoted Sam accurately. I saw that his “True Color” monologue has been viewed 14 million times, with over 250,000 shares, since it was posted a week ago. All of the 4,500 comments – well, the hundred or so that I read – were positive, and several dozen folks reported their own true colors, from Sandstone Peach to Indian Summer.

Before you dismiss this column and Sam’s stand-up bit as silly bits of fluff, albeit funny, I’ll share his wrapup message. He had started the routine with a plea for people to find reasons to laugh, rather than be sad or angry over issues such as race relations. He explained that his quest to find his true color began with a U.S. census form. Multiple choices are presented under the question of race, the first two being white and black. But there is also a box where one can write in an answer.

Sam concluded, “Find your true color. And then report it to the government. Let ’em know what color you really are. You might be Papaya Smoothie, you might be Rosy Taupe. . . . Report it. When they see that we have so many different colors, we’re not just black and white like they label us, maybe they’ll stop asking us what color we are. They’ll find some much more important things in the world to solve.”

The next national census will be conducted in 2020. I’m holding on to my paint samples until then, just in case my Cinnamon Brulee fades to Warm Cappuccino.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.