Years and years before Michael Brown’s body bled a raw red river in Missouri, I was learning how to color. My pathetic stick figures were all colored yellow, because as far as I was concerned, that was what skin looked like.
I like to think that it was only natural. I was living in Beijing, China at before the true
rise of the digital age, and as far as I could see, white people with their tall noses and pale skin and curly yellow hair were irrelevant to my life. Even more irrelevant were Black and Brown people, whom, to me: a sheltered girl in the heart of Mainland China, were essentially beings of another planet.
Did I think myself racist at the time? Probably not. I didn’t speak a word of English until I was five, and in British-Chinese international schools filled with the children of China’s expats and celebrities, “racism” was pretty far down in the vocabulary list.
The moment I moved here was the moment I truly understood my yellowness. Because as I was learning how to be yellow, I was learning how to live.
I will never be able to describe the humanness I felt when I stopped imagining all of
the fictional characters I encountered to be white. When yellow faces appeared in my history textbooks along with the words “bond workers” and “transcontinental railroad”. When I imagined where my bunk would’ve been on Ellis Island. When I started to think of color as more than an obstacle to being white. Owning color in America is like scribbling with a Sharpie on rice paper—it bleeds into every crevice and every page. It bleeds into the way you see, the way you taste, and the way you are.
To be yellow is to love. To love the way my skin shimmers in the sun like gold before my mother comes running and shouting with a bottle of something that looks suspiciously like sunscreen. To love the way my blue veins turn green as they show through my forearms. To love the way my uncle can never fully grasp how to pronounce “Chipotle”. To love the errant pieces of Chinese culture that seem slightly out of place in my suburban American home. A red tassel that fell off from Lunar New Year decorations. A traditional ceramic shot glass displayed on my kitchen window sill. My name written on a grain of rice with the tiniest brush I had ever seen, soaking in a water-filled charm, hanging from a nail by my desk, right by some
mardi gras beads.
To be yellow is to want. To know enough to want. To be brave enough to want. To want boys and girls like options and much more garlic bread than I can eat and snow days in October. To want to defend anyone from anything wrong and when I fail, to want to tell myself that at least I tried. To want to spit in the face of people who thought I was too yellow or too girl to talk, to read, to write, to love.
To be yellow is simply to be. To bear the skin that has brought on centuries of pain with pride. To be stronger than any gunman, good enough to survive.