Just a Color
By Eric Burton
On November 17, 2014
“OK, touch red!” The students rushed around the classroom looking for something red. A pen, poster, book bag, T-shirt, anything they could find. “Great! Now find green!” Once again my students raced around the classroom. Some touched the chalkboard, others took a more direct approach; tackling anyone who was wearing a green T-shirt.
“Now, touch brown!” Again my students wildly roamed about the class. This time though, a few latched onto me; a group effort to topple their towering English teacher. As I looked around at the other students, some were surprisingly touching their own faces. Trying to maintain my balance, I couldn’t help but smile in solidarity at the students who weren’t afraid to acknowledge that they were brown like me.
this one miniscule aspect of my existence, has significantly shaped my reality growing up until now
For practically my entire life I’ve been defined by the color of my skin: black. Due to schooling and upbringing, I became well aware of my own blackness at a very young age. My skin color was apart of my identity, and I didn’t really have choice in the matter.
When I got older my skin tone would get me into unwanted trouble with authority figures. Just about every black friend and family member I have has experienced racism at some point in their lives. This one color, this one miniscule aspect of my existence, has significantly shaped my reality growing up until now.
Just like that, my students (and many others I did this lesson with later on) changed the way I had come to see myself. They took the color out of race and brought it back to its more appropriate meaning: human. Looking back on this experience, I wonder if American elementary school students would have reacted in the same way.Photo by Aka Hige
Due to the United States’ historical background, color and ethnicity have grown to become an almost inseparable part of individual identity. Diversity is such a beautiful characteristic of our nation. Yet in a weird way, it sort of makes us even more aware and assertive of our very own individuality.
I came to Japan to teach English. Yet over time, I’ve come to learn more from my students than they might be learning from me. It’s the little things they do, like the touch color game, for example, that make me say, “Hmm, I never thought of it that way.” It’s one of the reasons why I have grown to enjoy teaching here.
Children are filled with wonder; absent of the misconceptions and prejudices we adults might unfortunately harbor over time. I find the insights these young ones unknowingly bestow upon me to be quite enlightening.
My name is Eric. I’m an English teacher, budget traveler, Trekkie and habitual coffee drinker in Japan. Like Seneca, I’m learning how to “count each day as a separate life,” and in doing so, have discovered that I have quite a few stories to share.
This is the first of many tales I hope to share with my fellow GaijinPot readers. So come along for the journey, as I learn, grow, and adapt to my second home: Japan.