During an enrichment activity in my kindergarten class, I learned how the world viewed me. "Black" was the name it would call me. My teacher, Ms. Crowder, instructed the class to use a box of crayons and a sheet of  paper to draw a picture of ourselves.  The task seemed simple, until Ms. Crowder handed me a box of crayons.

I pulled crayon after crayon out of the box, placing each next to my arm, anxiously searching for the one that best mirrored my complexion.  To my dismay, I found none. One crayon remotely matched the pigmentation in my skin, and upon discovering it, I began drawing my self-portrait. After I finished, the young man sitting next to me found my portrait wanting for accuracy. "What are you doing, coloring yourself peach?" he exclaimed. "You're not white.

"You're black," he said, handing me a black crayon. "Here, use this."

michael bryant / Staff Photographer

I stared at the crayon, and back at my arm. The two bore no similarities. I could not grasp the rationale behind the boy's association with my skin and the black crayon. It left me vexed.

As an African American reared below the Mason-Dixon, I find significant portions of my personal narrative's arc bending along the color line Du Bois referenced more than a century ago. My mother spent her formative years in Memphis during a time when local officials routinely delayed the removal of "White Only" signs from public accommodations, even after federal mandates to do so. My father immigrated to the United States from Ghana in the early 1970s, and upon his arrival, experienced racism and xenophobia at a level at which he still finds difficult to speak of to this day.

Their collective experiences forged within them a charge to instill in me a confidence in my identity.  I was a true African American, the son of a man born on the continent and a woman born the descendant of West Africans enslaved in the U.S. Thus my experience in kindergarten, while it cemented my understanding of outsiders' perspectives of me, it could not dim the pride in my heritage sparked from learning who I was.  Whether one may identify me as "black," "African American," or some other title du jour, I have an understanding of my lineage, my cultural heritage, and my existence within a collective history of Africans in America.  That brought me joy then, and continues to do so now.

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