“American Gothic” or how coloring in art class makes you realize you are different

I went to the same tiny private school from kindergarten to eighth grade where I was the only one in my grade with a non-white parent. I was also the only one with curly hair, and in my mind, those two things held equal weight.

We used to do a project in art class every year in anticipation of parents’ night at our school. We would all make our own version of the same piece of art, and the teacher would leave it at our desks for our parents to admire our fledgling artistic talents.

Only one of these assignments is lodged in my memory: in first grade, we studied the painting “American Gothic.” For parents night, we each drew our own version of the iconic work featuring our parents instead of the farmer and his wife. Despite the fact that at the time I drew always people with arms that stuck out at 90 degree angles from their bodies and block-shaped torsos, my parents were the only ones who could identify their child’s drawing on parents’ night. As all the other families milled around the room trying to guess which picture of a skinny blonde woman next to a balding white man was drawn by their child, my parents were cracking up. There was, after all, only one drawing in the room of a person whose skin color had been drawn with a brown marker.

They came home and laughed about it, but the fact that I still remember that night means it must have been more than funny.


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