Brown by Nijel "Niggy" Thomas



Since Black History month is coming to an end, I feel it is a good time to share this story of mine. Over the summer here on Pitt’s campus, I worked as a camp counselor for its YMCA. Interestingly enough, this camp had a lot of kids who came from foreign countries, specifically China. Some of whom just came to stay over summer with parents or other relatives doing work here, and others just recently migrated to America. At the beginning of the summer, when camp had first started, it was often my duty to watch over the youngest kids. These kids were mostly ages 5 to 7, with the exception of a few 4 year olds. It was two of the 4 year olds that gave me one of the most impacting experiences so far in my life.

            These two 4 year olds were girls whose families recently came to America from China. For the purpose of this blog I’ll just call them Yin and Yang. Yin was very nice and cooperative. She seemed to be the favorite among all the camp counselors for the time she was there because she was very discipline at her age. Yin did not cause any trouble with any of the other campers or counselors and followed directions that she was given. Yang, however, was the complete opposite. Yang did not listen to any of the counselors and would always cause a big fuss when things did not go her way. I feel as if I had grown closer to Yang because she reminded me of how I was described to be at that age, hard-headed!

            One day of camp, the other camp counselors and I were beginning to start a drawing activity with the campers. I was sitting at a table with Yin and Yang trying to instruct them on what to do for the activity. Yin, of course, listened to me and started the activity, whereas Yang kept getting out of her seat and walking around the table, circling me. Neither of the two girls could speak English very well, Yin a little better than Yang, but I had caught on the fact that Yang would often belittle the counselor’s instructions by just not communicating at all. The only times she would talk would be in Mandarin with Yin. Beginning to get a little impatient with her, I had asked Yin why Yang never listened to me. Yin simply responded, “She said it’s because you’re black.” I was in disbelief! I was crushed! These girls were only four years old, yet already misguided by race’s role in our society.

            The rest of that day I could not think straight. All of my personal theories, approaches, solutions, etc. was poured into the drain by these 4 year old Chinese girls. I did not know if I could continue to associate with Yang because of what I had learned. After talking to a few of the other counselors about what had happen, I had finally gotten a grip on myself. “This girl is only 4 years old,” I thought to myself, “She’s vulnerable to any idea. I should give her the correct one.” The next day (or few days later, I can’t remember), I was playfully interacting with Yang and told her to put her hand on the ground next to mine. I asked her what she saw. She pointed at my hand and said “Black!” and then pointed at her own and said “Yellow.” I told her that she was wrong, then pointed at both our hands and proclaimed, “Brown.” Her entire face lit up! Hysterical at a fact she had never known before, she could sense that I was telling the truth. From that moment on she began to listen and follow my instructions.

by Nijel "Niggy" Thomas