• Tue, Mar 22 2011

How Racist Is It To Call That Slightly Lighter Than Beige Color “Nude”?

Yesterday, we got told on Twitter that the nude shoe gallery we did was “un-PC.” So we considered renaming it the “shoes to match the skin tone of rich white ladies who rarely go out in the sun.” But, you know, we figured that might be worse.

I don’t think “nude” is really the best possible term for that shade. We could probably call it putty. Or beige. Or “rich white lady shade” which I think has a catchy ring to it. Because, obviously it is not nude for anyone who is not a pale skinned Caucasian.

But this is never something I’ve felt a need to jump on the PC bandwagon over, because I think there are far better things to jump on the PC bandwagon over. Well behaved white girls making absurd, hilarious assumptions about Asians on Youtube? Okay. But colors? Really?

Quite honestly, when I think of a nude, I think of a nude woman by Manet. So, ‘Le dejeuner sur l’herbe.’ In which the women are Caucasian. I think of classic nudes in western historical paintings, the majority of which are also – in my limited knowledge of art history – Caucasian. That is what my mind jumps to when I hear the word nude. I don’t really think about modern day, alive people at all.

In the same way, when I think of the color navy, I think of the color navy. I do not think of all the people that have died defending this country.

I do worry that spending too much time thinking about how we label colors draws attention away from things that are actually issues. There are still hate crimes. There’s still a shocking amount of racial prejudice in many parts of the country. If we want to alleviate that, I’m not sure the thing to start with are seemingly frivolous issues like “how we label shoe colors.” Admittedly, I don’t know precisely what it is, but I feel like this is a little bit too trivial an issue to latch onto.

Also, I’m insanely insensitive and make all my statements from a place of privilege (chateau in Bordeaux). How much do you object to the use of “nude” as a color? Should we make it a policy to find different descriptive terms?

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  • Heidi

    “I do worry that spending too much time thinking about how we label colors draws attention away from things that are actually issues. There are still hate crimes. There’s still a shocking amount of racial prejudice in many parts of the country. If we want to alleviate that, I’m not sure the thing to start with are seemingly frivolous issues like “how we label shoe colors.””

    This would be a valid argument if people could only choose one facet of an issue to care about. That’s absolutely false – it’s entirely possible to be bothered by both shoe colors and hate crimes, and entirely possible to put effort into addressing both of those things at once.

    I’ve actually found that the people who put lots of time and energy into fighting the big stuff are likelier to comment on the little stuff – the little stuff builds up a lot faster when you spend your time wearing yourself thin fighting the big stuff.

  • Joe

    Interesting. In 1962, Crayola renamed the “flesh” color to “peach” ( http://www.crayola.com/colorcensus/history/chronology.cfm ). There are probably many other words to describe that color.

  • El

    “But don’t you have BIIIIGGERR THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT??”- classic response when someone calls you out on your bullshit.

    I’d love for you to tell me, a black woman, to my face that pinky-beige skin is the standard, and the rest of us are alternate.

    • Laura

      I think her point was that there are bigger issues related to racial prejudice than the name of a color. It could be argued that the fact that most featured models are caucasian is more of an issue. As a gay person, I’d rather fight for marriage equality than criticize the wedding industry for using straight couples in advertising.

    • ummm

      Newsflash honey: people are capable of worrying about more than one thing at once. Calling that color nude or fleshtone or what have you is part of a larger problem that presents white people as the default, and people of color as The Other.
      That’s great that you care about about marriage equality, but that doesn’t make presenting heteronormative relationships as the default any less problematic.

    • Laura

      My point was that though the labeling only lighter tones as nude is bad, it isn’t the root problem. You don’t focus on the leaky faucet when the house is falling down. Addressing the actual prejudice is harder than fighting over this smaller issue, but in the end it will have a greater impact. Changing the name of a shade isn’t going to undo centuries of racism.

      tl;dr You have a point, but crying wolf over the minor things isn’t going to solve anything.

    • Heidi

      But if the house is falling down because the pipes are leaking and the water’s eating away at everything, it’s totally reasonable to say “by the way, that pipe’s still leaking” while you work on saving the house. If no one addresses the leaky pipes, the house is never going to stop falling apart.

      Racism is not just klansmen and burning crosses; there is racism in the thousands of little ways we remind people of color that we don’t care enough to remember they exist or consider their needs.

    • Laura

      Of course you can call attention to the little things. We should, as a species. But people aren’t going to understand why you would want to if they don’t understand the larger issue.

    • Heidi

      I disagree. If people only think of racism as an issue of big stuff, they aren’t actually going to understand racism. If we don’t call attention to both big stuff and little stuff, what we end up with is strikingly similar to what we have now, where people get defensive about the little things because they hear “racism” and think “KKK”.

    • Laura

      My point was that we can and should call attention to both the big things and the little things. But we shouldn’t cry “TOTALLY RACIST OMG” over everything. We should approach both the big and the little issues with our heads, and not go with the kneejerk reaction.

    • Heidi

      Okay. Why are you assuming the person who called out the original article was being a “TOTALLY RACIST OMG” kneejerk-er?

    • Laura

      The tone seemed a tad bit accusatory. But maybe I misread it. Conveying tone over the internet is rather impossible. That wasn’t my original point anyways. My point was that there is more gray area to this than the first post seemed to let on. We can’t be all right-or-wrong on this. But that’s a whole other discussion…

  • Aj

    Not sure that I have a concrete opinion on it either way, but it could be argued that our acceptance of the “little things” creates a buildup to eventual “bigger things” to happen.

    • Jennifer Wright

      I think that’s a possible argument, but I also think that if you’re outraged by everything, it means people will take your outrage much less seriously when it’s over something legitimate.

  • Sarah

    Personally — as a black woman — I don’t find it offensive. Using the term “nude” to describe the beige-ish color that fits more closely to the skin tone of caucasions versus any other race never really seemed to mean anything. It’s just the name of a color. White people are not the color of white crayons, and black people are not the color of black crayons. In fact, I’m closer to being “nude” colored than I am to actually being “black.” I have been known to speak out about the little injustices in life (like February a.k.a. Black History Month being Chocolate Lover’s Month at Dunkin’ Donuts) and I really just don’t see this as one of them.

    • mookie

      isn’t february chocolate lover’s month because of valentines day, and as chocolates are a go-to gift, hence the chocolate association?

  • Eileen

    I do have to agree, not with all your reasoning, but with the fact that “nude,” when describing a color, doesn’t mean to me “naked skin” as much as it does “kind of a taupe-y beige.” I also agree that people who fight the big stuff are more likely to notice the little stuff, though, and the fact that shoe colors isn’t a big thing doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about how we label them.

    Or you could just tell everyone that when you say “nude” you mean “North Asian colored.”

  • cinderkeys

    Is it an issue I’d spend hours of time on? No. But so what? It doesn’t take hours of time to call that color something else.

  • Susie

    I do happen to agree with the above poster who stated that when you spend a great deal of time drawing attention to “seemingly frivolous” PC issues, such as how we label shoe and panty hose colors, people tend to not listen as much when you bring forth seemingly “more serious” issues. As Sarah stated, she considers herself black and she feels her skin color appears more “nude” than black, if you had to use the words to actually describe her skin tone.

    Those of us in fashion have grown to know the color nude to represent a particular shade in the color spectrum, just as beige, taupe, honey and walnut also would. I and many others would just see these terms as colors, not as representative of a flesh. If you called something flesh, I would have no idea, having worked in fashion and cosmetics for 15 years, what that particular color would look like, as it to me has no historical basis on the fashion color wheel.

    I don’t see how re-labelling the shoe or pantyhose color of nude to something else will stop the prejudice that is still rampant in many parts of this country, or give minorities more equal opportunities in the work place. To me, these are issues worth fighting for and I’m not sure re-labelling nude is the way to achieve these goals.

    • http://ginandjudgment.blogspot.com Coho

      I see we had roughly the same thought, I just got distracted and didn’t get a chance to read yours before I posted mine. :)

  • http://ginandjudgment.blogspot.com Coho

    After I read this, I thought, maybe I’m the only one who thinks of “nude” in terms of color as something fluid, something open to interpretation.

    For example, I’m thinking of the color blue. I want you to think of the color blue. What did you come up with? Navy? Cerulean? Robin’s egg? Sky? Lake? Ocean? Powder? Royal? Those are all shades of blue. Just like there are several shades of nude.

    I did a Google Image search for nude lipstick, and came up with this:
    http://www.wallofstyles.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/00B1BFEE71A42801614532A57A05A2ED.jpg
    There’s a shade for pretty much every skin tone in that collection. Each of those shades is nude. “Nude” is a term, like “blue,” that denotes a certain color family. It’s a tan, or a brown, or a very pale pink with yellow undertones. It’s a beige with olive tones, or red tones, or yellow tones. It’s warm. It’s cool. It’s neutral. It could be pretty much anything on the spectrum of skin colors.

    It’s a color family. I don’t think it’s a race issue at all. If we’re going to be getting into that, then yes, maybe TheGloss staffers could have included nude shoes on the darker end of the spectrum rather than just focusing on the light end. But it’s not something they did maliciously, or intentionally, as a racial slight.

    Though personally, I’ve never been into the nude trend. If I want to look naked, I’ll just go naked.

    • Laura

      I was going to make this point, but you beat me to it. A nude is a shade that is close to your skin tone, whatever that may be.

    • http://ginandjudgment.blogspot.com Coho

      Right, Laura? I mean, I’m pretty damn pale. Nude to me is usually “clear” to everyone else. “Transparent,” even. LOL

    • Laura

      Oh my goodness yes. Most ‘nude’ shades are at least 3 shades darker than me. Finding foundation is a nightmare.

  • kjon

    What I find interesting is that before this, I never thought the color “nude” equaled caucasian skin tone at all. In fact, I find that when I encounter the color, its more yellow-based than pink-based. That would be more matching to a light golden/slightly tawny person and I can think of a whole range of places on every continent where you can find people that match that color (caucasian people, too). Although I know it comes it a wide variety of hues, I almost never associate it with white skin. In fact, I’ve seen the color on quite a few caucasian people and sometimes it looks a bit off with their pink-based skin (no offense!).

  • Jamie B

    “I do worry that spending too much time thinking about how we label colors draws attention away from things that are actually issues.”
    ^^THIS.
    It’s just a color. If someone wants to be offended about a racial issue, there are plenty of genuine ones.

  • anon

    a bold stance to take for a site that only posts articles about frivolous topics. ‘this isn’t an important issue’ is a weak defense when nothing you discuss is of much importance.

  • Jo

    I feel like the commenters saying they never associate nude with skin tone are … oblivious. I think you probably haven’t considered it, but somewhere in your mind the relationship is there.

    Moreover, the fact that white women can get a “nude bra” (which is when I most often come across this color) it’s so that it looks NUDE, so it’s like you’re not wearing one! As a white woman, you don’t really have to bother contemplating the deeper significance of this color though, as a black woman, you’d be more likely to notice.

    I also agree with some of the commenters here who have pointed out that you can fight for multiple causes at once. For instance, I (personally) probably wouldn’t picket the crayola factory to change the color on their crayon, but I would contemplate the cultural implications of it, assess my own privilege in this situation, and perhaps keep my reflections in mind in future contexts when the issue might arise. Meanwhile, I’d also fight for the “bigger stuff.”

    • Lauren

      Actually, white women do need to contemplate the color of a nude bra. I’m seriously the palest person on the planet and my nude bra is about 10 shades darker than the actual color of my skin. I cannot wear it under sheer clothing for it to be hidden. I actually wear pale pink bras under white or sheer clothing to match my skin tone better.

    • kjon

      Lauren, that was essentially the point of my comment! Some paler/pinker caucasians don’t even match “nude” so I question where everyone got this association anyway. I call a pink-based nude “dusty rose”. Just because the color doesn’t match everyone doesn’t mean it was named for just white people. I hate the whole “we {non-whites} are the others” attitude. It doesn’t help anything, it just turns a perceived “separation” into a real one.

  • Lucinda

    It’s my personal belief that once we as a society stop talking about “race” then racism will stop. People are people no matter what color they may be. It’s 2011. Seriously.

    This coming from a “white” woman from a one intersection town in the South. It bugs me to no end that I am labeled a racist just because I have a drawl to my speech pattern. I can’t help that anymore than someone could their skin tone!

    You will find that most racism in this town is from “white” MEN. And they’re generally miserable about everything, anyways. I catch crap for not marrying one of them still. Excuse me, but I’ll take being married to the Latin man who treats me like a Queen than be married to one of them and be abused and have to suffer their ignorance on a daily basis.

    • Heidi

      “Stop talking about race” is, in essence, “stop challenging racism”; the people perceived as bringing race into the conversation are almost always people who are responding to someone else subtly making race the issue. If we tell people who are challenging racism to stop, then those racist behaviors that hurt them will continue unabated.

    • Danielle

      Heidi, they’re not saying to ‘stop challenging racism’ they’re saying to stop looking at the world in terms of race. I don’t think they would stand by and let racism happen as opposed to saying something about it. You should absolutely challenge racism when brought to your attention and when ‘racism’ is actually happening, but not everything is about race yet some people make it out to be. As Lauren stated above- telling someone “I met a nice woman today” not “I met a nice black woman today”, unless it is for some reason relevant to your story.

  • Lucinda

    And I never buy Nude color clothing b/c it looks so odd. I have yet to meet a person the color of Nude, or that could wear a Nude color anything and it not stick out from their natural skin tone. “NUDE. Because Creamy-Pinkish-Beige took up too much room on the Crayola wrapper!!”

    • mary

      well the funny thing is, crayola used to have an apricot color called “skin”. they have since changed it to “peach”.

  • Lauren

    In the words of Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a little bit racist, it’s true. But everyone is just about as racist as you! If we all could just admit, that we are racist a little bit, and everyone stopped being So PC! Maybe we could live in – Harmony!”

    If people stop making race the be all end all of arguments, I don’t think it would be an issue. When I meet someone new I don’t think “I just met a black woman who is nice.” I think “I just met a nice woman, I hope she doesn’t judge the fact that I’m wearing last night’s eye liner”. Once people stop talking about race, people will stop seeing race and just start seeing people. Let’s all take a deep breathe, a shot of your preferable hard alcohol, and relax.

    • Heidi

      If you are taking that song as a literal endorsement of casual racism, you’ve missed the point.

    • Lauren

      Actually, I’m not. So I think you missed the point.

    • Heidi

      Okay. Would you mind explaining a little more? I’m sure I’m just being dense, but what I see is you quoting the song, then putting forward a position which is just a nicely-worded way to tell people to stop challenging racism when they see it. It’s hard not to read it as a literal interpretation of a satirical song.

    • Lauren

      My quoting of the song was just a joke to lighten the atmosphere on the comments. I didn’t mean that everyone should admit that they are racist and move on.

      My statement below the quote is how I perceive things. Which is not the way you do, or the way others do, but it is my opinion, and I thought I would share it since this post was clearly made to get a conversation going. I didn’t mean it as “stop challenging racism”. I meant it in regards to this particular post about how The Gloss was called un-PC by calling a collection of shoes “nude” when that is exactly what they are advertised as by the designers. This shouldn’t be an issue of race in my opinion. I have never looked at a nude color anything and assume that this is my skin tone because I am white. In fact 95% of nude colored clothing is much DARKER than my skin tone, so even though I’m white, I cannot identify with “nude” as my skin tone either. I think a lot of time things are blown way out of proportion because of being PC when it wasn’t an issue of race at all to begin with. This is what I mean. I did not mean that everyone should have a blind-eye to racism, or hate crimes. Just that not everything needs to be perceived as racism when it was clearly not the intent of the originally gallery posted.

  • Patricia

    oh for heaven’s sake. Call it nude, say light beige, beige, creamy, white rich lady, bloomdurkasrten. Who cares? Of course we have to fight racism in its smallest and biggest manifestations, but this is just silly.

  • Goldie

    Tim Gunn (pinnacle of good manners and fashion sense) doesn’t say nude because he considers it racist, and what’s good enough for Gunn is good enough for me.

    Seriously though– the “there are far more important issues to get upset about” is just a trope used to dismiss the argument entirely. Nobody has to get outraged for the term to be deemed racist, and just because somebody IS outraged doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

    If the issue is such small potatoes then why don’t you all prove your own point and start saying “beige” ?

    • Goldie

      gahh … insert “argument” between “upset about” and “is just a trope”.

      sorry, ya’ll.

    • Goldie

      Actually, I just re-read the Tim Gunn article, and apparently beige isn’t dressy enough for a cocktail party anyway. Double slam. Here it is: http://bit.ly/f0QTSc

      (yes, I have an unhealthy obsession with Tim Gunn)

  • OJC

    I wouldn’t use such a ‘hard’ term as ‘racist’ like I’d use to describe the KKK or a Neo-Nazi. (I am African American btw) It just goes to prove the fact that people of color were ‘not considered in the ‘spectrum’ when ‘ideals of beauty’ were begun by a European based society. Just based on the terminology alone, it shows that fashion and beauty practices the world over never included our women of color. Non people of color have never really thought about this as being an issue, but women of color for damn sure have. It’s not a good/happy/fun thing to ALWAYS see that blonde/blue is the ideal of ‘beauty’. Are white women the only pretty women on the planet? What about Asian, Latin, Indian, African? Did anyone ever think to take a census of what other people had to say? No they did not. Things like that hurt and can breed resentment. It wasn’t until the 1940′s (as far as I know of) that African Americans started their own fashion and beauty magazines such as Sepia and Ebony. Before that we had nothing to look to. So, yes, such terms as ‘nude’ should be changed because it does offend. What would a sales clerk at Macy’s do if a dark skinned African American girl came up asking for nude lipstick or pantyhose? Hmmm? EXACTLY my point. Oh well, that’s my 2¢ as an African American male. Have a nice day all.

    • Hope

      Dear sir,i’ve been to central africa twice and seen the amazing niomi cambell close up and i can assure you guys and girls have definatly got the winning hand when it comes to the beauty stakes.No one in africa has cellulite where i was because they ate african food and no one had a fridge for food as they eat it the same day they get it.the beauty of integrity,compassion and baring your responsibilities are more appriciated than weather your goodlooking or not.there brightly patterned clothes look hopeless on whiteskin look at VLISCO wax cloth website and check out the models and keep it as your screensaver .african beauty is very alive and kicking on that continent but their biggest beauty is how NICE the material poor are to each other and that was the main beauty of africans and their africa.in the mercent of venice by shakspere theres a scene where compliments are given to an african suitor so the concept of negative came in with the slave trade probably out of fear.also without african fractuals (look it up on red conferance website)we wouldnt be connecting on a computer.thats my 3000Caf? of a i cant wait to get back to african africa and eat non gm fresh food (only whites i saw was me and 2 albinos) european woman.may your ancestors look over you and you have a great day.

  • Magda

    Haha. Funny story. In high school a friend of mine was coming out in one of the musicals put on by our drama department. It was the dress rehersal and she forgot her stockings so she called her mom and asked her to pick up some “nude” tights for her. When she pulled them out of the package they were brown tights, so she called her mom and was like, “Why did you get me brown, I asked for nude?” to which her mom replied, perplexed, “The package said nude!” My friend checked the package and It said nude and then in smaller letters it said like, dark nude or something oddly obscure. I think its hilarious. I am not a “rich white lady” and I don’t take offence to that wierd shade of beige being called nude. We call white “white” and as someone pointed out to me once, for some people white is nude. I think if we’re going to change it, we should change it to taupe… even though I’m not sure what color that is. I just like the word.

  • Hope

    Peach,or angosax,is probably what non racist africans would call the colour in africa but really they would use peach as their generally a sexier happier population yummm and i hope one of them bites me soon!

    • mary

      I literally did not understand anything in your comment.