Paper People Checks & Race

This is a very random post that I wasn't planning on doing, but I cannot seem to stop myself from writing it.

I ordered some new checks the other day. I usually purchase something cute and take a billion hours choosing the design. I saw these new Paper People Checks, which are absolutely adorable. I was thinking about ordering them, so I went further into the website to choose my people. I was looking for a cute little brown girl. I think there are approximately 100 characters to choose from, but none of them are brown. I found that rather odd.

If I'm going to buy something like a card with people, I look for one that has some diversity of people shown. They couldn't have one or two brown characters out of 100? They even have pets and random objects for some of the characters.

Again, my curiosity and irritation got the better of me, so I wrote to customer service saying how I loved their new line of checks, but why no brown people. This morning I received this reply.
"Thank you for contacting us. It is the artist's belief that her Paper People are just that.....Paper People....void of color at all and more about what is inside our souls rather than our external appearances. We appreciate your feedback and it will be forwarded."

This reminded me of someone who said to me that she didn't consider me black. Huh? I know that she considered it a compliment, but it wasn't. I think that she just meant that I differ from her idea of who is a black person and how "we" behave. I get that a lot and it irritates me to no end.

It's like the whole idea of a color-blind society. Ignoring color should not be the goal. People are different colors. Nature loves diversity. We should be able to acknowledge and embrace our differences, not merely be tolerant. The goal should be to not treat each other badly or differently based on color.

So after I read this email, I became curious about the artist, Laura Kelly. Her work is beautiful. And she actually has some cute little note cards with some brown people.(Updated July 6, 2012: A fair number of people still end up on this post looking for the checks. The link to the note cards is broken, so I removed it.)

I don't know what the deal is with the Paper People checks. I agree that we should care more about what's in our souls than by external appearances. However, I think that the customer service representative failed to see that by choosing not to represent people with any color, by default all the characters are white. Just my two cents for the day.

Anali's First Amendment © 2006-2008. All rights reserved.

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Anonymous said…
So Stephen Colbert runs a check company, too?
Anonymous said…
This reminded me of someone who said to me that she didn't consider me black.

*bangs head against desk* My wife gets that a lot here in Boston but didn't when she lived in Miami.

Massachusetts is still very much a segregated state and it shows when you get a comment like that which is meant as a compliment (I think) but really just goes to show what kind of bubble of ignorance the person has been living in.
Suldog said…
"We should be able to acknowledge and embrace our differences, not merely be tolerant. The goal should be to not treat each other badly or differently based on color."

Amen to that.

Question: Were the "Paper People" given pigment, or just outlines with the check color as their "skin" tone? I don't mean to upset the apple cart here - you know I love you - but if the check color was the pigment, I can kind of see their point. Of course, if all had straight hair, thinner pointy noses, or whatever else might be seen as white, then I see YOUR point :-)
Suldog said…
And now, I did the sensible thing I should have done in the first place. I went to the website. You're absolutely correct. They're all pretty much white people, aren't they? I can see why you were disappointed.
Lisa Johnson said…
adamg - He just might! Thanks for stopping by Adam. ; )

chris - So true and unfortunate! I guess all that I can do is try and explain to the person when it happens, but that can get exhausting after a while.

suldog - I'm glad you found the link. Yeah, it was pretty disheartening. I mean scrolling through all those people. Well, I'm at least glad that I said something.
Anonymous said…
I agree with you so much. Why is it that anyone in this world should have to hide their true color, culture, and heritage. I do believe that nature embraces diversity, and wants us to do the sane as well.
Liz Dwyer said…
A good observation, Anali and kudos to you for following up with the check company. I can't stand that pseudo color-blind talk because usually whatever is being excused is not color blind. I also get frustrated when I'm trying to buy greeting cards and the cards are always animals, white characters or else the one "mahogany" card that's five bucks. If I don't like that one card, I'm out of luck!
Lisa Johnson said…
kei - Welcome! Thanks for stopping by and for the words of support! :D

los angelista - I so agree with you about the one Mahogany card! There are no other cards with brown faces on them and they usually only keep in stock one Mahogany card per category. Aaaargh!!! ; )
So So Simple said…
Hi Anali
I haven't written out a cheque for months
It seems that in my everyday life nearly all my transcations are done online these days.
I like the idea of the personalized stamps that you can order though. So maybe they could do personal cheques and then you can post them out with your personalized stamps.
Wouldn't that be fun?
Anonymous said…
"This reminded me of someone who said to me that she didn't consider me black."

Oh, I know the words to this song, too well.

It's from the soundtrack from my life, since I was a kid.
Lisa Johnson said…
so simple - I do most transactions online too, which is why it takes longer and longer to run out of checks. Those personalized stamps are a great idea. I haven't used any yet though. I was thinking about it for Christmas.

gunfighter1 - I wonder when people will stop saying that line...
Michael Leddy said…
Hi Anali,

I found your blog via T., the anesthesioboist (how I love trying to spell and type that word). I look forward to reading more.

These checks — what an amazing example of how the "color line" is present in so many odd, everyday ways, still, in this new century. These checks remind me of life during my childhood, when Crayola's "Flesh" crayon was a light pinkish-brown. And of the now-common classroom exercise of asking students to describe themselves so that a stranger can identify them at an airport. White students will very often omit any reference to color ("white" is their default setting).

I'm reminded too of what the narrator in Invisible Man asks — am I to become colorless? If I were black, I can't imagine how I would react to someone telling me that they didn't think of me as black. (What then would I be?!) And if they meant "only as black," I guess I'd think that was mighty white of them. : )
Lisa Johnson said…
michael leddy - Welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by and for your insightful comments. You have hit the nail squarely on the head! : )

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