Cultured, sensitive markers

Crayola now offers “Multicultural” markers, crayons and colored pencils in an “ethnic-sensitive color palette.” That is, the markers come in “diverse” skin tones from pale pink to dark brown. Not one is labeled “flesh.”

The idea of cultured, sensitive markers is silly, writes Eugene Volokh.

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  1. I don’t think it’s silly at all. The preschool my youngest attends is diverse, with students of a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds. I think the kids would enjoy having a set of markers like this for when they are drawing. That way each of them could find one similar to his/her own skin tone.

  2. I like the idea – although based on what I remember from my marker-coloring days, the ink from the marker always comes out way darker than it looks like it will on the box. Also, I’m wondering what the titles of the new colors will be. Talk amongst yourselves….

  3. dangermom says:

    There have been crayons like this for a long time. I think it’s just fine and dandy.

  4. dangermom says:

    Though they could probably just have labeled it “Skin Tones” and been done with it.

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I agree with Professor Volokh (as usual): there’s nothing multicultural about the markers at all.

    They should label the entire package “Skin Tones” and leave it at that.

  6. Its free market at its best. Somebody saw a potential market niche and decided to fill it. Conservatives should be impressed (I know I am- I wish I had thought of it!). However, the modern day conservative movement is much more concerned about whining than it is about celebrating its principles, so Volokh (who I usually admire), has decided to join in and whine. Pity.

  7. Young children of color who live and go to school in a mostly white environment, have an especially difficult time when it’s time to use crayons.

    It reminds of the days when classroom video technology wasn’t as advanced as it it is now, when video recording was low resolution and only in black and white.

    I simply could not record any video if I had black students in the class. It wasn’t fair to them that they were the only ones whose facial features couldn’t be seen.

    Now I record with my HD iPhone and there isn’t that problem.

    Skin tone crayons? It’s an excellent idea. I still remember the look of pain, confusion and embarrassment in years past.

  8. Michael E. Lopez says:


    What are you talking about? The extremely mild complaint at issue is about language, not politics. It’s silly to call the markers multicultural just like it would be silly to sell “Environmentally Friendly Pet Rocks.” There’s just nothing environmentally friendly (or unfriendly) about pet rocks — they’re just rocks and it’s silly to call them environmentally friendly.

    That’s not to say you won’t sell more rocks, but it is to say that if you do, your customers have been taken in by a silly ploy.

  9. Agreed that “multicultural” isn’t a very apt name. All of the markers in that box could be used to draw pictures of children who are “African-American.” (or, for that matter, “Latino,” or “Caucasian.”) “Skin tones” is better.

  10. Two points Michael-

    1) The right has been flailing over the idea of the US being a multicultural country ever since the word started being used in common parlance. They feel it is unAmerican somehow. Volkoh’s post is not just a minor semantical difference but rather a political stance.

    2) multicultural is a better word choice than skin tone, simply because it is a better seller. you referenced “environmentally friendly” pet rocks as if it would be a silly thing to call them that, but in today’s market climate where green sells, it would indeed be clever to call them that, whether or not the right wing fringe might think it sounds silly.

  11. and don’t get me wrong, Michael. I am an old school libertarian conservative who voted for bush twice (although I regretted that around 2006). i belive very strongly in free market principles and democracy and the constitution’s freedoms and individual choice (especially in education). i just don’t feel that today’s paranoia fueled republican party reflects those principles any longer. they say they belive in them, but they use them only to contrast themselves as anti left and come across as overreacting and silly (disagree with Obama if you feel so inclined, but calling him a Marxist is silly and immature on the same level as the extreme left calling Bush a fascist. wasn’t right then, isn’t right now).

  12. Yeah, I think multicultural is the wrong word to use.

  13. While I agree that the naming of these markers is silly, their existence is not. I’m guessing the naming is because some states and accrediting agencies for early childhood have a requirement for multiculturally-sensitive materials. When I had to make a classroom portfolio I had to demonstrate that I had multicultural materials. So, I had to take pictures of all the “stuff” that would count: dolls of all kinds, puzzles and pictures of all kinds, and, yes, crayons, markers, and paper that reflected all sorts of skin tones. I think it’s a fair requirement to have such things in an early ed classroom, but sometimes we do silly stuff to prove that we have it.

    I agree that “skin tone” is a better description for these markers, but when a school is looking to prove their cultural sensitivity and one box says “multicultural” and the other does not, you know which one gets purchased. By the way, I’m pretty sure these markers have been around for at least a few years. They aren’t new. They just have a silly name.

  14. For a style of markers, which have been around for many years, this is a lot of buzz.

  15. Michael E. Lopez says:


    I take your point about clever marketing, but you’ve got Volokh all wrong. I’ve met the man, taken a class with him, played chess with him, and been to his house. Trust me — you’re misreading his post.

  16. Michael,

    that’s pretty cool. he is obviously a really smart guy and i enjoy reading his stuff. it just seems like a really weird thing to get worked up about. anyway, go butler.

  17. Swede’s right, this is the market working although I rather doubt Swede, and the resident lefties, will want to delve too deeply into that marketing success.

    The target market is, of course, the parents and this has the same appeal to those parents as did “Bush Lied, People Died” bumper stickers; the sensation of doing something worthwhile without the need for courage, commitment or self-examination.

    “Oh look at me!” shout the crayons. “I’m all multi-cultural and culturally-sensitive! I’m so committed to social justice that even the crayons I buy my kids proclaim my urbane broadmindedness”.

    Sorry folks but the Civil Rights era is behind us and the bad guys lost. You’re late to the party and the pretense that you can still strike a blow for equality is just that, a pretense.

  18. My kindergartners and first graders love these markers (the markers have been around a long time) and spend a lot of time deciding which one to use for their skin tones. (I’ve even caught them drawing on themselves to find a good match as though they were testing make up). They don’t care what they are called, they just like using them in their pictures as they transition away from the stage of making every person all pink or all red. Frankly, if I called them multi-cultural markers they’d have no idea what I meant, so we just call them skin color markers. But it really doesn’t matter.
    The kids certainly don’t care about making a political statement or how the right vs the left feels about them. They just want to make pictures. Sometimes we adults can get way too involved and worked up about something simple.

  19. Roger Sweeny says:

    To be clear, Volokh is not complaining about the existence of the product. He is objecting to the name because skin color and culture are just not the same thing. To think so is, well, racist.

    He would prefer the name “skin tone.” But as a number of his commenters pointed out, “multicultural” probably works better as a marketing device. And if state ed departments confuse skin color with culture, all the more reason to use the inaccurate name. Of course, it would be nice if the state ed departments didn’t make the confusion.

  20. Roger Sweeny says:

    According to the Crayola website, they also make Multicultural Colored Pencils and Multicultural Crayons. The crayon colors are officially, “black, sepia, peach, apricot, white, tan, mahogany and burnt sienna.” The pencil colors are officially, “black, red, mahogany, peach, brown, dark brown, light brown and tan.” There’s no listing of the marker colors.

  21. Is it just me, or does it seem a bit insensitive to proclaim all these colors to be washable? Last time I checked, neither Black, White, nor Brown was something we could wash off…

  22. I disagree about the video/photo thing. When you have students of very different skin tones (very light, and very dark), I find that you absolutely HAVE to do some photoshopping to get both to show up without washing out one to a ghost-like pallor, or making the other a dark mass of undifferentiated features.

  23. Primary colors are “culturally white”? Who knew?

    Apparently blacks and Hispanics can’t like blue, red, yellow, purple, and green. Go figure.

  24. BadaBing says:

    The road to a multicultural society is fraught with potholes and dangerous curves. There will continue to be a lot of road-rage and wreckage along the way, but in the end it’s really worth it.