With the aim to foster a greater sense of inclusivity, Crayola released a box of crayons that reflect a range of skin tones.

A box of Crayola’s new crayons stood amongst some art supplies in a school classroom. They weren’t given much attention until the teacher instructed the children to draw a picture. “A self-portrait,” she suggested. Suddenly, everyone ran to grab the crayons from the box on the shelf; each child picked their colours and returned to their desks. These crayons reflected different skin tones, and the students adjusted their drawings with the colours they saw fit. A couple of years ago, however, this would not have been the case. Children of varied skin tones may have reached for the same colour — the “skin colour” they called it. With its light peach shade, this crayon resembled the skin tone of white individuals, and in a world still marked by colonial beauty standards, appeared as the “correct” or “attractive” crayon to use. To address this toxic narrative, Crayola brought out Colours of the World in 2020: a range of crayons made to showcase different skin tones. Crayons are not only colouring tools; they reflect societal values, norms, and beliefs. In fact, in the 90s Crayola was criticised for their feeble attempt at inclusivity (Estrada, 2012). In the 21st century, as issues of race, representation and standards of beauty come to the fore, crayons are being scruitinised even further. Let’s see whether Colours of the World has helped them rectify their previous mistakes and reconstruct social narratives. After all, they centered this new range on “inclusion within creativity (Wray, 2020).”

These crayons help us reflect on the importance of representation. In the late 20th and early 21st century, more minority groups have been represented in product and service design. In 1980, the first black and Hispanic barbies were introduced on the market (Barbie, 2016). In 2005 Band-Aid created bandages in a range of skin tones (Klein, 2020) and in 2015, different skin colour options were given to emoji characters (Warren 2015 in Alexander & Costandius, 2017). Despite these strides, children often still regard white-associated products as more desirable (Fanpage.it, 2016). These choices, while devastating, are not surprising.

racial language socialisation, and what it means for today’s world

The racialisation of people, ideas and things can be rooted in European colonialism and continue to pervade contemporary society. Historically, race was employed to justify European domination and fostered staunch racial prejudices (Zimmermann et al., 2015, p. 36). So, language too, has been racialised. People give words particular meanings, and overtime naturalise world views. Here lies a closer look at the contemporary impact of such language socialisation.

In 1903 Crayola launched their first box of crayons in which they described the light-peach colour as “flesh tint.” Following pressure from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, they changed the crayon’s name, nonetheless still revealing a distinctly colonial idea of skin colour (Roth, 2009, p. 142). So, when children refer to the “skin-colour” crayon, they are expressing a particular world view — one in which “whiteness” has been universalised (Alexander & Costandius, 2017).

Mathabo Mahlo, a South African woman, elaborates on her experience of the frequently used term “skin-colour” while growing up | Ella van Geuns via SoundCloud
Despite their skin tones, children use light coloured crayons, or mix colours to create their self-portraits | From the South African study mentioned above (Alexander & Costandius, 2017, p. 124)

Name: Crayola, Colours of the World.

3D Model

Creator: Ella van Geuns

Date: 25-01-2022

Place: Maastricht

Themes: Inclusivity

Captured with Nikon 600D on a tripod, four lights, lazy Susan, lightbox, grey card

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Windows 10 (64-bit operating system)

Sketchfab: https://skfb.ly/otFFB

Physical Object

Size: 7 x 2.5 x 11.5 cm

Weight: 143 g

Material: Parrafin waxm colour pigment, paper, carboard

a plight towards inclusivity

In reaction to this, Crayola’s crayons inspire conversations about changing beauty standards. For decades, individuals of colour have been underrepresented. Following the Black Lives Matter Movement, which first started in 2013 against police brutality towards black individuals, there has been a call for businesses to foster greater inclusivity (Maddix, 2021). In Crayola’s plight towards representing their customers, they launched Multicultural Crayons in 1992. They failed at true inclusivity, however, by offering only a limited selection of colours — all of which already existed in other crayon boxes (Estrada, 2012). Crayola’s 2020 Colours of the World range hoped to rectify this and for Mimi Dixon, the woman who spearheaded the crayons’ launch, representation served as the cornerstone for this business endeavour (Robinson, 2021). Crayola collaborated with Victor Casale, the former Chief Chemist at MAC, to ensure such representation by creating accurate and varied skin tones (Wray, 2020). Furthermore, Colours of the World can expand notions of beauty by helping children accept their skin colour.     

Crayola illustrates how Colours of the World can be used to represent individuals of different skin tones | Crayola via You Tube

Authors Lee et al. further suggest the value they hold for both children’s self-esteem and their identity formation; children, who previously felt overlooked by the “skin-colour” crayon, can reflect themselves more accurately and create something they deem as beautiful (2021). Most importantly, these crayons have the potential to educate children, incite discussion about race and skin colour, and prevent the reproduction of racial stereotypes (Lee et al., 2021). As children use these educational toys, they can connect with others from different backgrounds, and develop virtues like respect and empathy (Lee et al., 2021).

the skin tone hierarchy endures

Despite this, author Heid Breux sheds light on the potential prejudice conveyed by Colours of the World (2020). She points to the notion of colourism, a “process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of colour over their dark-skinned counterparts” (Hunter 2005 in Hunter 2007). Irrespective of race or ethnicity, individuals are judged on their skin tone. Colourism developed from colonialism where lighter-skinned slaves were given special treatment (Phoenix, 2014). Darker skins were connotated with “savagery” and “inferiority” while lighter skins were defined by “civility, beauty” and “superiority” (Hunter, 2007, p. 238).

A comprehensive explanation of colourism, and how it operates in contemporary society | MTV Impact via You Tube

These attitudes have persisted, and in a recent cover shoot of actress Lupita Nyong’o for Vanity Fair, Nyong’o’s skin was lightened during the postproduction process. Evidently, lighter skins still hold symbolic capital (Phoenix, 20184). But how does this relate to Colours of the World? Well, as Breux aptly puts, the descriptors for the crayons: “light,” “medium light,” “deep” and “extra deep” carry a colonial undertone, as “light” and “deep” are embedded in colonial constructs of value. According to Breux, the phrasing of the title “Colours of the World” also reflects a level of colourism (2020, p. 460); it suggests that children of varying skin colours may come from different ethnicities and cultures. So, in families where skin tones range, individuals may feel judged by certain tonal discrepancies. In the wake of colonialism, some communities have internalised attitudes that privilege lighter skin tones (Hunter, 2007), while others have associated darker skins with “authentic” ethnic identities (Hunter, 2007). Considering this, Crayola’s Colours of the World may create chasms amongst children and their family members (Breux, 2020). Can we say Crayola has made significant social progress?

While Crayola’s new range has taken a stand against exclusivity, colonial attitudes remain embedded in our society. They will continue to inform both our belief systems and the ways we understand the world. Even so, Colours of the World has incited discussion about race, representation, and standards of beauty. So, the answer is ‘yes.’ While Colours of the World has fallen slightly short of true inclusivity, they have created a space for greater social awareness and representation.  


Alexander, N. & Costandius, E. (2017). The “Human Colour” Crayon: Investigating the Attitudes and Perceptions of Learners Regarding Race and Skin Colour. Education as Change, 21(1), 113-136.

Barbie, (2016). Timeline. http://www.barbiemedia.com/timeline.html

Breaux, H. (2020). Editorial: Crayons and People are not for Consumption: A Social Work Discourse on Crayola’s New Box. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. 37, 459-461.

Crayola. (2020). Crayola Colors of the World, Draw Your #TrueSelfie || Crayola

Estrada, I. (2012). Crayola Doesn’t Understand the Meaning of “Multicultural.” A Futuro Media Property. https://www.latinorebels.com/2012/11/17/crayola-doesnt-understand-the-meaning-of-multicultural/  

Fanpage.it. (2016). Doll test – The effects of racism on children (ENG) [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRZPw-9sJtQ

Hunter, M. (2007). The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality. Sociology Compass. 1(1), 237-254.

Klein, (2020). Band-Aid launches bandages to “embrace the beauty of diverse skin.” De zeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2020/06/16/band-aid-bandages-brown-black-skin-tones/#:~:text=%22We%20are%20committed%20to%20launching,diverse%20skin%2C%22%20it%20added.&text=Established%20in%201920%2C%20Band%2DAid,multiple%20skin%20tones%20in%202005

Lee, M.S., Linggonegoro, D., Huang, J. & Nambudiri, V. (2021). Expanding the palette of pediatric playthings: A call to action for pediatric dermatologists. Pedriatric Dermatology, 38, 1601-1603.

MTV Impact. (2019). Light Skinned Privilege | Decoded [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE4Lo4TIc8Y

Phoenix, A. (2014). Colourism and the politics of beauty. Feminist Review 108.

Robinson, C. (2021). How This Woman Spearheaded Crayola’s 24 New Colors Representing 40 Global Skin Tones. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylrobinson/2021/07/18/how-this-woman-spearheaded-crayolas-24-new-colors-representing-40-global-skin-tones/?sh=4ae2ce924337

Wray, (2020). Crayola launches entire line of multicultural skin-tone crayons. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/6986345/crayola-skin-tone-crayons/

Zimmermann, M., Levisen, C., Guðmundsdóttir B, þ. & van Scherpenberg, C. (2015). Please pass me the skin coloured crayon! Semantics, socialisation, and folk models of race in contemporary Europe. Language Sciences. 49, 35-50.