Askwith Forum: “Chocolate Me!” with Taye Diggs and Shane EvansBy Jill Anderson
“I love the sweet inside,” sang an audience member at the final Askwith Forum of the semester.
For many, that is the takeaway message of Chocolate Me! the new children’s book written by actor Taye Diggs and author/ illustrator Shane Evans. The pair visited the Ed School last week to talk about their book, give a reading, and perform a song based on the title. They also answered questions about race and education during a discussion moderated by Lecturer Pamela A. Mason, M.A.T.’70, Ed.D.’75, director of the Language and Literacy Program.
Based on a poem Diggs wrote in college about growing up the only black child in a white neighborhood, Chocolate Me! is about feeling different and trying to fit in as children. “I didn’t quite know how to deal with it or [understand] what it was at age five,” Diggs said. “I remember that being my first lesson from my mom on self-esteem, loving who you are, and embracing differences.”
Diggs said that, as a child, it would have been nice to have books that helped him out, especially with the isolation of being the only black child in the neighborhood. It was his longtime friend Evans who eventually encouraged him to turn his poem into a children’s book, though it took nearly eight years to actually come to fruition. The word “chocolate” in the title is one that Diggs long used as a description of his skin. As Diggs explained to the audience, his father came up with the term “chocolate.”
“He never used the word black or negro or colored or African American, he would always say chocolate,” Diggs said. “When I was a young boy whenever he would get greeting cards with families on them, he would color in the faces ‘chocolate’ because they didn’t have black greeting cards. In my head growing up being black, I associated that with chocolate and …it’s positive. It’s sweet. It’s yummy. It’s delicious.”
Evans said that the book prompted a “verbal revolution” in his heart in which he now refers to people by flavor.
Growing up as an artist, Evans encountered similar problems to Diggs’ father. He said that the “flesh”- colored Crayon always threw. He used to think, “This is ridiculous, man,” he said.
Having children accept themselves and each other is not going to be an easy road, but Evans is proud of the small part that their book can play. “It’s deeper than any of that surface stuff; the transformation has to happen,” he said. “The book offers a way for a family to come together.”
Diggs’ family is no exception. He said he is already planning another book to address his own child’s experience as being both white and black. (Diggs’ wife is theater actress Idina Menzel.)
Admitting to an audience member that there have been some negative reactions to the book, including personal attacks and people taking exception to the use of the term “chocolate, Diggs said that he has spent much of his life trying to justify one thing or another and he’s now beyond it.
“The thing you can always count on is [some people] trying to bring you down,” he said. “Now, these darts come at you and you can bat them away.”