A great and momentous event took place after breakfast today: the twice-monthly announcement of the “Color War” scores. Devised many decades ago as a quasi-bribery motivational device, Green and White competition permeates all aspects of life here at camp. On the first night of each four-week session, all campers and staff gather in the Lodge for the assignment of colors, screaming themselves red in the face as new girls pick slips from a hat. While I’d like to be able to say categorically that I don’t believe in stereotypes, certain characteristics can be ascribed to the two colors with a precision that borders on the eugenic. For instance, almost all redheads are Greens. Period. The higher a camper’s energy level (read: hyperactivity), the more likely she is to be White. Hardcore hikers and other true lovers of the out of doors? Green, logically enough. Similarly, natural blondes–especially those so fair as to possess light eyelashes–have at least a 95 percent likelihood of being Whites. And one of the weirder Color War quirks is that on the rare occasions when we have African-American campers, they are almost always guess-what-color; this year I was able to overhear an adorable little dreadlocked Gnome I helped recruit from New York City say breathlessly into the office phone, “Mom, I’m so happy! I’m a White!”
I am a calm, brown-haired White who has always loved to hike (go figure), but I can’t say I’d be heartbroken if camp colors were something like Green and Brown. At least then the graffiti on the rafters of my cabin would not include such cheery slogans as “Whites Rule!” and “WHITE POWER in ‘88!!!!!!!!!” If you ask me, Color War is hell–especially when designed to go on all summer, as ours does. The basic premise is that the girls earn points at the four activities they attend each day: one period of swimming and three other sporting or artistic endeavors either chosen by them (for the Seniors) or assigned (for the Juniors). Twenty points for mastering the inward dive or passing Bar Three in riflery–this is not inherently evil. It’s the oppressive atmosphere of competition that I dislike: girls tagging for high point activities that they don’t enjoy, campers begging for hard-labor tasks such as mucking out stalls in the barn in exchange for a few meager points, and being asked repeatedly, “What color are you?” when I know my answer will actually influence a child’s opinion of me. I see very little value in a system that disappoints half the children in camp every single summer, but this is definitely a minority opinion. As a Blue Spruce named Kristi said to me last month, “You can only go to camp for so many years, but you are a Green or a White for the rest of your life.”
The campers, who were nearly swooning in anticipation of the point tally, reacted to the announcement this morning as they always do: with much cheering and screaming, singing of Green and White team fight songs, and even–in a few extreme cases–inconsolable crying jags. I was forced to remind a few girls that we don’t use the phrase “kicking ass” here at camp and that it isn’t winning that’s important. Of course, that’s easy for me to say: My team is currently ahead, 15,409 points to 11,860. Whites are the best!