Recently I was in the airport with my family when something happened that really bothered me. So much so that now I have to talk about it, because that’s what I do, I talk about stuff. Especially stuff that bothers me. My daughters, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were with me and, as usual, each of them had brought along one of their dolls as a traveling companion. This is one of the dolls that was along for the trip:
The doll’s name is Daphne and, as you can see, she is white. My daughter, obviously, is not. As we walked through the airport to the waiting area to be seated, we passed by several African-American women and eventually ended up sitting across from them. I noted the looks that my daughter’s doll received. It would have been impossible not to notice. I even over heard one of the women say to another “Now, what’s she got those girls with those white dolls for?!” I really wanted to respond and defend myself but, I didn’t. It wasn’t her business and I was annoyed that it was even being questioned. However, I do understand why it was being questioned.
Let me explain. When we moved from Illinois to Texas, Thing 1 had a very difficult time leaving her friends behind. After the move, we came across this doll in Target that reminded her of one of her friends back home. Her name was Daphne. She wanted the doll and I agreed because I thought that it would be a good way for her to find some comfort and let me tell you, Daphne is well-loved. She goes on car rides, plane rides, she’s bungee jumped from the second floor, and rode the scooter around the lake. She has accompanied Thing 1 to the pool on numerous occasions. Her hair looks nothing like this anymore (DESTROYED!) and in fact is probably beyond repair. Yes, my daughter absolutely loves her. Most importantly, she hangs out with the other dolls and they all play together on a daily basis. The other dolls are Black. Here’s proof:
I am well aware of the reasons why many African- American parents don’t want their children, particularly girls, playing with White dolls. I know about the studies indicating that many Black children prefer white dolls because they perceive them as being “better”. I know that many black girls think that the Black doll is ugly, while the White doll is pretty. I know that the doll studies are an indicator of self-worth, but I’m starting to wonder if we have lost all objectivity. There’s a lot more to it than what color dolls they play with. The women in the airport didn’t know me or my girls from Adam’s house cat, yet they assumed that I had been so cavalier in the development of their identity. Not so. In fact, it’s quite to the contrary.
Let’s face it, if you are able to choose where you live based on the quality of the school district and neighborhood, your children are more likely to come in daily contact with people of other ethnicities. It’s important for children (all children) to feel comfortable in their surroundings no matter who they are playing with. The best way to do this is to find common ground and, ironically, children are better at doing this than anyone. They don’t have any baggage. That is until we pack theirs with our dirty linen and hand it to them. They don’t make friends with any socio-economic stereo types hanging over them. We feed them that information, sometimes in preparation for what we believe/know they are going to encounter and sometimes because that’s just where our hearts and minds live. All Thing 1 knew is that her doll reminded her of her friend and she missed her. That’s it! There was no big scandal to talk about in the airport. Nothing to shame me, her mother, over.
However, may I submit that the color of the doll is just a small component of building our children’s self-esteem. Yes, I believe that our children should be reflected in their toys, television programs, books and the world around them. I also believe that we need to give our children experiences that they can own. Support them in sports, music, theater – wherever their interests take them. Be a part of their lives – volunteer at school, coach their team, be a den mom. Surround them with good people, friends and family, who celebrate their individuality and ethnic diversity. Above all, keep it real. Teach them their history and expose them to their rich African-American heritage. It’s a little more complicated than this, but you know where I’m coming from. But, please don’t just assume that every little Black girl that you see with a White doll is a product of a careless mother who doesn’t get it. I get it, really I do, but it may be you who doesn’t get it.