My friend’s four-year-old girl came over for a play date recently and became obsessed with my daughter’s Baby Alive doll. She burped her, fed her, talked to her and even changed her diaper just like a true mom. At one point, my own girls got mad because she wouldn’t share the doll. Then came the usual photo shoot session where I snap pictures of the girls. Later, I discover a shot of a little blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl feeding this Black baby doll a bottle. It’s so beautiful and innocent that I show my husband.
His first response, “Wow, send it to her mom.”
I say, ‘I will,’ but for some reason I don’t.
The truth is I felt uncomfortable. But why?
I think about the power of dolls and how for little girls it’s our first intimate relationship outside of our family. Even before we can talk there’s a natural bond that forms from caring for these little ‘people.’ We dress them. Feed them. Comb their hair. They become a part of our world. And in this world, I made a conscious decision to put Black dolls at the forefront. Without needing a study to prove anything, I know that Black girls having black dolls can only build self-confidence and re-enforce their place in the world. Many of us are aware of studies dating back to the 1940’s to now, that show black kids with a definite preference for white dolls. Though my girls have Elsa and Anna dolls from Frozen, and the doll from Mulan, Black dolls are the stars.
That’s a choice.
When I think about my white friend and her white daughter playing with this Black doll, I feel like I’m in some way brainwashing her. Though a part of me feels wrong for thinking this way because for years we cared for white dolls, you can’t deny that this dynamic emulates real life dating back to slavery.
How many times have we really seen a white nanny taking care of a Black kid? Those roles are never reversed.
When I see this picture, I am aware that her mom might not be okay with this dynamic change. What if this little girl starts thinking that it’s okay for her to care for Blacks in such an intimate way? What if she starts thinking that between whites and Blacks there is no difference? Worse case scenario, what if she ends up with a preference for Black dolls and Black people? Did Rachel Dolezal grow up with black dolls?
Maybe I’m just tripping, but though her mom is a friend, I don’t know how white people talk to their kids behind closed doors. Do they secretly tell them that they are somehow different than blacks, and like it or not, that is how society sees it? Accept your place atop the throne? Protect white privilege at all costs?!
The very next day, my friend calls to find out which Baby Alive doll my daughter has. Turns out, her daughter hasn’t stopped talking about the doll since she came home and now her aunt wants to buy her one for Christmas.
After a moment of contemplation, I tell her, “You do know the doll is Black, right?” She didn’t. Apparently, her daughter told her everything about the doll, but never once mentioned the color.
“Do you mind?” I ask her.
“No,’ she says. “She used to have a Princess Tiana doll at one time, and she has a few brown dolls from Monster’s High. It allows them to see that there are different types of people in the world. We call our girls mutts because their father is a mix of Italian, Brazilian and Greek, and I’m Hungarian. We have a rainbow of friends, and teach them that everyone is equal.”
I feel silly for projecting my issue onto her, but knowing so little about how white people rear their kids, how could I know that some are consciously teaching equality, even behind closed doors? Our work is so different because for Black families, we must consciously choose to build our kid’s self-esteem at home, even to the point of being pro-Black.
Our quick phone chat is eye-opening and brings a bright spot to my day.
Once we finish the conversation I find the photo in my phone and push, SEND.
This article first appeared on Madamenoire 11/10/15