4.27.2017

your white kid doesn't deserve a trophy for playing with a black doll

I'm just going to say it: your white kid doesn't deserve a trophy for playing with a black doll.

It's the strangest thing, this fascination we have as a society when white children step outside of themselves and -- gasp! -- select a black doll off of the shelves. Somehow posts about this very thing go viral on social media, sometimes even spawning into news stories about the colorblindness of children who have no problems playing with a doll with darker skin than they possess. It weirded me out when my white son was two and didn't leave home without Baby Boy, his beloved dollar store doll that happened to be a person of color. "Oh, how nice he doesn't even mind," people would say. "Children are so innocent," people would smile. All the while, I would leave very confused as to how these thoughts came to be formed in a response to what is simply a child clutching a plastic doll in a check-out line.

Can I also just point out the white-washed world we expect children of color to live in, with one black doll for every fifteen blonde dolls on any given shelf at Target? One Doc McStuffins for every Disney princess with flowing, golden locks? Do we applaud and back-pat our black daughters and sons for taking home an Ariel the mermaid doll, or for wanting Elsa pajamas?

The short answer is no. We expect our black sons and daughters to live in a whitewashed society where they should be grateful for characters like Doc, or (my personal favorite) Ms. Elaina from Daniel Tiger (she's the cutest, toots!). We expect them to be Anna and Elsa for Halloween without praise or applause over their tolerance and acceptance, because they're just supposed to be okay with the marginalization. We recently collected children's items for a shelter in lieu of gifts for my daughter's birthday. There was a huge need for dolls and children's books that represented children of color -- things to let them know that they belong, that they are a vital part of our society, that they matter. Can we think about that, for a minute, through the eyes in which a child sees the world? The insignificance they're made to feel by way of plastic dolls and illustrated picture books -- or the lack thereof?

And then there's the next inevitable news report to roll out, in which a little blonde girl from the suburbs is being praised for telling a cashier that her black doll is "just like me." There are about five days worth of blog posts and news articles that typically follow praising the colorblindness of children. "Children don't see color," people celebrate in their self-congratulatory Facebook comments that they believe to be a stark contrast from the racism of the cashier who inquired about the race of a toy. Can you see me cringing from here? Because I am.

Racism is a spectrum and colorblindness lands you on it, even if your intentions are pure and you believe that you would never let a person get away with racism. To imply that you don't see color is to imply that you don't see blackness, that you don't see the melanin in ones skin, that you see them just as white as you. To feign colorblindness is to say that you don't notice their blackness as if it is a defect, that you may notice their hair color or eye color but certainly not their skin color because it just simply shall not be spoken of. My daughter is black, and my son is white. Long before my daughter came into our family, my son's dollhouse had a conglomerate of black dolls and white dolls inhabiting it and although neither of my children are into Disney movies or characters, my son has asked me why the only person of color on Blue's Clues reruns is Tyrese on an episode about Kwanzaa circa 1998. We have a mess of white dolls and black dolls piled up on the shelves in each child's closet and I've never felt compelled to alert the media when my white son chooses a black doll to tote around for the week -- it's almost like black people live in the world, and he doesn't deserve a cookie for acknowledging that.

Sometimes, but thankfully not often, people will see my black daughter's face in our otherwise white family photograph and say that they "don't even see her color." Sometimes, but again thankfully not often, people will say how nice it is that my son doesn't see his sister's skin color. I cringe, I laugh, but I am always quick to correct them: of course he does. Her blackness, her roots, her culture and her place in the world as a black woman matter. They are crucial to her identity. I mean, it's 2017 and black women are paid 65 cents to the white male dollar. I'm not going to stick my head in the sand and pretend my daughter doesn't have an uphill battle ahead of her, a fight for validation and equality that I, as a white woman, can't even begin to comprehend despite all of my empathy. In a few years, she will walk through the aisles of a department store and see the single black dolls placed in between rows of fifteen white dolls. She will inevitably be presented with the opportunity to choose Anna or Elsa at a playdate and will look less like either of them than some of the other girls in attendance. But she belongs just as much, despite the lack of representation. And your white child certainly doesn't deserve a trophy, a Nobel prize or evening news accolades for being "tolerant enough" to carry a plastic doll resembling a child of color around with her.

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