By: Keyontai Redding
Last week, I played dolls with my daughter and when it came down to picking a doll, I noticed that my daughter threw the African American doll down on the floor. Seeing her behavior as strange, I asked her why she didn’t want to play dolls with the black doll. She said, “because the real barbie is not black, she is white, so if we are going to play barbie we have to only use the white dolls”. Taking into consideration her response, I began to explain to her that there is an African American (black) barbie, Asian barbie, and White Barbie and that just because she sees the white barbie more often than the others, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. She simply said “Oh, I didn’t know that”. Expecting her to now include the black barbie in our play, I waited for her to pick the doll off the floor only to be disappointed that she did not. So, I picked up the black doll and proudly announced that I would be the black barbie whom I named Jasmine. My daughter simply shrugged her shoulders at my announcement and we continued on with our play.
Yesterday, I asked my daughter to help me put up my son’s (her brother) gifts from the baby shower. And just like a child, I watched with eagerness as she hurriedly rushed over to help. So, I focused on my task of clearing up all of the big gifts and allowing her to clear up the little things like wipes, and baby lotion. I noticed that she got quiet so I stopped to look at her. I seen her looking at all of the gifts with a expression that was a mix of curiosity and confusion. Then, speaking matter of factually, she announced “these gifts are for white kids, its a good thing that my baby brother is white”. I looked back at my son, I looked at her, and I looked at myself in confusion. My skin is brown, my son’s skin is brown, her father’s skin is an even darker shade of brown, and her skin is brown (just lighter than ours). So, I stopped what I was doing and said “baby these gifts are for whoever chooses to buy them, why do you think they are for white kids?” Looking confident, she smiled and said, “mom it’s only white kids on everything”. Understanding her thought process, I said you are right but that’s just because the people who sale these things choose to put these pictures on the gifts. I then went through the thirty packs of pampers to find the one that had a black child on there and said “see, this one has a black and white baby”. Again she shrugged and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that”.
I left the conversation alone in a hurry to put things away, but it stayed on my mind through out the night.
Today, I asked my daughter if she remembered the conversation from yesterday. She said yes, so I asked if she remembered that she called her brother white. She said, yes mom and I’m white too. I wanted to laugh at her obscene comment but I stopped myself and I grabbed her hand . I made her look me in my eyes and I said baby you are black, your brother is black, your dad is black and I am black. She looked confused and said, “Oh I didn’t know that”. I said, can you tell me why you thought you were white. But, before she could answer, I picked up her black doll and her white doll and asked her to point to the one her skin tone was closest. She pointed to the black doll. She said, I know I’m brown skin mommy but I still thought I was white. I simply said no, you are not.
But is that all I should have said? Is it something I’m not doing as a mother that I should be doing? Do I need to incorporate more black dolls into play, or black movies into leisure time? More importantly, why is it that my child identifies herself as a race that she is not? And should I see this as a problem? These are questions that plague my mind even at this very moment.
My first thought was maybe it’s just a phase, that she’ll one day get through, because she is only five years of age. Or, maybe my daughter identifies herself as a race that she is not because that race of people is mostly what she sees on television (Barbie and the band, Caillou etc.) on the products we buy (Huggie’s Pampers and wipes, American girl doll, etc.) and the places we go (museum, downtown shopping, downtown park). There is not enough black people advertised, and let’s be honest, not a lot of black college students can afford to go to the museums if it’s not for a school trip. They have to focus on paying for school, and books. We are the minority. In fact, she is at an age where seeing is believing.
Or, maybe I shouldn’t see her identity preference as a problem. But, in the back of my mind I do, because if I don’t tell my daughter that she is black then somebody else will. They will tell her in the way that they stare at her hair when it coils into a fro instead of lay flat on her back. They will tell her in the way they watch her as she walks through the stores we visit. The will tell her in the way they reject her job application because of her name. They will tell her in the way that they will one day harass her black brother. They will tell her in the way they hustle her black dad to the ground because they have mistaken him for another black man who has been accused of a crime. They will tell her in the way they stereotype her mother and father as “babymoma or babydaddy” instead of mother and father.She will hear “you are black” , because contrary to popular belief, race is a big thing. It was invented to separate and no matter how much I tell my daughter that everybody are equal, and she should not try to differentiate people by what they look like . She will hear , “you are black” and for that reason “you are different”.
So, before she hears it from somebody else, I will tell her.
You are black. Your hair is more curly than straight. You skin tone has more brown than white. You name is different from what the average person is used to but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong. Your brother is black, but that doesn’t automatically make him a criminal. Your dad is black and no matter what they say, he did not commit the crime they will some day try to accuse him of. I am black. Your mother had you at an age that people see as young but you were no mistake, your brother is no mistake. No we are not on welfare, or getting a check from the government because we are too lazy to work. Your dad and I work hard to give you what you deserve. I am not a “baby momma”, I am your mother and your dad is not a “baby daddy” he is your father. Yes, daughter You ARE BLACK! WE ARE BLACK! It is intertwined in our DNA, it is trapped in our speech, it is carved in our curves and it is something to BE PROUD OF!