Recently, my eleven year old daughter asked me why I only purchased African-American dolls for she and her sister. She asks such thought-provoking questions. She was wondering if I was being racist by exclusively buying African-American dolls. I thought about brushing it off since it was a Friday night. Oh how we love Friday Free Days in our house.
My background is in academia with a special interest in multiculturalism, so I had to resist the urge to get all philosophical and research focused. My head was spinning, where do I go with this? I began to think about Jane Elliot’s famous experiment “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” exercise, first done with grade school children in the 1960s, and which later became the basis for her career in diversity training. The experiment was very eye-opening. Check out the links provided. Her exercise and the subsequent controversy became the basis for the television documentaries Eye of the Storm (1971) and A Class Divided (1985).
Breathe in, breathe out. It was just a simple question. Relax.
I chose to provide a response she is old enough to understand. My initial response was that it is a normal reaction to buy dolls that look like you. I wanted her to have a healthy self-esteem, to love and embrace herself. I also asked her if her friends who are not African-American have African-American dolls? She took a minute to think about it, and said she did not know but does not think so.
I explained that it just came natural to me to purchase dolls that resemble our family just as others would do. My intention is not to be exclusionary. However, I do want my children to have a strong sense of identity. Identity development is a very important part of self-love. It’s important that we see beauty in our own culture. Some may say, it’s just a doll. What does that have to do with anything? It’s greater than that to me. What message would I be sending my daughters if every doll that I purchased for them looked nothing like them?
She made a great point in saying that our world is multicultural. My response was that yes it is, and that’s a beautiful thing. I told her that was an excellent observation and was proud of her for understanding and recognizing that. However, it is my job to ensure that you are comfortable in your own skin first, within the home. I want her to celebrate that her hair is thick, and her skin has a beautiful brown tone, and all the other nuances that are specific to African-American culture.
African-American children need to see and experience positive role models and images of themselves. An African-American President (whether you like him or not, let’s stay focused), serves as an inspiration to African-American children. It sends the message, that maybe I can be president someday. I want my children to find beauty in themselves. Does that mean there is no beauty in dolls that do not look like us, absolutely not.
The media and various other influences in our society send messages to young people by what is said and what is not said. A colleague and family member of mine wrote a fantastic scholarly article that discussed how the media can have an impact on African-American girls’ focus on beauty and appearance. Her area of research is media influences on the development of adolescents. There are so many other influences out there that may discourage them from believing they are beautiful inside and out. My job as a parent is to make sure that I am there to help them navigate these influences in a positive way. My goal is to make sure that my children possess a healthy self-esteem and are able to think critically. I would like to believe that this is universal to all parents regardless of race or ethnicity.
So getting back to the original question posed to me by my daughter. Why I only purchased African-American dolls for my daughters? I recognize that my daughter is very creative for her age, thinks out of the box and understands more than I realize. I certainly don’t want to stifle her creativity. She still plays with dolls occasionally but may be approaching the end of that era. If I had to redo this phase of her development, my position would still be the same but I might consider adding a multicultural mix of dolls to her collection with discussion and exploration. It’s amazing how our kids nudge us a bit here and there which helps us to expand our vision.
What are your thoughts?
Respectfully and honestly,
Peace and Blessings,