I’m taking a week’s hiatus from reconciliation because of a conversation I had with my daughter.
She is 6, and she just had a birthday. I bit the bullet and bought her a Barbie. It was a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” moment, and she was introduced to them through an Aunt and loooooves them. So, I bought her a brown one. (Mattell has been branching out into Barbies with different skin tones and body sizes. You can read more about that in this past blog).
Anyway, here’s the point.
I gave her the doll. She said thank you. And then as she walked away she said:
“I wanted her white.”
Now, this is not a newsflash for me, I’ve heard smatterings of this before, but still, it was hard to hear.
“Why?” I asked.
“I like white people,” she said.
Fair enough. Not a problem. But wait, there’s more.
“What about brown people?” I then asked.
“Nah. Not so much.”
Well, the air left the room for me. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Of course she and I had a conversation that went something like this: “What colour is mommy? What colour are you? And you don’t like brown so much?”
I wanted to cry.
It made me angry.
I feel like I have failed as a mother. As a woman of colour. As a D&I educator.
My child is surrounded with amazing people of colour – family and chosen family. We have books with characters who are Black. I buy magazines with Black people in them. What gives?
It makes me incredibly sad.
And then I remembered the doll test.
And that it’s not just my child.
That it’s thousands and thousands of kids of colour in North America that feel this way. And its no surprise when you consider what the narrative is that we hear and see regularly: it’s mostly white. And that mostly white is positive: it’s what’s held up as the standard of beauty (my child also wants straight hair, as did I for a long time). It’s who we see in positions of power. It’s our teachers. And many of the actors and actresses…. Yes, there are people of colour in these narratives, but there are far less, and often not in the positive category.
Did this make me feel better? No.
But it reminded me that I’m not perfect, to give myself a bit of a break. It reminded me that it’s a systemic issue. And it affirmed that we have a lot of work to do.
On that note, here’s a great podcast I was introduced to recently: Scene on Radio. Specifically, the series Seeing White. The host and producer is John Biewen. He is white. And in this series, he is regularly joined by Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika (who is not white)… to “check him” as John says in the opening episode. It’s a very rich exploration of the history of whiteness and it’s creation – and what that means for us today. It’s US-based, but it will give you a good sense of what we are dealing with, regardless of where you live in the world. One good line that stands out – racism is not about an attitude. It’s about structures.
Take a look around this week and notice the examples of Whiteness and the examples of Blackness and Brownness – not just for the numbers, but for the messages they hold about who we are, who has value, what is beautiful, who is strong, who is a leader….
In that light, which Barbie would you pick?