I remember when I was little wanting a doll with blonde hair and blue eyes. I did not specifically ask for these characteristics, I asked for the doll advertised by her name, Chatty Cathy. She just happened to have blonde hair and blue eyes. But why would a little Black girl prefer to have a White doll over other available dolls that looked like her? And does it really matter?
The root Self-rejection
I’m not sure why I wanted a white doll that looked so much different from me with my dark kinky locks and medium brown skin. If I were to speculate, I would assume several different reasons: Firstly, I went to a practically all White Catholic school. I was the only child of color in my class. I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, I wanted to look like everyone else, I wanted a doll that looked like everyone else’s doll. Secondly, advertising…advertising…advertising. I would spend hours poring over the pages of toys in the Sears Christmas catalogue. The White dolls were always front and center and the Black version of the dolls were usually pictured in a little box off to the side. Anyone, could tell which doll was more important…right? I’m not sure that making the Black doll less important was the intent of the advertiser, but to a little Black girl looking at the picture, she sure seemed second-rate. And Lastly, the available Black dolls didn’t look like me either. They were usually just White dolls colored dark with course curly hair. They didn’t reflect ethic features, or differing complexions, different hair types. Back then we did not have the wide variety of dolls available today.
My mother’s wisdom
My mother bought me some White dolls, but when Black dolls became more widely available, she bought me Black dolls. I think I had to learn to love them, which is a shame. I had somehow been taught to reject my own image. Certainly, I didn’t pick that up at home. I’m sure it was subtle things that I picked up on TV and some overt and covert things I picked up in school that made feel some kind of way about myself. I kept it secret too. My mom would have never known, I was well liked at school, got good grades, was well behaved and never talked about it. But somehow, I absolutely picked up on the European standard of beauty and acceptance and one of the ways it manifested itself in me was my initial preference for White dolls.
Black dolls for Black girls, Biracial dolls for Biracial girls
When a little girl has a doll, and pretends that the doll is her own baby, which is what most children do, the doll reflects herself. The doll should look like her. Buying a Biracial or Black girl a doll that resembles them in skin tone and hair texture builds self-acceptance. I believe all little Black and Biracial children who are born into loving homes start out loving themselves just the way they are. They may be taught later by society, school systems, and unloving people to doubt themselves, or not like their skin tone, or hair texture. The more positive interference you can run for your child the better.
Does this mean that a child can have no diversity in their doll collection? Of course, they can. Just like in those Sears catalog advertisements though, the doll reflecting the child’s skin tone and hair texture should be front and center and the other doll should be additional dolls. This is not teaching prejudice, this is teaching self-love and acceptance. If this makes you uncomfortable, just think about it, if a little White girl had 5 dolls and all of them happened to be White, no one would say that constitutes prejudice. In fact, most people would see that as normal. So there is nothing wrong with a Black or Biracial child having only Black or Biracial dolls either. Again, a diverse doll collection is fine, but so is a mono-race collection. Because Eurocentric advertising is so influential, we must encourage our Biracial and Black children love the doll that looks like themselves if it does not come naturally.
As an example, I was in the toy store recently with a confident, seemingly well adjusted, Biracial seven-year-old girl. We were looking for a Baby Alive doll. There was a White one and a Black one on the shelf. I didn’t even have a chance to ask her which doll she wanted before she picked up the White and blurted out that the Black one was ugly and she didn’t want it. It bothered me so much that we did not get a Baby Alive doll at all, but a remote-control puppy instead. Had she been my child, we would not have gotten either of those dolls, but I would have led her to a doll that looked Biracial. In addition, I would have asked some open-ended questions to find why she made the choice she did.
If you have you see your child, preferring the dolls that do not look like her, you should know you have some work to do on self-acceptance.
My mother was limited in the selection of dolls she could buy for me, but in her wisdom, when she could purchase dolls that reflected my ethnic heritage, she did. Nowadays, we have a huge selection of dolls with all different skin tones, hair textures, and styles. We should take advantage of this. ~ Regina
Do you Agree? Disagree? Either way, please share your thoughts below.
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Oh and by the way…here is the Chatty Cathy doll that I wanted so badly as a child…she was all the rage back in the day. She had a string you could pull to make her talk. I loved my Chatty Cathy. I don’t believe there was a Black version of her…correct me if I’m wrong.
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