Monday, February 05, 2007

The Problem with Dolls

The video below is about a high school student who repeated the famous experiment where black children are given a choice to either pick a white doll or a black doll. (Thanks Cake for passing it on to me.)

Maybe the experiment isn't that well constructed. Maybe it's an oversimplification to think that nothing has changed since 1956. Maybe the sample of little children isn't representative of most black kids in America. Maybe the self-hatred is being passed on by black parents to their own children, a process of internalizing a history of racism even though the colored only signs are long gone. But I got a little teary while watching the video.

MaGreen's stepmother gave BabyG a doll for Christmas, a dark-skinned doll with black hair. It's the second brown doll she's gotten. The first one came before MaGreen gave birth and I wrote about that right when we started this blog. I had the same response this time as before. I resented the doll and I resented the giver. Those brown dolls make me feel hyper-aware of my own skin color. I would rather not feel that way. I'd rather feel like my background and culture are an integral part of my life, that they will be for BabyG too, but without this dred feeling of otherness. Maybe those dolls trigger some small bit of racialized self-hatred left inside of me? I know that Helen's intentions were good, just as they were when she gave me Barack Obama's book. MaGreen says her stepmother has given little brown dolls to all her friends' babies, white and black and brown and whatever else. Her own kind of activism.

The problem with dolls is that they give children (and adults) a chance to openly reveal their deep sense of identity. Sometimes I would rather have those deep feelings stay buried so we can pretend our way American-style to a better future. I prefer the doll that MaGreen's dad gave BabyG. It doesn't look human. Going non-human's the only way to escape race and sexuality. That's the closest I have to a solution - we should ban all humanish dolls. At least then high school students won't be able to make such troubling documentaries.


Heather Bigley said...

Youtube also carries the entire original video, if you're interested.

GreenDaddy said...

Thanks Heather! I didn't know that. Here's the link:

Henitsirk said...

So very sad to see that one little girl point to the "bad" black doll and then reluctantly identify herself with it.

I can't imagine anyone saying to a child "you can't be a princess, princesses aren't black." Who could be so blind to the hurt in those words?

I think children have very fluid sense of identity (my daughter recently has been insisting she's either a giant, or a king, both clearly male), and only when presented with repeated messages from adults do they form these judgments.

tAnYeTTa said...

i posted about this video on my blog a while ago too. i was speechless when i first saw the video.