The year was 1979. I had graduated from Fisher Price wobble people to Barbie Dolls. My sisters and I opened the Sears Big Book catelogue, and I circled the Barbie dolls I wanted, along with the Dream Corvette, Dream Townhouse, and a slew of other doll-sized consumerables.
Christmas day. I hungerly open my presents. Flying paper and ribbons revel the Dream Corvette. Yes, now I know I got the doll. More flying paper and ribbons revel a box, there is a blown leg peeking out of a red sequined dress. I like the dress; red is my favorite color. I open the box and am disappointed. It was okay that the Barbie was black, but she didn't have long flowing hair that I could comb.
The difference between me and black girls in the 1940s and today it seems is that I wasn't upset that the doll was black, I was just upset that she did not have hair I could comb. This is probably tied tothe fact that my mother was a hairdresser and that one of my favorite activities was brushing my grandmother's long silver hair.
According to an ABC News Report, What Dolls Can Tell Us About Race in the US, a New York City high school student, Kiri Davis, created a short video of pre-school girls selecting between black and white dolls, (1) which doll is good or bad, and (2) which doll do you think looks like you. The results according to the report:
Davis asked 4- and 5-year-old kids at a Harlem school the same question in 2005. She found the children's answers were not that different.
In Davis' test, 15 of the 21 children said that the white doll was good and pretty, and that the black doll bad.
In addition, the black girls hesitated when choosing the "bad" black dolls who looked like them. The conclusion is that at the age of 3-5 these girls have already internalized the negative stereotypes of blackness.
Now, I was raised with a healthy race identity. My parents, aunts, and uncles were instrumental in getting Black History Month and African American achievements in the school and in my home in the 1970s. My grandmother would use brown markers and paint to "colorize" all cards and even holiday elves, so that my siblings and I would "see black faces." We wore T-shirts saying "Black is Beautiful" and as I looked around my family, we were a pretty good looking bunch.
This buffered me when in 3rd grade I and others were bussed from our predominately black schools into predominately white suburban schools. Due to tracking, I was never in another class with another black person until maybe college. And the maybe is tied to the fact that it may not have been actually until graduate school.
All that time and perhaps in spite of that, I preferred black dolls, although long hair was required for braiding purposes. In fact, I would always take pride in the fact that the color of my skin was the milk chocolate brown of "black doll" plastic. I am still searching for that color number. The only moment of "weakness" was in 7th grade when I thought maybe a Micheal Jackson nose job was in order, but I got over that fast, like the Jeri Curl.
So why is this self-hatred still continuing in the 21st century? In her 20th anniversary show on Broadway, Whoopi Goldberg dropped the skit of the girl with the yellow towell longing for blue eyes saying, "Things have changed." But maybe they haven't enough because there is no "black is beautiful, black is good" movement and at 3-5 years old you can't read on their own "the great achievements of the black race".
Yet in a world where you can get a doll matched to your hair texture, eye, and skin color, it is a tragedy that 3-5 year old girls are still searching for the bluest eye. Let's hope they get the positive messages of black beauty and pride (they should have to undergo India Aire and Jill Scott therapy) to serve as a buffer from the racist representations that seed this self-hatred.