Black Dolls: Holding up the mirror to society’s ugliness

 

Disgust. That is the most appropriate term for the video that captured the reaction of a White American child receiving a “Black doll” for a Christmas present. The fact that the adults recording thought it a funny “prank” to present a Black doll to their white children is beyond disgusting. And it is disappointing on quite a few levels.

First, let’s acknowledge that for decades, Black children have had no other option than to play with toys that were not reflective of their own inherent, magical beauty.  I myself can recall a girlhood which lacked options for my peers and I to see/be ourselves during playtime. Even when “Black” doll/toy options were presented, it was always some hue of grey-Black that I have yet to see on any living, breathing human from here to Africa. Features so  exaggerated, no wonder Black children refused to play with their “Black” dolls, which in turns prompts the explaining and cajoling yet again, this time to extol the merits of beauty found in all Black people. See how Black parenting is ever expansive and exhausting? We inherit teaching moments for what White parents take for granted. We don’t get a choice.

So while Black parents have had the onus of explaining, excusing, and teaching our children about diversity and the appreciation for other cultures, white parents have smugly presented the notion that “other” means inferior, ugly, worthless, and alien.

And it must be noted, that because of white supremacy’s elaborate design, historically most Black children rarely scoff at receiving white dolls. The disdain for one’s self and all things representative is the cost Black children pay to play…with dolls, with their history, with their own humanity. So much miseducation. Intense work to relearn and rediscover your value.

That’s the privilege of white supremacy…when YOUR identity is never in question as being the “other.” When everything you encounter reinforces your worth. Everything from toys to movie stars to marketing to policy dictates that you are the standard.

But you are not. Which is what has always been the problem. The problem for whites, really. People of color have no qualms with sharing the human spectrum. We buy into the ideal that beauty and value can be found in other races. Our children are taught to accept differences in others…heck the Church joins in the education of Black child identity and by age 4 everyone believes the words to the song Jesus Loves the Little Children, remember that? It went like this…

“Jesus loves the little children

all the children of the world.

Red and Yellow

Black and White

all are precious in his sight

Jesus loves the children of the world”

My concern is for the children. Working with Black girls, training them in media literacy and to be digital storytellers of their own experiences, my mission is to help them critically examine the messages that tell them they are inferior and stigmatize them. It is work necessary to help them move beyond the mental block of negative media and stereotypes that have been appropriated to them.  It is the work being done in communities of color all across this country; the repairing of girl magic and mending spirits broken by the ugliness of our society.

Yet, while we are tending to our girls, distinguished organizations and programs that claim to serve girls and fight for equality for all girls, seem to be avoiding an imperative teaching moment. I have watched the film Missrepresentation. I admire the writings of those claiming to build leaders amongst girls and end the “mean girl” behaviors. But what each of these have in common is 1.) A traditional white audience  2.) They negate the race conversation, refusing to deal with perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudice amongst those they serve 3.) When/if race is mentioned, it is an aside. The message is, the only change needed is to allow girls/women to be at the table… that is white women and girls.

In the times of Black Lives Matter, some may rebuff this as a tiny distraction to the overall liberation of Black and Brown people. Many may argue that this is just a play thing of no significance.

Well, I beg to differ. First of all, Black children need to love and value themselves beyond the lens of White people. There is no way they will be moved to join a movement for their liberation if they are not conscious to the truth. Secondly, if there is to be trust amongst allies, White adults must unequivocally point out this type of ignorance. There is far too much silence from those who claim to be fighting for equality and feminism. And thirdly, begin teaching their children at the earliest opportunities an appreciation for ALL peoples.

Blacks have gone far above and beyond convincing White America about our humanity. It is high time we tap out. Now it’s White America’s turn to look at their own instances of inhumanity and practices of dehumanization, then work to correct it. This is a prime teachable moment. I can’t wait to see the lessons in practice.

 

Teaching tips:

  • Expose children to other cultures
  • Foster authentic interactions that allow others to fully show up
  • Be honest with children about history
  • Provide cultural reading material, film screenings
  • Invite guest speakers to share their experiences
  • Collaborate for diverse programming
  • Follow #Blackgirlsmatter
  • Choose any of these culturally framed reads from this age-appropriate list
  • Make the Black Doll a conscious consumer choice

Community-based organizations doing the work across the country :

Girls Like Me Project (Chicago)

FAAN Mail (Philly)

Black Girls Rock (NYC)

Daughters of the Collective (Detroit)

WISEE Queen Dream Institute (Oakland/Bay area)

About the author…

keish 1

 

 

You can’t consume beauty: Lupita…an image of hope!

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty. ” Lupita Nyong’o-Essence Women in Hollywood 

Courtesy of chikaoduahblog.com

Courtesy of chikaoduahblog.com

Her face is everywhere these days…whether you have seen the film that catapulted her onto magazine covers and household television screens, or if you rely on newscasters to help you pronounce her name, one thing is for sure: the world knows Lupita, Oscar-winning actress…and wounded healer.

It’s funny…this game of life in our society. Just one instance can land us in our dreams, exalted by the masses despite ourselves. Never mind the struggles we have on the climb up, the nightmares that can include half a girlhood spent in self-loathing for not fitting the beauty standards of the western world, for being  poor, being uneducated….for just not being anything other than yourself.

Still, the right lighting or role, a chance conversation tucks all that in and the world is now ready to accept you, sans your struggle.

And so many buy into it, never to speak of their struggle; either they surgically deny it or cover it up with glitter and studded diamonds, entourages and pseudo diva attitudes. So when one uses their platform, as Lupita has, to boldly acknowledge her struggle and her journey to self love; it is rather shocking when that bold nature is then used as a springboard for a few (well now a worldwide movement) to insist on feeding a beast that too often exploits and  conflates the value of those who consume its fruit…yes I’m talking the #LupitaForMac campaign.

Very astute and influential Black WOMEN took to twitter and IG to assemble the bandwagon calling for MAC cosmetic company to create a Lupita line, which was well received…the call was directed to the Mac Cosmetics Twitter account. Not quite certain if MAC has answered, however that is not the point of this piece.

And let me state for the record, I AM NOT AGAINST MAC CREATING A LINE FOR LUPITA NYONG’O.

This is not that.

However, I want us to consider Lupita’s speech delivered at the Essence Women of Hollywood Luncheon. She had a message for young girls, those girls like herself who are struggling to love what the mirror says beyond what media spins about beauty. As she stated with much conviction, “beauty cannot be consumed” and “…get to the deeper business inside…”

These phrases push me to plead with our sisters, the ones who have healed the “ugly scar” of self hatred, the ones whose frequent shopping splurges easily take them into department stores with shiny and colorful makeup counters, lip-gloss popping and foundation dabbing at counters boldly proclaiming brands like MAC, Clinique, Estee Lauder, etc. That these ladies might remember the wounded girl child still in search of the love on the inside. The young girl whose idea of shopping for makeup and beauty products rarely if ever involve revolving doors opening to a world of shining glamour but more likely than not relegated to peering through  dimly-lit, crowded shelves of an asian-owned beauty supply store. Stores which upon her entry, demand she leave all her bags at the front counter and only allow her one companion at a time. She gives up her hard to come by dollars only to receive little respect in return.

Let’s change this narrative. Let us put out the call for girls who love chemistry sets and those who love makeup to do a mashup and create a line of makeup which Lupita (or any number of high-profile Black women) can endorse. Let us apply the “for us by us” philosophy and BUSINESS model.

I’m willing to bet somewhere out there a girl has been mixing colors and products trying to get the right look for her skin tone. She’s been giving it away as gifts to loved ones and probably selling a few jars here and there. Imagine the boost her enterprising dream would get if she were to be discovered and pushed as so many do for brand names like MAC.

But I know I am probably being unrealistic, right? I mean who cares about those girls, after all, this is about the ones who can AFFORD MAC anyway. Right? Well….okay. I get it. I know what it is, especially when I see the comparative statements regarding Lorde’s new Mac line as justification to why Lupita deserves it. Hmmm, we cannot escape it no matter how hard we try; the deserving, good-enough factor always creeps in.

Still, I’d hope if the push continues for #LupitaforMac that there are a few other asks to be considered, such as:

  • Proceeds go towards scholarship for African-American girls studying chemistry
  • A reality show is created to discover the next make-up artist (hey why not, they have cake baking shows, home decorating, fashion designer, etc.) The prize is an internship/job working on the next MAC line for Lupita
  • Proceeds benefit summer camps for girls of color that fortifies self-esteem and beauty beyond the external

Of course this is only the way I must view things, as I have too much engagement with girls like me who are growing up in poverty and limiting environments. I know they need a deeper connection.

I’m known to be a little intense. Perhaps this is the case here. What do you think? And when you have a moment, do a Google image search of the terms, “black girls makeup beauty toy set.” Are you shocked that there is not one picture of Black girls playing in makeup? Leave off the toy set and see what you get? Surprised? Will we, too continue to lock out of beauty dreams?

Please share any organizations or programs that focus on girls STEM and enterprise, especially related to chemistry.

Here’s Lupita’s full speech: