One day in Target she chased me down several aisles away and begged me to buy her the boxed baby doll in her arms. At only four years old, she anticipated my answer that it cost too much and told me it was on sale for only $2.14. Not believing her, I followed her back to the doll aisle and sure enough, she was right. Marked down from $25, the doll was on huge discount. Gentle reader, if you already know why this doll was so cheap – bonus points for you. I, however, could not figure it out. An almost identical boxed doll was right next to this one, but not on sale. The dolls seemed the same – same accessories, same clothes, same features. What, I wondered, could possibly be wrong with this doll to have Target almost give it away. And then I saw it – what was wrong with the doll, was that it was black.
Horror set in as I realized that the only reason Target would put an item on sale that much was because no one was buying the merchandise. No one wanted the black baby doll. My heart broke for an inanimate object. And then my heart broke again, as I wondered what the little black girls in Target, smart enough to make that connection themselves, would decide that meant about their own self-worth? And then I turned to Josie, wondering what conclusions would my own white daughter draw from this? Rage and shame poured over me like an ice bath.
I broke my rule against non-holiday new baby dolls and bought it for my deliriously happy daughter. She loved and loved that doll, at least until the next new one came along and she lost interest, as she had the dozens before that one. I didn’t mention the color of its skin, and neither did she. Maybe that was wrong, maybe I should have sat down in Target and pointed out the difference between the two dolls and discussed why one is more valued in our society than the other and why we must fight against these prejudices in ourselves and in our community. It seemed a bit much for a four-year-old at the time, but that’s my privilege talking. As a white mother, I can hold conversations about race until I think the time is right. The black mother coming down the aisle with her daughter behind me doesn’t have that option.
So when Kanye West or other voices clamor that if we stop talking about racism it will go away, I call bullshit. When Target gives away black baby dolls almost for free because no one wants them, racism is alive and well.
I believe that the only way to change anything is to talk about it, and think about it, and figure out what each of us can do. I’m going to keep talking about race, and reading, and thinking and writing. I’m sure I’ll get it wrong sometimes, and I hope you trust me enough to tell me when that happens. All I know is, I want to be part of the conversation.