Eliyana’s play life has reached its doll phase. She adores her Elmo and Ernie whom she insists on dragging with her wherever we go. I was greatly amused by a recent trip to our Discovery Center to see what was “drop worthy” and what wasn’t. She tried unsuccessfully to climb the slide with a muppet in each hand. Nothing could convince her to let go. When she wanted to play the guitar she dropped Ernie but held on to Elmo. At the emergency room display she dropped both Ernie and Elmo like hot potatoes. This is the room with the dolls. Eliyana loves the little anatomically correct African American baby doll. She holds him, burps him, and has me dress and undress him. I was so charmed by the picture of her with this doll that I took her directly to Toys R Us to buy a few for home. I imagined a small United Nations contingent for tea parties in our living room. Imagine my shock when we had to leave empty handed. We had money in hand but there were no dolls for us.
In the small row of baby dolls I almost missed the one that wasn’t white — it was that light skinned. The vast majority of the store’s dolls were Barbie or Disney. What happened to baby dolls you cuddle and bathe? The next store we visited, Target, had no baby dolls of color at all. Very disheartening. Eliyana wanted a baby doll, not one that looked like a kid or an adult. It shouldn’t be that difficult in a city this large, with a sizable African American population, to find one that looks like her. Not all her dolls need to be dark skinned, but some should be. It’s important.
We did come home with a plastic teapot that sings five different songs. Eliyana is thrilled to pour tea for Ernie and Elmo. But where are my kid’s dolls?
It’s 2015. Our president is African American. The most influential woman in the country, Oprah, is African American. What’s up with the white out at the toy store? I am absolutely not comfortable with this reality. The messages we are sending our kids through today’s toys are not OK. Once we played with Lego: building, taking apart and building anew with the same plastic pieces. Now we buy our children Lego model kits. They build a house or a ship which becomes a permanent display or toy, its bricks never recycled. The message is to buy, own, collect, and buy more. We are training our children to be perfect little consumers. More insidious is that each toy seems to be intertwined with a movie or TV show. We know how susceptible children are to the messages received through TV and music… and it is constantly reinforced in the matching toys. The dolls are no longer “just dolls” reflections of our kids desire to build relationship and practice parenting skills. Now they teach the importance of beauty, hair, and fashion. Some come with coordinating books on activities the dolls enjoy: travel, beauty, fashion, hairstyling… I have yet to see any dolls that adore science or geometry…
I would like my daughter to grow and develop as she plays. I want her to learn to love herself, in all her inner and outer beauty. I want her brain to stretch and reach for new ways to look at the universe. I want her to stand on the shoulders of the great men and women who came before her and to see her potential reflected in their achievements. I want her to envision the world as it should be, and be a part of making it a reality. I want her to know that she is a perfect creation of God’s glory, and proudly make her path in life.
My daughter loves to do everything I do. We brush our teeth together, walk around Barnes and Noble with matching Starbucks cups, and fight over whose turn it is to play with my cell phone. That kiss she is giving the doll on the forehead in the video below, that’s the kiss I give her every time I hold her. She learned it from me. I know I only have this devoted attention for a limited time. Soon enough her friends’ opinions and those of “society” will outweigh my advise. In addition to daddy and mommy, we will need to find models for strong, vibrant, African American women, to fill her life. Right now, many of those life lessons are playing out in her toys.
Thank you Discovery Center.
Thank goodness for the internet (and grandparents). African American Baby Doll will arrive next week. Our neighborhood toy stores have a ways to go on their journey.