Monday, May 23, 2016

Despatches: Diverse books, diverse dolls - knowing we are beautiful

I promised more posts arising from the address by Dr. Kim Robinson Walcott at the launch of Abigail’s Glorious Hair and The Happiness Dress.

 Dr. Robinson Walcott spoke of the images we saw as children in our books, all foreign, all white, with long straight hair, nothing like us, nothing we could ever be.  She  pointed out that at that time our ‘culture’ was imported from England, but now, direct quote  . . .Thank heaven we have advanced beyond  that age of darkness, right? Flash forward  to today when we see how popular weaving and bleaching are in 2016, we realize how much work we have to do. A few days ago in one of our newspapers there was a photo of a tiny tot, maybe one or two years old, dark-skinned and with big eyes, in a children’s home, caressing her prized possession: a little white-skinned blue-eyed platinum-blonde, kindly donated by some well-meaning charity organization.

I saw the picture too, and I was disturbed. Not only by the doll, but also because I know that if the child had been given a black doll, a number of people might have been offended. The giver would have been accused of racism, anyone else who thought a black doll was an appropriate gift would have been equally charged with treating the child from the home as ‘less than’.

 I think of dolls as representing  us, so to speak, so shouldn’t they look like us? Of course, for others, they might be part of a fantasy land, hence any doll will do. However, I think we fool ourselves if that is our explanation.

Both of my daughters are adults,  and the first doll ever brought into our house was a black doll named Suzie. Suzie was so loved that she was still with us when the girls were in their teens. After Suzie came dolls of various colours; one of the things I enjoyed doing was, starting in September, to hunt though the stores for beautiful black Barbies  for Christmas. You had to start in September, because very few black dolls were brought into the island. Yes, my granddaughter also has dolls of all colours. Diverse dolls!

Aha! You say the merchants do not bring in enough black dolls. You have found the scapegoat. One year, no doubt, in some fantasy  of  signs of self acceptance, the merchants brought in black dolls. Black dolls can’t done!  I was thrilled. At last, at last, my people were on their way. After Christmas heaps of black dolls were still in the stores. I asked; the merchants said no one wanted them. They haven’t made that mistake again. Many of us know of the American psychologists Clark and Clark and their experiment with black children with black and white dolls in the 1940’s, in which the black children preferred the white dolls and ascribed to them more positive characteristics. I gather other experiments have been done since then, and other interpretations ascribed to their study. However,  not a lot has changed it seems. 

What do we do about this? What can anyone do? Some may have stopped reading this by now in annoyance. Some may now view me as subversive in some way. I used to be upset by people not understanding the importance of this. I even suspected that there were those who railed against slavery and our colonial past,  but probably had no black dolls for their children, nor had they bought any local children’s books. Diverse books! One of the good things about getting older, I have found, is that you begin to realize that you really cannot change people, and you do not mind. 

Do I think local books, diverse books can influence our children’s thinking about themselves? I do. However, you be the judge.

And here is the good news in despatches: It is reported that having read The Happiness Dress, little girls are finding dresses which they consider  happiness dresses in their cupboards. Lovely! And those who have read Abigail’s Glorious Hair, have concluded that their hair is glorious also, and want it loose like Abigail’s. These reports are numerous. One mother/grandmother concluded that a particular little girl knew she was beautiful, but now she believes it.  Even more lovely!
Photo top left: Dr. Kim Robinson Walcott, courtesy of Michael Reckord
Photo upper right: me, courtesy of Camille Parchment

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