Recently I was removing the piles of books from Thalia’s bedroom floor and lining them up on her new wall shelves. I thought I’d give it a full year before I got her room organized. Just because I could.
While there is something sort of Zen about displaying sixteen identical volumes of Goodnight Moon side by side, I thought I’d change things up with a few knicknacks. I grabbed a hammered sterling piggy bank, a vintage pink Erico phone–the kind with the dial at the base–and two of the cuter dolls she’d recieved as gifts and added them to the display.
When I stepped back into the room later that day, one of the dolls had been replaced with a small Winnie the Pooh. Let’s just say I’m not a big fan of the licensed characters, which is why I noticed the change right away. I’m sure in good time it will be all Elmo (Dora/Blue’s Clues/Arthur/Sponge Bob) all the time ’round these parts, but until then, I’m limiting the free advertising to whatever comes printed on the diaper.
I walked into the living room where Nate was zoning out on some sports event or another.
“Did you move one of the dolls?” I asked Nate.
“Oh, you mean the politically correct dolls.” he answered through cheeks stuffed full of sunflower seeds. “Yeah, I moved one.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.
He grabbed my arm to pull himself up from the couch then led me into the baby’s room, handing me the two dolls out that I had originally placed on the shelves. The first was a handmade folk art doll my father and stepmother had brought back from a trip to Costa Rica. She had deep brown skin, an ebony mop of yarn hair, jewelry fashioned from teeny orange and yellow beads, and a festive orange dress traditional to the Ngobe tribe.
The second doll, the one he tossed into the armoire, was a beautiful little Sugarplum Fairy finger puppet. She wore a purple tulle skirt with silver accents, and had gauzy violet wings jutting from her back. Her handknit hair was interwoven with delicate purple little flowers and her skin was the color of a latte.
“They’re both black,” Nate pointed out.
“So it looks like you’re trying to make a statement.”
Of course I responded in the only appropriate way. I told him he was an idiot and I took down the Pooh doll.
He put it back up.
I took it down.
He put it up.
Aren’t we a fun couple?
“It just looks like, ooh aren’t I PC mom? Ooh, look at my kid’s PC room,” Nate said in his characteristically cynical way. “Give me a pat on the head for being sooooo PC.”
Now first you have to know that Nate is as liberal as they come. He thinks that should the entire Republican party accidentally fall into an active volcano that the world would be better off; with the exception of Hannity who I think we’d both want to keep around simply to see how he behaves when there’s no one left on earth to agree with his hatefulness.
You also have to know that Nate is the kind of guy who, when his best friend arrives at his birthday dinner, can get away with shouting, “hey everyone, the token black guy is here! We can start now!”
So let me be clear: Nate is not saying we should have only white dolls around the house. He is saying that when we have only non-white dolls (even if we are only talking about two here), we project an agenda.
Does he have a point?
Now I am not interested here in how the world should be, but how the world is.
The way the world should be: Skin color doesn’t matter and we don’t even notice it, and you go and put out thirty non-white dolls, Mom101! The way the world should be is what you see in pizza delivery commercials where the pepperoni-loving Caucasian frat boy has three best frat friends–one Indian, one Japanese, one African-American. Because you know, that happens all the time. Like at University of Southern Give Me a Freaking Break.
The way the world really is: Well, maybe it’s a place where black little girls can have any kind of Barbie, but white little girls with black Barbies are the product of bleeding heart parents.
Of course I do have an agenda and I’m proud to admit it. I want Thalia to grow up knowing that Koreans aren’t just the women who do your nails, and Domincans aren’t just the women who take care of the children of rich women. I want her to understand that diversity doesn’t mean having one second-generation Mexican-American student in her classroom. I want her to know that there are children with two mommies and children with two daddies and those parents love their children as much as we love her. I want her to be the kid who can have a black friend without calling her my black friend.
So maybe my choice of dolls was absolutely unintentional. I really did pick the prettiest two dolls she owned. Or maybe it did come from an unconscious move to surround her with some semblance of diversity, even at this early stage.
But then Nate unwittingly did it too. The enormous stuffed tiger he bought her when she was born is surely of African descent. And that Pooh? If the label is any indication, he’s Chinese.
Edited to add: The tiger is in fact Indian. Possibly Bangladeshi. Mea culpa, and thank you J! Geography was never my strong suit.