Do Black Dolls Matter?

She Matters: We may be missing the big picture when we criticize gifts sent to poor girls in Africa.

Posted:
 
girlwithdolls575ahj.jpeg
Generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) -- Last week the girlfriend of rapper Ludacris, Eudoxie Agnan, posted what I'm sure she believed was a harmless picture on Instagram. She was prepping for a trip to her native country of Gabon, and she and her sister decided to do a good deed during their visit: distribute dolls to impoverished African girls. She posted a picture of a suitcase overflowing with them.

So what's the problem? All of the dolls in the photograph were white.

Many of her followers took her to task for what they saw as a good deed gone bad.

I don't follow Agnan on Instagram. I'm sure if I did, I would have raised a brow at the nonbrown dolls she'd prepared for her trip, but not because I didn't see the bigger picture -- which, for clarity, is doing something special for young girls. No, it would have been for these reasons: 1) I was raised by a mother who searched far and wide for a rare black Cabbage Patch doll during the Christmas shortage of the 1980s because "you don't see white girls playing with black dolls, do you?" and 2) Because of her, I'm the type who, for a child's birthday or any gift-giving holiday, will search far and wide for a doll that in complexion and hair texture looks like the actual child for whom I'm buying it.

Some might say that I'm overthinking it, and maybe I am. But I know what it is to be a woman bombarded by images of beauty that don't look remotely like me. And as confident as I am, as knowledgeable as I am to say, "It's just marketing," there are those times when I just don't feel so pretty for not looking like the ideal.

I compensate for feeling out of the so-called loop by surrounding myself with images that reflect black beauty. In high school, I began decorating my room with collages of photos of beautiful, brown, accomplished women that I'd torn from the pages of Essence, Ebony and any other magazine that featured (even if only on occasion) women who shared my hue, shape and hair texture. Eventually it took up all four walls. As an adult with my own space, I've decorated every door in my apartment the same way. The artwork on my walls, which my fiancé jokes looks like an art museum, features beautiful, fluffy-haired brown women.

 

It is important as women -- and girls, too -- that we have images that reflect us in all our magnificent brown glory. And that includes the dolls, which our daughters clutch and cherish. But sometimes we need to step back and see the clichéd forest instead of just the trees. I might have raised an arched brow at Agnan's photo, but I wouldn't have criticized her actions.

Two years ago I visited Port-au-Prince in Haiti, a country that is 95 percent black. It was leading up to Christmas, and the toy displays were front and center in the supermarket. There were no black dolls. I'd been there five days and hadn't seen one white child as I traveled through the city. I relayed my observation to a friend with whom I was traveling, who looked at me blankly and rolled his eyes at my angst at my First World concern. 

"D, you're talking about the color of dolls, and some kids don't even have toys," he said. "You'd rather they don't have a doll at all than have a white one?"

Comments
The Root encourages respectful debate and dialogue in our commenting community. To improve the commenting experience for all our readers we will be experimenting with some new formats over the next few weeks. During this transition period the comments section will be unavailable to users.

We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your continued support of The Root.

While we are experimenting, please feel free to leave feedback below about your past experiences commenting at The Root.
Must-See Family Attractions
July 29 2014 2:13 PM