Last week a video showing two little white girls crying after receiving black dolls as Christmas gifts went viral. Many people questioned the motives of the mother, who was responsible for uploading the video, as well as those of the aunt and uncle who gave the little girls the dolls.
Did Uncle Seth and Aunt Cynthia purposely give the girls the dolls as a prank? Did the girls’ mother know that they wouldn’t appreciate the dolls, and get a kick out of them being ashamed of the gift? Whatever the motive, the video showed a clear bias when it came to something as simple as an innocent toy. If the mother cared about teaching her daughters how to accept people for who they are, she could have explained to them that the dolls were no different from their white dolls. But unfortunately, that life lesson wasn’t caught on camera.
At least not that camera, but it did happen on Katie Nachman’s.
Nachman saw the viral YouTube video and, in a Facebook post, explained how upsetting it was to her:
There is a video going around with two little white girls getting Black baby dolls for Christmas and then crying about it while their mom laughs in the background. This is NOT that video, and I’m not reposting it because it’s a great (racist) example of how NOT to parent your kids.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, these two little white girls got Black American girl dolls for Christmas, and were positively thrilled, so I thought I’d make a little replacement video right quick. Since December 25th these two have been carried around non-stop, changed in and out of outfits constantly, and lovingly put to bed every night.
So as a white mom with white kids, why not buy dolls that look like them? Well, they do have white dolls. We also have Hispanic and Asian dolls. But I think it’s important for my kids to have dolls who don’t look like them because for one, it teaches them that all skin colors are beautiful. Two, it demolishes the expectation that in order to love someone, care about someone, be a friend or play with someone, the other person has to look like you.
It may seem trivial or silly, but it’s not. Our kids learn about race from us, their parents, first. And white parents have an obligation to teach our kids about race from a young age, so they won’t grow up to perpetuate the cycles of institutional racism and injustice that are eating away at our country from the inside. Little things like this matter, because you are creating an environment in your home that is inclusive to everyone, and invites discussion.
There are also many age appropriate children’s books about race issues, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, to the Japanese internment camps during World War II, and desegregating public schools. Read them with your kids and answer their questions. And never tell them “that was a long time ago” or “all races are the same!” Because it wasn’t and they’re not. Instead, teach them how to see injustice and do the right thing.
In the video uploaded, the girls lovingly hug their dolls and explain why they like them:
The Root spoke to Nachman, and she explained why she wanted to combat the other video.
The Root: What did you think about the previous video of the little girls crying about their dolls?
Katie Nachman: You know, when I first clicked on that video, I honestly expected it to be a positive one. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. I was really sad because it was distressing enough to me as a white woman; I can’t imagine how it would make a person of color feel to watch it. I couldn’t believe the mom would make a video like that, let alone post it on the Internet for people to see!
Then I just got mad about it and thought, “I have to do something. It’s not enough for me to comment on her video; I’m going to make one of my own.” Of course, I didn’t think my video would even be shared past my own friends list, let alone thousands of people! But if it helps in any way to counteract some of that negativity, I’m glad.
TR: What kind of example do you think the parent was setting?
KN: This is just my opinion because I don’t know that family, but I think it’s pretty obvious what she was doing. I’m not sure if the uncle bought them with good intentions or not, but the mom definitely knew the girls would react this way. Even worse, when they didn’t react strongly enough, she pushed them into it by asking what was wrong and laughing at them! I thought it was a terrible example for her kids.
If she had said something like, “Oh, wow, what pretty dolls! Say thanks to your uncle!” the girls might have had a different reaction. They take their cues from us as parents, and you can see that those poor kids knew the message they were getting was some kind of twisted joke. I feel really bad for them that they are being raised like that. It also made me wonder, if they are throwing those dolls down on the floor in disgust now, how are they going to treat real people of that color when they’re older?
TR: Did you ever think twice about buying your daughters black dolls?
KN: Not at all! I think this goes back to my own childhood, actually, because I read all of the American Girl books back in the ’90s when they only had six characters or so. I loved Addie Walker, I thought she was beautiful and I loved her story. But my parents never had enough money to get me an American Girl doll, even though I asked for her every Christmas and birthday every year.
My oldest daughter was born in 2007, and her first in-home day care provider was black. The lady’s daughter was around 5 years old at the time, and my daughter thought she was about the coolest “big kid” in the whole world. So the next time I was at the store, I bought a black baby doll instead of a white one, and she loved it! We have several different races represented in our American Girl collection, and they have almost every Disney Barbie from the different movies, so there are lots of races represented there, too. My kids don’t even know how lucky they are that they’ve always had such nice toys.
TR: What do you hope that people learn from your video and how it can help other families?
KN: The main purpose I had in mind when making that video was to show how much parental attitudes reflect on children. It was really directed to white parents, both to educate and also put it out there that the other video is completely unacceptable. With the accompanying post, I hope that white parents begin to realize that it’s not enough to tell your kids that everyone is equal. That color does matter, and it matters a lot to a lot of people. That being a “nice person” does not preclude you from having biases, or perpetrating racism.
What I want is for white people to stop being so “nice,” and to start being actively anti-racist. One of the problems with educating people about white privilege is that white people get really upset and defensive about it, and they feel guilty and try to deny it instead of thinking of ways they can actively use that privilege for good. So for white families, just know that you do have privilege; no, you can’t get rid of it; no, you can’t deny it. What you can do is use it when needed, to educate other white people, or to stand up for injustice when you see it. And it is everywhere, so if you’re not seeing it, that’s a problem. Talk to your kids about race early on, be excruciatingly honest and set the example for them. You are their first teachers, and the ones they look up to the most.
I’ve also been inundated with comments and messages from the black community, and most of them are positive. I was so happy to know that many people liked it, and many people have told me that my video gave them hope or made them feel better after seeing the video with the girls crying. So that was just awesome to hear! There were negative comments as well, of course, but I think the vast majority of people saw that my intentions were true. So for whatever my humble opinion is worth, you are beautiful, and anyone who tells you or makes you feel otherwise is ugly on the inside.
As Nachman said, something as simple as a doll can teach children valuable lessons. It’s so unfortunate that the little girls in the crying video are being taught things that will probably last them a lifetime. But it looks as though Nachman’s daughters are walking in her footsteps and will grow up to be just like their mother.