The week before my daughter’s first birthday, I casually inventoried her toys. She had a fine compilation of blocks, a new selection of play trucks after being enamored with her four-year old cousin’s fleet of four-wheeled machines, and a small company of well-loved baby dolls. As I reviewed her collections, I was mortified when I realized that it was completely devoid of racial diversity – all of her “babies” were blonde-haired, blue eyed Gerber-style prototypes.
The lack of variety in her toy closet was partially my fault. When I purchased a life-size Middleton baby doll at Christmas, I thoughtlessly selected a toy that was similar to my daughter in appearance. Our family and friends followed suit with one uncle gifting her a Madeline doll and a grandparent contributing a plush blue-eyed baby with a pink pacifier.
Part of the reason for my daughter’s racially uniform toy box is my own history. As a child of the mid 1980’s, there wasn’t a lot of racial diversity in the toy aisles or in my toy box.
The small Northern Maine town where I grew up was predominantly caucasian and catholic, and the local toy shelves were just as uniform. In fact, other than a Pacific Islander rag doll named Molly who was given to me by my grandmother after a trip to Hawaii, I can’t remember a single instance where I received or played with a doll that wasn’t caucasian.
As an adult, I became fascinated by Kenneth and Mamie’s Clark groundbreaking 1940’s doll test, which was recreated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper in 2010. The social experiment asked young children to identify the race of caucasian and African American dolls, assign attributes to each baby, and identify the toy that they preferred – the majority of the children demonstrated a predilection and gave complimentary attributes to the white doll, which indicated the adverse effects of prejudice and racism in the United States at that time.
Although it would seem that ideas about race would have evolved over the course of the nearly seventy years since the original study, the results of a new “doll tests” still surprised parents in 2015. Viewers of a viral Youtube video in December which featuring two white girls becoming upset and crying when they received black dolls from their laughing parents for Christmas were appalled by both the reaction of the gift-givers and receivers.
These racially-charged exams showcase the fact that raising a child to be a well-rounded citizen requires a conscientious effort from the parent; it is essential to acknowledge both one’s personal history as well as make a fastidious effort to help children play with diverse groups of toys and interact with diverse bodies of people.
My daughter is now the proud owner of two new “babies” – a six inch miniature with beautiful chocolate-colored skin and laughing brown eyes and the African American twin to my Christmas purchase. Unlike the three to seven-year-old children in the Clark’s original study, my year-old daughter can’t understand the significance a slightly different skin tone has in society today. She currently views the world with a lens that is unfiltered by race or gender, and hopefully, with a toy box and book shelf that is as diverse as her environment, she will continue to see the world in this manner long after she stops playing with dolls.