When I was a little girl, not yet two years old, my parents bought me a baby doll. I still have the doll, almost thirty years later. Her name is “Baby Glory.” She has a soft, stuffed body, and plastic molded head and feet and hands. Her mouth is open, perfect for “feeding” when you’re a little girl. She had a cry-er that cried when she was held a certain way–but it’s broken and silent now. And she has blue eyes.
I have blue eyes, too, a silvery-blue like the summer sky, just before it rains. Probably my parents remembered this when they went to the store, and when they bought me this doll that I would keep, even now…the most baby-of-mine I have ever had.
A few weekends ago I went to the store with my mother. We were looking to buy a doll for another little girl, not yet two years old.
Our list of “musts” wasn’t long, we knew we wanted the baby doll to have brown eyes. That was our singular condition. Of course, we wanted her to be cute and soft and child-appropriate, too. Of course.
Do you know what determines eye color? Genetics. Blue eyes, like mine, are the result of “recessive” genes. Recessive genes silently bow to more dominant genes, like those that produce brown eyes. In other words, blue eyes are far from the most popular eye color–that would be brown.
We went to one store for the baby doll. No luck.
We went to another store, solely dedicated to toys, with a full aisle of baby dolls. We looked through every shelf, pulling dolls down to see the dolls behind. Doll after doll after doll…with blue eyes. Blue eyes and blond hair. We asked a clerk to help us. Towards the back of a shelf he found one, but it looked like someone had stepped on the face–it was a bit squished in. We declined.
I gave up.
My mother, a trooper, went to another store, the third store. There she found a doll with brown eyes, in a twin set. She bought both dolls. The little girl loves them.
I compare this small, personal narrative against the larger conversation that is taking place across my nation and world.
This, I’m sure, can make me look uneducated and stupid, but, for the sake of this conversation, I’m really okay with that. Listen: until I went doll shopping for a doll with brown eyes, I didn’t realize that roughly 95% of dolls for sale were white, white…like me. And I’m really white. Like, other white people look at me and tell me I’m pale.
As a child, I had dolls with blue eyes and blond hair. I have blue eyes and blond hair. I thought that I had dolls like that because they looked like me, not because those were the dolls available.
This is one small scenario. But, I want to use it to illustrate something. Pretend you knew a little girl who was sweet and loved to sing and dance and clap. And, because of things outside of her control (i.e. genetics), her beautiful hair curled into tight ringlets and her beautiful eyes were like deep pools of warm, dark coffee. Pretend she wanted a doll but, when you went to a store, the entire doll aisle was made of babies who didn’t look like her.
The implicit message is, “The people who look like this, blond-hair-blue-eyes, something you can never attain, are more important to our revenue streams. Therefore they’re more important, period.”
Maybe it’s not that strongly worded, usually. But, you try finding a baby doll for a little girl with brown eyes and tight ringlet hair, and you tell me what you come up with. (In a standard store. Yes, I know that there are dolls you can buy online for half of my monthly grocery budget that fit the bill. I know).
I died a little on the inside that day. Because this is just one scenario in a lifetime of scenarios for this little girl, and I didn’t want this conversation to start now, before she can even talk, not even two years old. So when I saw her I said, “Hey, baby, we couldn’t find you a doll,” (this was before my mom tried the third store) and I handed her a toy giraffe.
I’ve worked social media on and off, professionally, for the past five years. Social media functions around sound bites–140 characters or less. So, what do we do? We simplify. We say things that we hope resonate with people so we get more shares, more likes. It’s the job. It’s the nature of the beast. That is why hashtags exist. They serve a purpose. They’re obviously not perfect, but, it’s the medium at hand.
But, there are conversations that need to take place using far, far more than 140 characters, and the conversation about racism and police violence is one of those conversations. The easy thing to do is to sit on our hands until we notice which bus the “liberal” or the “conservative” crowd takes, and then, with flying and furious fingers, jump on the bus we more closely align with, flinging rough words this way and that.
I don’t want to do that here. I don’t want to do that anywhere on sound-bite social media, with its 140 characters trying to address systematic prejudice and hundreds of years of hurtful history. Nope, nope, nope.
But, I do want to dedicate a couple of posts to this time in history, summer of 2016, when the world was a place of tragically-ended life to Afro-American and police brothers both. And I’m going to use more than 140 characters. Because the conversation deserves it. Stay tuned.
And, as always, thanks for being here.