A White Girl Can Dream, Too
I have dreams, too. Most involve giant penguins and the number 47.
As for that famous speech, I’ve always believed that someday it will truly become reality.
But who am I to stand from the curvaceous slopes of California and shout my opinions? As a person of Middle Eastern and Irish descent, I am considered Caucasian. Yet, as a child, I never understood why I had to check the box that said “white,” because my skin is a golden brown. When people ask me what I am, and I reply, “white,” they look at me like I have lobsters crawling out of my ears.
So, I always looked different, but felt the same as everyone else. They really should add an “ethnically ambiguous” box on the next census.
When my husband and I discovered we were expecting, we had visions of an exotic little baby and gave her a Hawaiian name. Boy, were we wrong. Due to the amazing lottery wheel of genetics, my daughter has fair complexion, blond hair and blue eyes. Perfect strangers have expressed skepticism that she’s actually ours. We even joke that if we hadn’t both witnessed her come out of me, we’d suspect we were the victims of a baby swap. (For the record: No, I’m not the nanny. No, I didn’t adopt her. And, no, for the last time, she isn’t the mailman’s kid.)
Who knew that the Ethnically Ambiguous Duo could produce a child that Hitler would be proud of? (Not that it should matter whether Hitler would’ve been proud of our kid, mind you.)
Raising a child can be rewarding, demanding, frustrating and exhilarating, all bundled together like some evil cell phone plan of parenthood. There’s Play-Doh embedded in my carpet, my arms are sore from swinging a three-year-old around the living room, I can recite Goodnight Moon from heart, and if I have to watch one more episode of Dora the Explorer, I may just scream. Thank God she doesn’t know of the existence of a certain demonic purple dinosaur.
Aside from my job as my daughter’s entertainment director, I do realize that I have a greater responsibility: to raise her to be accepting of the world around her. And I assumed that her innocent and loving heart would naturally lead her to practice not just tolerance, but colorblindness, as well. (Incidentally, I think “tolerance” is a horrible word to denote someone who is NOT prejudiced… like, I just “tolerate” you, even though you’re different. Or, you are “tolerable,” even though you don’t fit in with the “norm.” Tolerance. Blech.)
To teach tolerance, color-blindness, acceptance, sympathy, understanding, mercy, kindness, perfection… whatever you want to call it, I didn’t think much past raising my daughter with love and a loving heart. (Don’t worry, I feed her on occasion, too.)
Then I stumbled upon the 2006 documentary, A Girl Like Me, by teenage filmmaker Kiri Davis. In it, Davis conducts her own version of the “doll test,” originally created in the 1940s by Dr. Kenneth Clark.
In the film, pre-school-aged black children are given two dolls, one white and one black. They are asked, “which doll looks nice?” Most pick up the white doll. Then, “which doll looks mean?” Most pick up the black doll.
Why is the doll nice? Because it is white. Why is the doll mean? Because it is black.
That’s right, folks. Even in the 21st century, young black children are identifying that being black is not a good thing.
White children are given a similar test in a CNN pilot study on children’s attitudes on race, only now, there are five cartoon dolls to choose from, ranging in color from light to dark. The study reports that a five-year-old, whose mother says they have never discussed race, also chooses the white girl as nice, “because she looks like me,” and the black girl as mean, “because she is a lot darker.”
Egads! I haven’t really talked to my daughter about race either. Sure, we’ve talked about Star Wars, and trucks, and Barbie, and the alphabet. But for some reason, race just hasn’t come up in our playtime. So I wonder, do I have a future Klansman on my hands? Is she going to run out to get that swastika tattoo next week? By doing nothing, have I allowed social media to brainwash my child into thinking, “white is right?”
What have I done?! I am a horrible mother.
I stare at my little blond girl, visions of burning crosses in my head, and I decide to do an experiment of my own.
I pull out the only two dolls she owns:
I place them on the table and ask, “Kalena, which doll is nice?”
She says, “um… that one!” and points to the dark doll with curly hair.
Yes! My child does not associate dark skin with negative qualities! I am the best mother in the world! Woo Hoo!!! Someone give me a medal!!
Then, without hesitating, she says, “and that one!” and points to the blond doll.
And I say “oh, they both are nice?”
And she says, “yes, because that one looks like me, and that one looks like mommy!”
That one looks….. Like. Mommy.
Maybe Kalena’s open-mindedness has nothing to do with race. She just knows I’m nice, and she’s nice, too.
Actually, I hope she’ll just assume everyone is nice, no matter what they look like, what they believe, or who they love. (Well, except for strangers driving windowless vans offering candy. I still need to be a parent, you know.)
But mostly, I have a new dream. I dream that one day when someone asks her, “which doll is nice?,” she will say, “I’ll have to get to know them first!”
You and me, Mr. King. Here’s to all of our dreams coming true.
Except, of course, for those giant penguins.