Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hello, Doll-y!

If I ever doubted the importance of ethnic and racial role models for children of color the events in my household yesterday was enough to change my mind forever!

I ordered my daughter-remember the girl born in China-a Karito Kids doll named Wan Ling. First of all the doll is simply beautiful and quite authentically Chinese. Secondly, the company donates a portion from the sale of each doll to a charity that kids choose and can follow. But enough about me! The real story is my daughter's reaction.

My girl has never been much for dolls. When pushed she did get an American Girl Doll (Kaya, the American Eskimo) and she will pull her out occassionally, but she was way more interested in the horse that Kaya came with, so I was not anticipating that she would flip over Ling.

And flip she did. When she opened the package, she gasped and said, "she looks just like me." She turned the doll over, looked at her again and began kissing her making her comfortable in her new 'home'. She made Ling a bed, got pillows for her, changed her into pajamas. Ling even ate dinner with us last night. Shockingly, my daughter cleared out her beloved stuffed animals in her closet to make an apartment for Ling. All the while, my daughter kept looking at her and telling me how beautiful she was and how much Ling looked like her. My daughter played with that doll more in one night than she has played with any combination of dolls in seven years.

She just couldn't get over that this doll looked like her. It really was amazing to see the reaction she had to this doll-and to reinforce how much children do need authentic-looking toys and books in their lives. The 'look-alikes' resonate with them and validates their images of themselves and other people of color.

Of course, that is not all of the story. When we were reading Ling's story, my cerebral daughter noted that they were very much alike, they both loved pandas and zoos. However, when my daughter read that Ling had just relocated with her family from Chengdu to Shanghai she started to cry! Why? Because the doll and her story reminded my daughter of her life in China-one that is shrouded in mystery. She missed China. When Ling expressed her feelings of loss when her family moved, my daughter went back in time and space to a place that she can only imagine.

My daughter-while incredibly attuned to the sense of loss she feels for her birthparents and country of origin-has never quite had the same kind of reaction. It was as if Ling's sadness somehow gave her permission to explore her own loss at a different level.

Wow, what a doll.

The importance of images of all kinds of people, places and things can not be downplayed for any children. Your children may not have the visceral reaction that my daughter did, but they will see a kid, with real issues and feeling and realize that they are more alike than different. Coupled with an authentic images and your attention to using 'people-first' and non-biased language, your children get a real lesson in diversity without the emotion that sometimes accompanies discussion of diversity, bias, and racism.

So, it is some doll. But without you subtly or not so subtly encouraging your children to look at the world from different points of view it might as well sit on the shelf.

Look around your home today and see what images-decor, toys, books, etc-are displayed and what isn't displayed. Then see if you are willing to do something about it.
I know that I am constantly looking for ways to make diversity part of our lives rather than something we 'do'. Frankly, it is easier that way.

With respect
Deb

2 comments:

Gershom said...

do you find this to be as sad as I do that your daughter is having to hold onto a doll to find validation in herself?

Deb said...

No, I really don't. All kids need to find places that they fit and young kids like to find things that 'match' them. For better or worse, my daughter lives in a world where people constantly tease her about being Chinese, about having a flat nose, having dark skin, having a mom and no dad etc, etc. Having that doll did validate her-as dolls and books and other toys validate all kids.

Do I wish that she didn't have to face the stuff she faces, you bet. Do I wish that she didn't have the deep feelings of loss over her birthparents and birthcountry? You bet.

By me giving her that doll, it said to her, that her Chinese heritage is important and the I recognize it and respect it.