Today Beloved and I took the little angel to the Kansas City Toy & Miniature Museum to see the Barbie exhibit. The Toy & Miniature Museum is pretty amazing in a lot of ways. There is a huge collection of dollhouses and trains and marbles -- oh! the marbles! -- but I left with a rotten taste in my mouth over something very hard to discuss. And it wasn't the Barbies.
It was race.
Despite the fact that dollhouse after dollhouse depicted beautiful furniture and clothes, I saw almost no black figures depicted among the artifacts. The only black figures I saw, actually, were dressed as servants and lived primarily in the servants' quarters of the fancy dollhouses.
And then there were the golliwogs.
It really sucks.
My stomach turned to see the black figures only in the servants' quarters. I swept past the golliwoggs, which were housed next to Raggedy Ann and Andy without saying anything to my daughter. I didn't know what to say.
I don't even know where I'm going with this.
I realize to even write about it is to open a big fat can of race all over the Internet and to invite those who disagree with me or agree with me but think I'm going on about it in all the wrong ways to come here and attack me, but ever since I got home I haven't been able to get it out of my head any more than the weird donkey centaurs in Fantasia. (You can't embed this video any more "by request." The first black centaur appears at 1:05.)
There was a black family exiting the room with the black figures in the servants' quarters as I entered it, a dad and his little girl. The dad seemed to be rushing, had an agitated expression on his face. I don't know if it was caused by the figures in the dollhouse or because his daughter had to go potty, but I paused for a long time before that scene thinking about how I would feel in a museum full of brown-skinned rich dolls dripping in silver and finely upholstered furniture and the only white dolls I could find in the entire place relegated to the servants' quarters or painted with pinched, wrinkled white faces and scraggly, straw-colored hair. I think it would make me feel like shit.
The world has changed quite a bit since the 1800s, even since the 1980s, when the black Barbie featured in the Barbie exhibit was introduced. She's black! She's fabulous!
She is beautiful, except she has totally white facial features. We've just recently (2009) gotten a black or brown Barbie that doesn't seem to be made from the exact same mold as the original Barbie.
A far cry from the golliwogg.
There was a long time during which I really didn't get it. And I didn't get it because I grew up in a white vacuum. I didn't realize that every magazine cover I saw had a white person on it. I didn't realize that most television shows featured white people -- and in the case of Archie Bunker -- really WTF racist white people. Staring at the dollhouses today, I thought there was a time in my past when I wouldn't have seen anything unusual in the gorgeous miniatures.
It's like one of those hidden pictures -- once you see it, you can't unsee it.
When I look at our country's history, hell, the world's history -- and in some cases -- its present, I can't unsee the hypocrisy and arrogance of white people, particularly of those of European descent. Of which I am one.
Is it white guilt? Or is it just awareness that opens an old wound with every dollhouse?
I can't change the past. I don't know how to change the present. I can change the future by teaching my daughter that in the past, white people were wrong. Colonialists were wrong. Europeans were wrong. Americans were wrong.
But there I stood, before the golliwoggs, and the words stuck in my throat, and I didn't know what to say. I knew I didn't like them. I knew they didn't look like any of the black people I know, didn't look like the family I saw hurrying away toward who knows what. My daughter didn't seem to notice -- at five, she's attracted to shiny things, and these dolls were not shiny, nor were the Raggedy Anns and Andys. Should I have said something? Would it have confused her more? All her girlfriends in kindergarten are black. Sometimes she'll casually mention it. Staring at her pale skin in the bathtub one night, she said, "I'm the only girl in my class with light skin."
Does she see the magazines?
She's grown up with Dora the Explorer and Tiana, but she's also grown up with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and Barbie. Though we've filled her bookshelves with tales from other countries and tales of Asian-Americans and black Americans and Native Americans, is she absorbing too much white culture?
I don't want her to wake with a start in her thirties and realize how blind she's been her whole life.
I couldn't find the exact comments, but there have been great discussions going on over at BlogHer about racism and whether it means the KKK or whether it means something milder, an unconscious expectation that your race is best, is destined to be on top. I don't know how a white person could honestly say they haven't learned to feel that way being raised in America in the last thirty years. Everything we saw growing up featured white people running companies, running this country, owning property, making laws, teaching schools. I, too, took offense to the term "white privilege" until I started really looking around after attending a session on race at BlogHer and realized with a shock that most television hosts, most commercials, most magazine covers, most executives, were white. Often white and male. With an underlying message that this was right, this was the way it was supposed to be.
And I bought it for so many years without questioning it. Until someone pointed out how I would feel if every face in People magazine was brown or black or Asian, with one or two white faces. It's not a matter of whether or not Ebony exists, it's a matter of how many nonwhite faces are in the most mainstream publications available. Until it's more representative of our country's population, there's still something wrong. And there's still something wrong.
I last visited the Toy & Miniature Museum three years ago, before that fateful BlogHer session. I was bothered by the golliwoggs, but I didn't know how to give voice to it. Now I'm bothered by them because I really understand how biased my country has been, how it's just starting to break free from its past but continues to struggle as Bill Maher makes black-guy-president jokes and I myself stand before the dollhouses wondering what to say to my young daughter.
I should've told her it was bullshit. Instead, I didn't say anything, and in not saying anything, I may have contributed to the problem instead of becoming part of the solution.
I don't exactly know how to become part of the solution. So instead I write of my awareness, hoping it will make some other white person aware. The world has favored us unfairly for too many years. It's time to even out the playing field. It's time to admit it hasn't been even ever in my lifetime. It was horrific before my lifetime. What can I do to make it better in my daughter's lifetime?
I don't know. Tell me.