Guest blogger Howey McAuley graduated with a BFA in Surface Design from East Carolina University. The best job she ever had was managing school book fairs for an independent bookstore. These days most of her artwork centers around crafts with her children. You can find her on Twitter at @23catsinaroom.
Several weeks ago my daughter Boogie (who just turned 5) had a Barbie doll eaten by one of our dogs. Normally this would lead to a meltdown of epic proportions. This time, however, she shrugged nonchalantly and said, “She’s just the Black one.” Keeping my voice calm (while internally freaking out) I asked her if that made the Barbie less important. She said yes. YES. What?
Boogie is African American/Caucasian with very light skin and bright red hair. She has hazel eyes. Her little brother Bear is African American. He is very dark. So I then asked if she thought Bear was less important than a white boy. She said yes again.
She couldn’t remember why she thought that or where she heard it. I was completely heartbroken. I explained, not for the first time, that she is black as well as white. I told her that some people would see her as only black. We talked a bit about everyone being equally important no matter what they look like. Then she was bored and started drawing.
I was completely heartbroken. I tweeted about it. I stewed. I tried to figure out where we had gone wrong. I finally called a friend who is African American and told her about it. She was not at all surprised. She told me that it was normal (normal?) and that black children, especially girls, need to be told that they are important. It isn’t something they just assume. The racial bias is simply out in the ether.
As a white couple, when we decided to adopt, race was a non-issue. We just wanted a family. We realized that having an interracial family would come with “extras.” People always look at us. Sometimes people ask questions. Some of those questions have been mildly offensive without the questioner having the slightest clue. We have been more aware of racial bias since having our children. It would be impossible not to be. The world we see in the media is not representative of the real world. In our own home we have been vigilant about having books, toys, and dolls that represent multiple races. We have read numerous books on being white parents of black children. I thought I was prepared for hard questions. I was not prepared for this. Again, we just want to be a family. And we are.
Last week another Barbie went the way of the dog. She was black. As I went to throw the Barbie in the trash, Boogie cried out,”No!” I showed her the missing arms and legs. She said she loved the Barbie. She loved her because she was black. She asked if we could buy another to be her sister. Is this progress? Did our discussion sink in? I have no idea but I do have hope.