I love the show "The Office." Love it. Live for it. It's the 30 minutes in the week when I know, for sure, that I'm gonna hurt from laughing. When I bring up that my favorite show is "The Office," I get two reactions: 1) "I LOVE THAT SHOW, TOO!" or 2) "Oh, god, that show makes me so uncomfortable. I can't watch it!" I think that the characters are so real to life that it's just hysterical. And, unfortunately, I can match up every single Office character with someone I have worked with in my professional career. Maybe that's why it's so funny -- because it wasn't funny when they were real people in my life.
The show this week was no exception to the uncomfortably hilarious diversity conversation. This week, Dwight had the brilliant forsight to purchase all of the "Unicorn Princess" dolls in the local stores and charge "those lazy parents" upwards of $200 for the dolls. As with just about every new kid craze, these dolls were ridiculous. They were pretty princesses, dressed in shimmery pink dresses, with a long white horn coming out of the forehead. I joke not.
Throughout the show, anxious white fathers come in, give the secret nod, and get their dolls after exchanging a wad of cash. Toby, the poor fool of an HR guy, goes to buy the last doll from Dwight. He ends up paying $400 for the doll, the camera pans to his delighted face as he holds the precious box in his hands, and then his expression quickly turns sour as he discovers he has just bought the Black Unicorn Princess. Yes, folks, the Black Unicorn Princess.
I get asked a lot about dolls, given that I have two little girls. My husband and I have a practice of only buying dolls with brown skin (and, ideally, ones with a waist larger than my ring-size). Everywhere my kids go, they are surrounded by white dolls. They see white characters -- whom they idolize -- on television. They listen to young white girls singing on Radio Disney. And, conversely, they see far too many shows with young brown girls as the "mean kids" or the "dumb girls" or the "bratty teens."
Purchasing power is on my side. The brown dolls ... they always seem to be on clearance. That helps me out. But, in the neighborhood and city in which I live, whites are the minority. Yet, the brown dolls are always the one on clearance. White dolls dominate the shelves on the toy racks. On a recent trip to North Carolina for a speaking engagement, I nearly lost my mind when I walked into a store and found shelves and shelves of beautiful Black dolls -- angels, princesses, books with Black characters, and a Black Nativity scene. My host had accompanied me into the store and couldn't believe my shock.
"You don't understand," I said. "I never see Black dolls -- in so many numbers -- in a store. The multicultural dolls are usually hidden in a corner with red tags on their boxes."
"Honey, this is North Carolina. There are plenty of Black dolls down here. I think it's time for you to relocate!" said my host.
Thankful for the luxury of internet shopping, I avoid most of the big toy and book stores these days and give my money to smaller companies who have made multicultural options their business plan. I know this makes my white relatives uncomfortable - we've had some great discussions about how my actions aren't to exclude white merchandise. After all, my kids are surrounded by it. Their dolls at school, their books at their library, their favorite characters on television, and the stars of their favorite movies are all white. They have plenty of exposure to white culture. Believe me.
And, if you haven't seen this experiment re-done, check out the impact of racial preferencing and messaging in young kids:
What I do is actively look to INCLUDE multicultural images in their lives. It's so easy to exclude these for many reasons; in my area, the most powerful reason is that multicultural resources are not readily accessible.
What am I looking for next? Waiting for the Ken, Ben and Baby doll sets to hit the shelves, though sadly even in Massachusetts, I'm sure this will be a while before this happens.