May 19, 2010

Don't Fear the Weeper

I was reading CNN dot com again. Apparently, I never learn. There was this “news” story titled Kids' Test Answers on Race Brings Mother to Tears. No...really...I...can’t...oh, no...CLICK.

Damn it.

Here’s how it started…

A 5-year-old girl in Georgia is being asked a series of questions in her school library. The girl, who is white, is looking at pictures of five cartoons of girls, all identical except for skin color ranging from light to dark.

When asked who the smart child is, she points to a light-skinned doll. When asked who the mean child is she points to a dark-skinned doll. She says a white child is good because "I think she looks like me", and says the black child is ugly because "she's a lot darker."

As she answers her mother watches, and gently weeps.

OK. I think what we are missing here is a small thing called the point. When little kids are not being absolute trolls, they often speak the truth in their simplicity. Her preference for the light colored doll has nothing to do with stereotypes of African-Americans taught at home, school, or portrayed in the media (well, maybe it does, but that’s a different essay).

If you read this at all (instead of instantly expressing outrage) when asked why the white doll was good, she replied “because she looks like me.” That’s right. The girl has healthy self-esteem and chose the one that looks like her when asked to distinguish the doll with positive qualities. And what does her mother do, she weeps. Good fucking job, ma.

As humans, it is our nature to compare ourselves to other humans. As evidenced by my whacked-out self-esteem issues, I am an expert at this. The key to making yourself feel good about yourself is to not get wrapped up in the qualities of others, whether its skin color, height, weight, education, income, whatever. And the best way to do this is to focus on our own identity and positive qualities. That’s what kids do. They are self-centered because their world really is all about them. Their gold stars and hogging all the toys and shit. If the girl said “I abstain from answering this question because it may cast me as racist” then I’d say we have a problem. But she didn’t. She thought that she was bringing attention to her good qualities not casting aspersions upon an entire population of black dolls. I call that natural.

Notice I am not saying we shouldn’t appreciate or respect differences. My point is that we should not get so painfully aware of our differences that we weep from white guilt and self-loating when a child responds the way a child should respond.

The kid is not racist; the doll is not human. The kid does not understand that stating a doll with apparently no other distinguishing characteristics except for the fact that it is a lot darker is "A LOT DARKER” is somehow wrong in this day and age. She is unaware of Andersen Cooper’s blog. The person who interprets the statement of the 5 year old to mean something “racist” is the racist -- or just so PC that they are afraid to be labeled “racist” if they don’t interpret this doll picking as an outrage.

As adults, when we think about our place in the world, we can get crazy and overwhelmed. In many ways, the word in 2010 is a giant free-for-all. If we can hone our focus on who we are and where we fit in, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Again, I’m not saying “Ohhh…whites can’t fit in with blacks.” I am saying that if we need to develop healthy personal identities before we can step forward and say “we live world where everyone has value and I am just one piece of this mosaic called humankind.”

Feeling good about yourself and correlating positive adjectives with things you identify with (even if it’s a doll) is healthy. It’s instinct. It’s survival. The kind of thing a 5 year old can remind us of.

So, read that and weep.


  1. This is the sort of thing that can get you labeled a "Subversive" (do they still use that term?)

  2. Yeah. It's used by the same kinds of people who say "rubbish." Either way, they are both accurate descriptions, so I don't mind.