Can you know who you are if you don't have any mirrors that reflect you, or if there are mirrors, but they don't reflect you accurately?
I think that growing up as a person of mixed heritage, I always felt a little lost. There was nothing in my world growing up that reflected my reality in a way that I recognized, could connect to. There was nothing there that I could use to see the similarities and differences between me and the people around me, that I could use to form opinions of how I fit into the world.
At play, the Barbie dolls certainly weren't reflection of my world. How could anyone that beautiful, with the big blue eyes, and wonderful white-blonde hair, with all of those cool possessions reflect the reality of this little brown girl in a white world? My almond shaped eyes didn't hold makeup the way Barbie's did, no matter how much I wanted them to. While my friends looked like Barbie, and the boys I was dreamy-eyed over looked like Ken, none of them looked like me.
While I loved the world of Cinderella and Snow White, which even as a child I knew were only make-believe, I knew even then that they weren't fairy tales that I could embrace. For clearly the Prince was going to find the beautiful blue eyed girls, or the girls with the creamy white skin and pass over the girl with the chocolate brown eyes and honey brown skin. The fairy godmother must be helping other pretty little white girls, which was why she wasn't coming to my house to grant wishes.
The games I played with other girls (house and jacks and jump rope and hopscotch), what if those were too tame? Where were the girls in the games I wanted to play (Star Wars and cowboys and indians and ball games) so that I could see how I could learn to be a woman in those roles? Was there no room for people who weren't black or white in far off galaxies? Were the brown people always the ones who were conquered? Was there only competition in physical games, and no sharing?
How was I to know what to do with my life as a grown-up? What if my dream jobs expanded beyond the playtime worlds of teacher, stewardess, secretary - how could I aspire to be more when that's what I thought women were supposed to be and do, when that's the roles I saw them taking in my world? If you asked me as a child what I wanted to be, they stayed within a woman's realm, within the realm of what I'd always seen, because it took me a while to realize in my head what my heart already knew - I was better than the boys at many "boy things". And that my white friends weren't any better any any scholastic things than I was.
I think it's wonderful that toys today are starting to reflect all colors in the spectrum. The fact that there's even a section on amazon for ethnic dolls is in some ways great (and in some ways disturbing). I think it's great in that children can see themselves reflected when they play, not someone that they'll never look like. Then again, this is disturbing to me somehow in that none of the dolls appear to be of mixed race, so the makers are still a bit off. (Or maybe because the text, while accurately reflecting what the makers are trying to do, and even backing up what I'm saying, makes me want to puke. "Realistic playmates that are designed to create a culturally diverse play environment and to encourage identification and positive self-concept.")
I'm hoping that toys today (or maybe parents today) are also helping their children see both into and beyond gender and ethnicity (and maybe someday beyond sexual orientation) to learn how to be themselves. I hope that other children of mixed race growing up today don't choose to align themselves with only one half of their ancestry, forsaking the other half, just because that's the dominant world that they live in.
I'm still learning how to be myself, regardless of what's modeled around me, every day. Obviously I found the work that I'm good at, that I'm respected for, and I found the world where I'm included. And I know that those things weren't dependent on my brown skin, but on my ability and my drive and my heart and my listening to experience (mine and others') to guide me.Posted by cshell at March 17, 2004 09:23 PM