We still don’t know how it got into our house. Maybe it was a present from my mother-in-law. (She regularly sneaks toys and snacks to our kids like they’re prisoners and Cheetos gets them phone card minutes.) Maybe it was borrowed from a classmate. Or maybe it conjured itself into existence through alchemy and spells. Either way, two months ago, when my wife and I noticed that our 6-year-old daughter was playing with a White baby doll with long blond hair, our immediate thought was “Wait … where did that come from?” And then, after watching her dote on it for two days, our thoughts shifted.
“So … how do we get rid of it?”
My wife and I don’t see eye to eye on everything. That would be boring and weird. She loves dancing in public. I love dancing in my chair while eating food by myself. She has a deep affinity for the outdoors — waterfalls, forests, plants, sand. I have a deep affinity for concrete. She likes beets. I think beets taste like if someone introduced canned cranberry sauce to Scientology. We’re mostly aligned on what’s important, though. And few things matter more to us than our daughter loving her features, her hair and her skin as much as we do.
She’s perceptive enough already to see and feel, even if she can’t quite articulate it yet, how White beauty is considered the standard here in America — a status reinforced when she notices monochromatic magazine covers at a bookstore or watches advertisements during her favorite cartoons. It’s made explicit each time she hears “dark” and “black” thoughtlessly interchanged with “bad.” It is waves and waves and waves pounding a shore. So, we surround her with reinforcements. Books and movies featuring little girls who look like her. Intentional language of affirmation and pride.
We’ve also been intentional with buying her dolls and toys of color. Black is always the preference, but we’ve made exceptions. (Her Moana blanket is still a favorite.) White dolls, though? We haven’t officially banned them. There is no sign on our stoop saying “No Dogs or Malibu Barbies.” But if we’re at a store, and the only dolls for sale are White, we’ll just be leaving doll-less that night. Our rationale is simple. The physiognomy of a baby doll represents what the person buying it considers to be precious. And a decision to gift a White doll to our daughter — who’s already aware of the ceaseless cultural proselytization of Eurocentric beauty — could communicate to her that we value those features more than hers.
Anyway, when my wife and I were brainstorming how to dispose of Daisy — which is what we named the doll — the first thing I thought of was to wait until our daughter went to sleep, sneak into her bedroom, and then, um, “disappear” Daisy, like I was SEAL Team Four. I already surreptitiously trash at least 3 percent of the kids’ toys when I’m cleaning up after them at night, so this was nothing. (I’d apologize here to them for that, but they can’t read yet, so joke’s on them!) She wouldn’t even notice, I thought, that the doll she’d been playing with for days was on a milk carton. After I ate breakfast, though, I realized that this idea was likely outlawed in the Geneva Conventions, so I passed.
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Then we thought about organizing some sort of flash mob, where she’d come downstairs in the morning and would see Daisy surrounded by 500 Black dolls. If Daisy happened to retreatfrom the Black doll mosh pit, Daisy should ask herself why Black dolls make her uncomfortable. Maybe Daisy should read some Saidiya Hartman. But as much fun as it would have been to re-create Essence Fest on our couch, it would have been easier to find 500 actual Black women than to procure 500 Black dolls.
I also thought that passive-aggressive warfare might be the solution. Let’s say our daughter brought Daisy to dinner.
Me: I’m sorry.
Daughter: What’s wrong, Daddy?
Me: We’re having pizza, and Daisy’s gluten-free.
Daughter: What does that mean?
Me: That means Daisy needs to sit in the garage.
What actually happened was aggressively anticlimactic. A few days after Daisy first conjured herself into our home, we just stopped seeing her around. No more Daisy at dinner or on the drive to school. Daisy was gone. Our daughter was back to playing with her L.O.L. Surprise dolls. (If you aren’t aware of L.O.L. Surprise dolls, imagine someone shrunk a Forever 21 down to doll size, and sold that entire store to a 6-year-old. The whole concept is deranged.)
She’s perceptive enough already to see and feel how White beauty is considered the standard here in America.
Our anxiety about her preferring Daisy over her Black dolls seemed for naught. What probably happened is what always happens with my daughter’s toys — she got bored with it and started playing with something else.
Or … maybe one of us took the initiative and followed through with the “disappearing.” Maybe Daisy is in the Monongahela River, floating past McKeesport, Pa. I guess I could just ask my wife if she did that, and I guess she could just ask me. But if neither of us ask, neither of us will know the truth. And if neither of us knows the truth, neither of us would have to perjure ourselves at a tribunal.