I remember looking through the American Girl Doll catalog as a young girl and wondering why they had Addie, the black doll.
There was one black girl I remember at my elementary school. She was bused in from downtown for an opportunity to go to a better suburban school. There are a few times I remember her having a very snotty nose. I thought she was weird.
I don’t remember anything about people of color from my time in junior high school. Probably because I didn’t look past myself very often, right mom?
In high school, I had two guy friends who were black who attended our youth group.
But really, it wasn’t until college, when I was serving as a Young Life leader at an urban high school that I can actually remember befriending people with a dark skin color. That was the first time I had an up close view of the black community. I visited their homes and their churches. I learned about their families and their dreams. It was also the first time I befriended people who were a part of a lower socioeconomic class than me. I had done a service project or mission trip to serve people, but I’d never built real relationships with people different than me before. I learned about what it was like to grow up in poverty and to continue to live in it. I learned that a high school diploma was truly an accomplishment. As I befriended these girls and their families, my love for them grew. They are part of some of my best college memories.
In light of recent events in America, I think it’s easy to see that many people are like me. A lot of us haven’t grown up with a clue of what it’s like to be black in America. Sure we aren’t racist – we don’t think less of them because they are a different skin color. We have just grown up separate from them and we haven’t looked for opportunities to go out of our way to find a way to interact. Our paths haven’t crossed. The generations before us did a lot of hard work to fight for black rights and to stop segregation in America. Perhaps for the last few decades we’ve lived on cruise control when it comes to the black-white relationship in America. Over the last two years, I think it’s been made clear that it’s time to turn off cruise control and do the hard work to move forward.
Last week I went to Target to buy the first baby doll for my daughter Emerson. She’s the cutest blonde-haired blue-eyed girl around, in my very biased opinion. There were tons of options on the shelves. Baby Alive was far too complicated for her age. Several had very creepy eyes. I wanted something that was all fabric and could be washed. Along with something where she could practice taking care of a baby in order to get ready to be a big sister one day. I settled on one doll in particular that met my requirements. It came with a magnetic bottle and paci, as well as a plush toy and a little book for the doll. Bonus! There are other outfits I can buy for it in the future. There were two different models on the shelf: one light-skinned and one dark-skinned. I instinctively grabbed the light-skinned blonde-haired doll. However before I could walk away, I hesitated.
It’s a lie when people say that they don’t see color. We all see different skin color. Our differences are a beautiful thing when we learn to appreciate them. Gina Torres is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen and I love her dark coloring. With my senses, I will acknowledge that others look different than me. What I have trained my heart to do is to love people regardless of our differences. What I want to train my daughter to do is to love people regardless of our differences.
I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target with the dark-skinned one. Actually, that’s a lie. I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target without a doll. I was convicted that I should buy the dark-skinned one, but I was worried people would think it was weird. That evening I talked to JR about it and he affirmed by decision to buy the darker doll. The next day I went back to Target, no complaints there, and bought the dark-skinned doll.
Can you guess what my sweet girl has been doing for the past week? She has been hugging that baby doll. She has been giving it a bottle and a paci. She carries it around the house with her. She loves that doll.
This doll won’t be what compels her to love people who don’t look like her all the days of her life. I’m not naive enough to believe that. But, I do believe that it will be part of the narrative of how we train Emerson to love people regardless of their differences. From her earliest memories, I want her to know that we are on this earth to show God’s unconditional love to all people. Later in life when she interacts with people who don’t look like her or think like her, I hope there is a faint memory of her love for this doll or at least a photograph of it.
In her future, it will feel complicated to figure out how to love people who aren’t like her. How can I avoid saying something dumb to them? Are they going to like the same food as me? Will I offend them if I do this? Right now it’s simple: she hugs that dark-skinned baby doll as tightly as she would a white one.