Go watch this documentary. It’s short and powerful. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
The doll test? Heartbreaking. And the saddest part is, that as bad as I feel watching that little girl slide that black doll across the table, I feel even worse knowing that I made my mother feel just as angry and as frustrated as I feel right now.
I can’t even imagine how horrified my mother must have felt, watching her daughter wail and stomp her feet in the department store for all to see, just because she was not going to purchase the white Barbie doll that her daughter so desperately wanted, but was going to purchase a black Barbie doll for her instead. The first one ever made. In 1980.
And I distinctly remember being so very angry with my mother, because I wanted a doll with long, shiny straight hair, and she had given me what I considered to be a substandard replacement. The black doll had a short Afro, and in my eyes, that made the black doll ugly. Hideously ugly.
I threw such a tantrum that my mother decided to purchase both the white doll and the black doll. And when we would play together, she would play with the black doll and I would play with the white doll. And after a few months of mistreatment (preschoolers don’t make for very good caretakers) the white doll began to look dingy and ugly. And I shyly asked my mother if I could play with her doll, which had remained well cared for.
My mother handed me the doll and told me that I could play with it, as long as I remembered that the doll was very special and deserved to be treated as such. And I did remember.
Of course, that was the last doll I had that ever looked like that. Because when Mattel started to make black Barbie dolls with the long shiny hair that I always wanted, I promptly forgot about both white Barbie dolls and black Barbie dolls with Afros.
I think my mother worked very hard to teach me that my brown skin was beautiful. And that must have been extremely difficult for her when she could not offer herself as a beauty role model due to her own light skin. Plus, she had to work against not only what the mainstream culture was constantly telling me, but also what the men in my family were telling me by consistently choosing fair-skinned black women as girlfriends and wives.
But I got it. Despite what everyone else was telling me, my mother’s message finally got through. I only wish that she had told me that my hair was beautiful as well. But no one would tell me that—ever. Instead I was told that my hair was wild. Untamed. Ugly. Repeatedly.
Of course, people did tell me how pretty I could be if I would just “do something” with my hair. Which then kicked off my lifelong affair with pressing combs and hair extensions—but no relaxers though. That would cause hair loss and breakage. And the only thing more “unfeminine” than nappy hair was nappy hair that was short.
Sigh. Humanity hurts.