I often watch ABC’s black-ish, a show that regularly addresses racial issues within America and its past while following the lives of the Johnson’s, an African American family. One episode aligned nearly perfectly with class readings and discussions. It begins with Diane, an elementary school girl who recieves a white “Girl Story” doll who is characterized as a doctor. Immediately, the mother, Rainbow (who is a doctor herself), insists on exchanging the doll for a black one. Once at the store, she realizes that among the hundreds of white and “differently abled” dolls, there are only two black dolls: a slave and “Selma”, a civil rights protester. Rightfully so, this infuriates Rainbow, and she protests against the store, demanding that her daughter and other young girls of color have a more vast representation of who they are and who they can be in the world. Throughout the episode, she states “just because that doll store thinks we are only one thing, doesn’t mean that is all we are” and “The message is so clear. We’re not as good. I just didn’t want Diane internalizing that message” while talking through her frustrations with her husband and young daughter.
Rainbow demonstrated a clear understanding of how “identity”, as discussed and defined in Karen Coats’ keyword essay, can be developed for her child through racial representation within a doll character, just as the girls in The Bluest Eye did not feel represented properly within their society. This keyword essay focused on how a child’s perceptions of themselves in relation to society is rapidly changing as they grow. The piece stated that “adults have long believed that it is crucial for children ‘to see themselves in the book’ so that their particular identity structures are validated and affirmed”(111). This thought is held by Rainbow, and is most likely what causes her to be so determined to show her daughter that while the Girl Story dolls only show black women as slaves or protestors, their story goes deeper, and just because what Diane wants to be may not be fairly represented by a black doll does not mean she cannot do it. In contrast, the young girls in the novel did not have the greatest adult role models who did not clearly work to build up the girls’ value as society tried to rip it down.
In the essay, Locke’s theories on child identity were also discussed. “He concluded that the development and educational process of children must be carefully controlled and scrutinized, because lessons absorbed in childhood remain forever imprinted on the self unless scrupulously interrogated” (110), and this concept drives Rainbow to scrutinize a company that has a lacking representation of black girlhood, fearing that it would have a lasting negative impact on black girls like her daughter. As we have discussed in multiple lectures, especially regarding this keyword essay and The Bluest Eye, black childhood has historically been poorly represented in literature, toys, and media. We talked a lot about how Shirley Temple was loved, yet the girl in Toni Morrison’s novel does not prefer her, and this could be attributed to how she does not see herself represented in her. Often times, black children are seen as less than, if not absent from a narrative completely. This has had an impact on children’s’ perceptions of themselves compared to white children, who are often glorified and more widely represented. As our guest lecturer mentioned, it is hard to value yourself when the world does not see you as valuable. Rainbow’s mission was to allow her daughter to build up her value, and fight against things that stop that, like a lack of representation in a toy store.
If you’re interested in watching the episode, try this link. It may have expired.