Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let's get some color in here!

There is an insightfull post about books and writers "of color" over at Paper Tigers.

From my own personal viewpoint I find this interesting. It's not just books, it also pertains to any product that you might want to buy for your child. I am a "mixed race" or bi-racial, though to look at me you wouldn't know at first. Not many people guess, I've only had a few people ask me where I come from. My siblings look more like the spanish side than I do. But because of our background and my mother's friends with children we were always aware that there were many different skin tones out there, as well as languages. Never really thought about it, it just was.

As a young mother (so very long ago *g*) I always tried to buy my daughter barbies and dolls of various "ethinicities". It wasn't easy to do, because other than white baby dolls and barbies, there wasn't much of a variety available. As for books, there was hardly any thing at all other than the "norm". At that time, and especially while I was growing up the only color we saw in books was Dr. Seuss's yellow, green and other pastel colored characters. A couple of books do stand out to me though from childhood - The Snowy Day and Corduroy's New Pocket (might have the name wrong). Back to the dolls, I made a concious effort to find a variety of barbies and baby dolls.

I now have one granddaughter who is a higher percentage of spanish than I am. Her father is from Mexico, my mother is from Central America (Panama) and I was born here with a Scottish mix father. I also have a grandson who is very light skinned with the huge blue eyes. My granddaughter is dark-skinned with brown eyes that are Asian looking (the shape). Because I don't want her to feel like the only thing that counts is being caucasion (the message is insidious but still out there - though I think with all the newer singers and actors on t.v., this is changing) I am still trying to find barbies and dolls of different colors. I remember having friends that always looked at themselves as abnormal because they weren't white with "normal" features. There were a few that thought they were ugly, because they were "different" looking. The ironic thing is, that I always thought that I was abnormal - my siblings were darkerskinned with dark brown eyes and I was lightskinned with my dad's blue eyes. It's only the shape of my face and the size of my lips that resembles my mother's spanish side of the family. It's a very subtle resemblance that a lot of people don't notice.

The thing that surprises me, even though we are making strides, is that it is hard to find dolls and barbies that are not white or black. This is especially so with baby dolls. There are usually only two choices, white or black, that's it. It is very difficult to find any doll that looks spanish or asian. I am not including the Princess of the World barbie dolls in this statement, because I'm thinking of dolls that my granddaughter can play with at an early age. Even though it is getting easier to find dolls that are not white, it seems there is an extremely small selection of spanish or asian. Forget trying to find an American (or hell, even a central american) Indian, Hawaiian or a representative from the Pacific Islands.

I believe the same thing is true of books that are available at regular bookstores. I was browsing the childrens area, looking for some books for the grandchildren and the main picture books (besides animals) were caucasion, with a few black characters. I didn't find anything about spanish characters.

For my part, throughout the year, I am going to keep my eyes open for books and toys that represent the spectrum of skin colors that the world has. As a young mother I thought it was important for my children to have a variety and as a grandmother I feel the same way. It might be why as an adult I became obsessed (a little) with the Princess of the World Barbies. Even with those, though, most were caucasion. There were French, English, Viking, Irish, Russian etc. On the other hand I was able to get South African, Cambodian, India, Navajo, Aztec, China and Japan princess dolls. I love having them where I can see them and my granddaughter loves to look at them.

Just my thoughts and ramblings. Love to see a better variety in all products for kids. Books, barbies dolls, baby dolls, even the g.i. joes.

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