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Babies and whiteness

March 6, 2010

Twice in the past two weeks, I’ve gone shopping for a baby card for two different couples I know who are joyously expecting a new wee one.  I’ve seen some lovely photographs of babies on cards: cute baby feet, soft baby hands, babies being cuddled.  All of them white.  My friends are people of color.  I have looked in multiple stores and have had to settle on generic cards showing baby outfits or peas in a pod.

How frustrating it must be to not see your baby represented in magazines and cards. As babies of color become toddlers, they may seldom see pictures of someone who looks like them.  Instead, they absorb white images all around them.  Is it a wonder that many children of color will pick a white baby doll over a doll who looks like them?  Black children, in an experiment in 1954, were asked to pick their preferred doll between a white doll and black doll.  The majority chose a white doll. (The original experiment, conducted by Kenneth Clark, was used in the case for desegregation in the Brown v. Board of Education landmark case.)

In 2005, a 17-year old filmmaker, Kiri Davis, was curious how things might have changed 50 years later and repeated the test. Out of 21 black kids, 16 liked the white doll better.

This doll test is part of a video Davis made called  A Girl Like Me (go to 3:21 in the video for the doll test section) . It also has young black women talking about how whiteness has shaped their sense of self and beauty.

A Girl Like Me and baby doll test

My heart aches as I watch this.  While not all children of color will experience their self-esteem in the same way or always choose the white doll, even one child of color doing so is one too many.

I’ve decided to return to some of the stores and ask the clerk/buyer why there are no pictures of babies of color on the baby cards.  White people need to ask these kinds of questions.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Diane, lovely blog. On a very practical note (and until the stores you entered change their ways), the Bartell Drug on 23rd and Jackson has a terrific selection of cards with pictures of people and families of all colors. Best place I’ve found so far…


    • Good to know, Lori. Thanks for sharing the info.



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