The Case of the Black Barbie Doll

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Leslie, a 38-year-old social worker who counsels children with stressful life situations, found her 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, engaged in animated play with her dolls. She watched incredulously as Sophia invited the four white dolls with blonde hair to a tea party while the dark-skinned doll with black hair lay alone across the room. 

“Why isn’t that doll going to the tea party?” she inquired.

“She’s dead,” replied Sophia matter-of-factly.

“Dead? How can that be? She’s just like the other dolls. Why can’t she play with them?”

“They don’t want to play with her.”

“Why is that?”

“Because she has dark skin,” replied Sophia.

Leslie’s mouth dropped to the floor as she fought back tears. How could this be? Hadn’t she and her husband worked diligently to teach her child to be inclusive? Sophia had a variety of multicultural toys and books. She was only allowed to watch progressive television shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Diego, the Backyardigans and Yo Gabba Gabba. An only child, she attended an expensive, supposedly inclusive pre-kindergarten school which included children of color.

“Sweet Pea,” said Leslie, plaintively, “you’re hurting that doll’s feelings. You’ve got to let her play with the other dolls.”

“She can’t. She’s in jail,” Sophia replied as she rationalized her decision to exclude the dark-skinned doll.

This scenario has probably been repeated in countless homes and classrooms around the country. But it was a real situation that wrenched Leslie and me, as we tried to come to a resolution to the problem. You see, Sophia is my granddaughter, and I happened to be visiting when this incident occurred. As an advocate for civil rights and a diversity trainer, the family looked to me for an answer.

I naturally thought of the doll experiments conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s. They revealed a preference for white dolls by both black and white children. And despite attempts since then to create equal educational opportunities for all children, replications of the Clark’s work consistently reveal similar results

Social scientists attribute negative attitudes toward blackness to historical and cultural processes in our society that perpetuate perceptions of dark skin as inferior to white, stigmatizing blacks and other ethnic minorities as being lazy, shiftless, and uneducable—attitudes that affect the achievement gap in educational attainment between blacks and Latinos versus whites and Asians.  These attitudes have been referred to as symptoms of systemic racism.

Such stereotypes have even been accepted by people victimized by them, a process called stereotype threat. Some parents and teachers do not recognize the pervasive effect that white culture has on children from other ethnic groups. And we can see how negative stereotypes persist despite efforts to change them.

We can break this cycle by using multicultural materials in the home and classroom. But they should be accompanied by experiential activities that help children understand, appreciate and identify with the issues faced by children from other cultures—what educator, Jane Elliott did in her Iowa classroom by separating brown and blue-eyed children

We may never know what triggered Sophia’s behavior with the dolls. But when Leslie showed her a photograph of her sitting alongside her cousin, Dabney, a Haitian child adopted by her aunt and uncle, a broad smile creased her face. She reached for the dark-skinned doll and pushed her into the toy car with the others. “They’re all going to the party now,” she said cheerfully.

How would you handle such a situation? 

Kaplan teaches in the Africana Studies Department at the University of South Florida, Tampa.

Comments

I am a black African living

Submitted by Katherine Getao on 24 January 2012 - 8:09am.

I am a black African living in Africa and I find stories like this amazing. Rather than concentrating on race and diversity I seem to remember my parents focussing on kindness and good manners as important virtues in order to persuade me to include children who were being left out into my activities. In a world where racial stereotypes are constantly reinforced by society and the media it is naive to think that your child will grow up "race blind." Perhaps, the best that you can hope for is that your child will learn to be kind and well-mannered towards everyone. Maybe the daughter should also be regularly exposed to real-life, successful people of all races.

Interesting article. I agree

Submitted by stereotype guru on 5 January 2012 - 10:27pm.

Interesting article. I agree with most of the content but the idea that white privilege is pervasive needs more explanation to make it a less mysterious phrase. I discuss this at my blog: http://thecommunicatedstereotype.com/children-communication-stereotypes-and-privilege-oh-my/. thanks for an intersting read.

Read the story "Grandpa, Is

Submitted by sandy on 4 January 2012 - 6:10pm.

Read the story "Grandpa, Is everything Black Bad?" IT is powerful and to the point.

Hello, The test shows perhaps

Submitted by Robben Wainer on 3 January 2012 - 11:03pm.

Hello,

The test shows perhaps more than one hidden stereotype. On one hand it gives false evidence as to what skin color is more favorable. To add more heat to the fire in post civil-rights beliefs, these stereotypes took the form of ascribing goodness to white and evil to black. In my perception, the consensus of bigoty as defned by ignorance, became a stereotyped and prejudicial belief that skin color can determine if a person is God-Like or possessed by demons to some degree. In submitting to equality. Many whose view were bigoted responded by defining one tone of color as inherently good, while another was inherently bad or evil.

First, I would try to find

Submitted by Holly Downing on 20 April 2011 - 7:13pm.

First, I would try to find out how my daughter came to such a mean attitude towards one doll. What happened? Where did the biased thinking come from? We would talk about it. Maybe we could look the "girls" over to point out how little the differences mattered. What is it about people that really matters? What does she like about her friends?--probably has less to do with their appearance than other things about them. What would she do if she thought others only liked her because of the color of her skin - or some other superficial feature? Would that be fair? She is the one who has to see the fallacy of excluding anyone one the basis of how they look. Maybe a trip to some public place would be in order where people of all shapes and sizes flow through, a bus station, airport, gas station, school.

well for me it would not be

Submitted by Maria cristina on 14 April 2011 - 7:29pm.

well for me it would not be easy to see my granddaughter excluding a doll because of the color. But children somehow learn a lot from examples ... sometimes better than words. Well, I have an adoptive sister and she is a mixed race .. in my case it would be easy ..
I could invite my adoptive sister or maybe a african american friend to go in my house, and show how happy I am. . After, I would ask my granddaughter , imagine if I did not speak to my sister because she is different color tham me.
The best example is given by parents .. perhaps unconsciously grandmother also rejects the
different .. Children see everything that is happening, including what is not spoken ..

Can we get past race already.

Submitted by mike on 14 April 2011 - 2:52pm.

Can we get past race already. everytime you force a kid to consider the race of a person, or continue to lump people into categories, you perpetuate racism in the guise of political correctness. We are all equal until you force a label on us.

I would do nothing, she is 4.

I would bet donuts to dollars

Submitted by Kyle on 17 April 2011 - 3:21pm.

I would bet donuts to dollars you are white... being white is not the absence of race. We have to acknowledge the differences and similarities between all cultures. To not acknowledge race is to not acknowledge the person. If you ask almost any African American person what percentage race plays in who they are, most would say 100%. We just need to respect one another and listen before speaking.

I guess we may return this

Submitted by Maria on 15 April 2011 - 9:47am.

I guess we may return this land to the Native inhabitants and move to the land of our own origins to "live happily ever after." What happened to the song "One Earth, One Sun."

Why not live in a non-white

Submitted by Jahan on 13 April 2011 - 8:12pm.

Why not live in a non-white Third World country yourselves, instead of choosing to live in one that was built and founded by white people, if you're all so "tolerant"?

We are living in a country

Submitted by Kyle on 17 April 2011 - 3:25pm.

We are living in a country that was built by non-whites... Native Americans. Then the whites came and stole the land and killed most of the Native Americans. Guns beat arrows. We also brought Africans over in ships and used them as free labor. Now we like to pretend that this has all ended and discrimination doesn't exist. We need to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and do better going forward... not repeat the hatred and racism.

Our family is as white bread

Submitted by Monica on 13 April 2011 - 7:46pm.

Our family is as white bread as they come, yet for her 4th birthday party our daughter chose Tiana (the black princess) for her cake topper. So many people gave her white dolls as presents that I made a habit of only buying black/asian/hispanic and I guess it all evened out in her head.

Also, our dolls have glasses, wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc. Diversity isn't just about skin color!

I am very worried that there

Submitted by mp on 13 April 2011 - 6:15pm.

I am very worried that there are no lesbian or transgendered dolls in the mix. Also, did any of the white Barbies have black Ken dolls as boyfriends? I'm missing the Muslim dolls, too. This entire scenario is a little too white male patriarchal to my liking. As for the little girl, obviously she is suffering from latent white privilege, and needs state sponsored indoctrination...uh...er...I mean sensitivity training.

“An only child, she attended

Submitted by Rosario on 13 April 2011 - 8:43pm.

“An only child, she attended an expensive, supposedly inclusive….school” Sophia will benefit from exposure to children who are not privileged. It is sad that Sophia declares a Barbie dead or in jail because of the color of her skin. We cannot insulate children and expect them to empathized or respect people who are different from us, by income, race or ethnicity. She needs to build confidence not walls, to face challenges working and playing with other children who share common passions and interests. That builds mutual respect and life-long friends who she can reach out to in times of loss and triumph.

Why can't she choose for

Submitted by Robert on 13 April 2011 - 4:49pm.

Why can't she choose for herself who she wants to be with. How come we must force the kids to interact if they don't want to. The fact is blacks are more apt to be involved in crime and violence. Whether it is there culture or skin color makes no difference. People have tried to make everyone come together and all it does is provoke hatred. How come race relations always seems to get worse. It is not better and it never will be. You liberals are destroying a great country by forcing people to be together that choose in every way to seperate. What is wrong with whites wanting to be with only whites. Birds of a feather flock together, always will.

The problem with choosing to

Submitted by Pann on 8 June 2011 - 3:13pm.

The problem with choosing to segregate is to limit the emotional and mental resources that people in relationships provide. If you only hang out with people like yourself, you will never develop past that point into a mature and capable person, giving back to society. Maturity is a process, and it takes more than just what we are comfortable with knowing, it takes learning new ways and new skills. How do you learn more, when you insulate yourself from exposure to the new?

All I can say is, WOW! I

Submitted by Somebodys mom on 15 April 2011 - 8:19am.

All I can say is, WOW!

I cannot imagine how you found your way to a site like Tolerance, but please, hang around for awhile. Maybe you will learn something.

I handled the situation in my

Submitted by Maribel Dana on 13 April 2011 - 3:29pm.

I handled the situation in my home by being sure my daughter knew that all kids need dolls that look like the people in their lives, schools and neighborhoods. When she was 6, I first realized that she was color shy despite the books we read and took steps to address that. First, I made sure she got into the terrific second grade class of the only African American teacher in our elementary school. Second, I bought myself a lovely, handmade black baby doll at a craft fair and told my girl that she must not touch it or play with it. It was "Mama's special doll". Eventually, she begged to play with the doll installed royally on the center of my bed and did so frequently; the doll finally migrated toward her room. Last, when the American Girl's dolls became popular, I got her the Addy doll who was black, and we bought all the books. She learned some sad history while holding Addy.

Today, neighborhoods are still too segregated for kids of all colors to know each other,but schools
are better places for that. I hope she has many more good experiences.

Addy came out when my

Submitted by Somebodys mom on 15 April 2011 - 8:16am.

Addy came out when my daughter was still of an age to play with dolls. While the American Girls were really WAAAAAY out of our price range we always ogled the catalogue and when they came out with some miniatures (they were dolls for one of the larger dolls), I got her an Addy. What I really liked about Addy's story was that it illuminated a largely untold story, which is that of free blacks living in the North. We have long overlooked the ongoing existence of a small black middle class that has survived despite adversity (prior to and) since the end of slavery. The book, "Having Our Say" by the Delaney sisters provides a wonderful living history of the few who were able to garner an education, and while not provided with anything at all like an equal opportunity, managed to set a standard. "Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood" by Michael D'Orso is another wonderful piece of history of challenges faced by middle class blacks, although much sadder.

Having our kids internalize

Submitted by Andres on 13 April 2011 - 1:19pm.

Having our kids internalize anti-racist/anti-oppressive attitudes requires much, much more than the right kind of toys and TV shows. It requires parents and adults in thier lives to be committed to these attitudes as well as to social justice to the point where their lifestyle reflects that committment. Where do you choose to live (chances are - if you read "Teaching Tolerance" you DO have a choice)? Who do you have in your life as family and friends? Do you live with a true sense of your own cultural identity and heritage or do you avoid it and live in a sort of urban hipster and/or suburban liberal blissful ignorance - exposing your kids to shallow "cultural experiences?" Racist attitudes originate not so much from ignorance as from fear. Fear of losing our privilege - "we're fine with 'you people' living near us as long as your don't bother us, cause us any inconvenience, or cost us anything..." kind of attitudes.

As an adoptive white parent

Submitted by Somebodys mom on 13 April 2011 - 7:56am.

As an adoptive white parent of kids who are racially different, I think that it is hard to accept that we cannot fix the world our children live in. We do all kinds of "right" things, but try as we might, we cannot insulate our children from the hurts of the world. I hear in this account a certain striving to be able to avoid the realities of racism--and raise a child who will not prefer the white dolls. It may be as difficult to accept when the world creeps in to make our child hurtful as when our child is hurt.

A part of what I hear in this story is, "but I did everything right!" And in some of the comments there are hints of, "oh, no you didn't." Certainly it is fair to point out that an expensive pre-school is by definition exclusive, although it might be multi-racial. I hear the comments that cringe about the very existence of Barbie, black or white and how her very existence brings more to the table than a role model of a woman who can be whatever she wants. I wonder about the adopted cousin from Haiti and whether this is the handiest example of difference and whether the family realizes what an atypical example of American blackness this child may represent. From my own life I can bring to the table many possible involvements in which white people are not the majority welcoming in some others.

But, at the end of the day, we cannot keep out the world. And our world still includes the reality that black people are put in jail more often than white people. It includes the reality that that "exposure" to people who are "different" takes some thinking and doing for the average middle class white family.

I recall the sadness I felt when my 3 year old daughter--at a Jesse Jackson rally we went to--pointed out that "he's black, isn't he?" The sadness was that the magic bubble in which I had kept her happy for three years--a bubble in which black people and white people both lived and interacted frequently--had just burst. And with the loss of that protection--the new knowledge that some people are white and others black and that this is an important difference--she was vulnerable to be hurt by the racism and racial prejudice of our world. That is when she began to deal with her identity as being white like mommy and black like other people that we knew--as well as the knowledge that selecting this biracial identity set her at odds with others who for reasons both positive and negative would attempt to teach her that she could only be black.

The reality is that over time the world crept in. My son, who is black, at one point took to calling his sister "Indian" when he was angry. He also regretted at times that he could not be white. My daughter chose to tell camp friends one summer that she was Puerto Rican. My son, tired of being told by friends that I could not possibly be his MOTHER, told people on one occasion that I was his grandmother. My son was afraid when George W. Bush was elected that slavery would return, or that he would be removed from our family. It was incredibly painful to realize that my son's reception at school--in a predominately black urban district--would never be as easy as my daughter's, for many reasons, including their gender and the color of their skin.

What I have learned, as a parent, about race is incredibly valuable and despite a racially varied life experience, I don't know that I could have learned so much in any other way. One lesson is that race, by itself, matters very little. By itself, race determines next to nothing important in our lives. I fully understand the geneticists who are able to say that the differences between people as individuals far outweigh the differences between "racial groups." And yet, race matters so much in our lives. It is us, dear friends, who create the differences. And we cannot, as individuals or parents, choose to make them go away. What our children need to see from us, perhaps, is how we respond to the systemic racism that we cannot change.

I have some thoughts. One is

Submitted by sue castaneda on 13 April 2011 - 10:46am.

I have some thoughts. One is to echo the comment about assumptions regarding race. The other comment I have is what is wrong with addressing skin color. If I were in a wheelchair, would that be something that was ignored. Would it be ok if someone was to deny that I was a woman? What was wrong with the 3 year old commenting that Jesse Jackson was black or African American. The impact that the color of his skin has had on him, has paved his path. My sons know that thee are times when they are treated differently because of their skin color. We had many conversations a family about being a brown young man and living in the world and community in which we live.

Skin color is a real issue and often we are still judged by first impressions and how people perceive us based on that interaction. Our president, the first African American President in the US is often treated differently because of the color of his skin and his name. Whether we like it or not, skin color still impacts how we are treated in the US.

There was nothing wrong with

Submitted by Somebodys mom on 15 April 2011 - 8:04am.

There was nothing wrong with my daughter noticing skin color for the first time. But, it signalled an end to the race-blind little world of protection in which she had lived up until then. My sadness reflected her introduction into a world of race consciousness that has more often been ugly than beautiful.

The reality is that we are not only not a race-blind world, but one in which race matters a good deal. I have travelled to countries where race is viewed very differently than we see it here, and one of the hallmarks of that difference is the off-handedness with which they discuss it. To say that someone is half-black and half-white is noted little more than it is here to say that someone is half-German and half-Irish. In fact, to teach my daughter that she was both black and white had political ramifications way beyond the understanding of a three-year-old. I recall discussions that I had with friends at the time who indicated that they would never "claim" their white heritage, and others--perhaps those who had closer generational ties to relatives who are white--while acknowledging that the world would see them as black took an attitude of "there you have it" about their white genes.

Interesting and continuing

Submitted by Anne on 13 April 2011 - 6:25am.

Interesting and continuing dilemma! We are a cross-cultural family: father from India and dark skinned, mother US caucasian. Our students lovingly call us 'Black and White TV!' Our son and daughter grew up in South India, both of light tan skin. On a visit to the US, our seven yr old daughter was allowed to choose an American Doll, to be like her US cousins. Without hesitation, she chose Addy! And back in India, Addy was admired by one and all. But it's true that people in S.India are very color conscious and buy light-skinned dolls.

While your remedy seemed to

Submitted by Amy Rosen on 13 April 2011 - 12:03am.

While your remedy seemed to work for your family, not all of us have family pictures like yours. I think that just showing children multicultural pictures, tv shows and books isn't enough. Being color blind ISN'T the answer. Four year olds usually have the ability to put many of their thoughts into words. I would have pressed her on why the dolls seemed different to her and why the one with dark skin was less desirable. Then I would have reminded her that her cousin, characters on tv and in her books have that color skin and she likes them.

My godchildren live in a small Vermont town whose residents with African ancestry can be counted on the fingers of one hand. When I bought them books, multicultural toys and videos, their parents and I pointed out how people's appearances differed, each time finding something complimentary to say like "Aren't her braids beautiful? I could never do that with my curls or yours." Or "Isn't he a kid you'd like to play with? Those dark brown eyes are just sparkling with fun!" Or "Wow! Is she ever smart!"

It's important to talk about differences too, not just show pictures and let kids draw their own conclusions. I think if we pretend not to notice how different people are, we appear foolish. Little kids notice what's different, even if they don't have words to articulate what they notice. If we point out differences as reasons to admire people, we teach that there are special, wonderful reasons to appreciate everyone. Celebrate diversity by talking about it.

Please try and locate the

Submitted by Vernessa Gipson on 12 April 2011 - 10:58pm.

Please try and locate the book "Grandpa, Why is Everything Black Bad?' - an awesome book that explains in a child's language how ADULTS in todays world have done the labeling that our children are living - Black cats, Black friday, bad witches dressed in Black vs good witches dress in white, etc. and than we want to act appalled when children act out our worlds messages.
As an American American who watched the Doll experiment in high school in Chicago in the 70"s I vowed that my children's home would reflect their race and culture heritage as they would get the "White" world's persepctive in public school and other public setting. Decades later with 3 grown daughters, 2 graduates of HBCU's,and 2 with Master degrees from Columbia University and the University of Illinois - I beleive I did something was done right. Their groundness in the greatness of their race / culture ( African American and Creole) gave them the perserverance to "survive" in majority instituations as graduate students and thus far life in general.
My "eye opener" experience was the opposite. After searching for 3 months and in 3 urban cities to find "Black" doll families to replace the White families placed in Tyco doll houses, my 7 year old daughter was playing with her dolls and her two doll houses. - Her Black family got a new job and a new house. I noticed the "white" doll family was laid off to the side. When I asked her why they were laying aside she said they were waiting on the bus to come and take them home to their smaller house as they were the housekeepers for the Black family. Hummm - we had just finished reading her favorite book about Rosa Parks. To this day she remains
Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian".

Your dollhouse story reminded

Submitted by Somebodys mom on 13 April 2011 - 9:12am.

Your dollhouse story reminded me that our children don't always see things the same way that we do as adults. I recall a friend whose bi-racial daughter created her own understanding of those hitching-post statues of black children in livery. While the mother found them to be hideous reminders of slavery, the daughter explained that she thought people made the statues because they didn't have many black people around and they missed them. My own daughter "rescued" a picture of a Caucasian Jesus surrounded by white children after a closet-cleaning at church. The official pictures hanging in the nursery had long ago been replaced by more representative and historially accurate ones. My daughter thought it horrible that we would throw away someone's artwork--reasoning that "they didn't know any better."

Is anyone concerned with the

Submitted by dee brown on 12 April 2011 - 6:56pm.

Is anyone concerned with the connection between the minority doll and the fact that she is in jail? Where was this connection learned?

Perhaps the little girl has

Submitted by Lance Dalton on 14 April 2011 - 6:38am.

Perhaps the little girl has seen crime statistics? She would not have learned that association from watching TV, where shows like CSI portray White criminals in vast disproportion to their actual numbers.

"Where was this connection

Submitted by Bill Brandon on 13 April 2011 - 4:47am.

"Where was this connection learned?" The evening news maybe?

I had the exact situation

Submitted by Gandhi lady on 12 April 2011 - 6:14pm.

I had the exact situation with my 4 year old. Our family and my friends are mixed ethnicities but we are light skinned. I blamed myself for allowing her to fall in love with princess' and Disney. Her Tiana doll, a Disney doll, was killed off one day. I asked why and my daughter said because she is dark. I stopped everything and we compared doll features. My daughter agreed everything was the same, then I asked so why does it matter that her skin is dark? She said I guess it doesn't, I wasn't satisfied, I kept probing. I then talked about feelings and how she would feel being left out because of her skin color. She started including Tiana into her play. Then from that point on my husband and I choose to be the darker doll when we played and my daughters top 3 dolls are Jasmine, Ariel and still Cinderella. I'm having trouble getting her off the blond girl kick, I blame myself and childrens products for that. Blondes are EVERYWHERE. No offense but I feel I have an up hill battle.

I ran into this with my son.

Submitted by Brett on 12 April 2011 - 5:43pm.

I ran into this with my son. One day he told me he didn't like people with dark skin. My response was to ask him, "Why?" That started a conversation. The conversation continues today, 3 years later. That conversation can never be allowed to stop! There is nigh upon 7 billion of us humans walking around on the planet. We are all the same. Our differences come from culture, not from skin color. Once my son began to understand that "normal" isn't normal, he began to grow, and I along with him.

What Jain Elliott did was bold, dangerous,and completely wrong. I understand why she did it, but it brings me to tears as well. This would never pass human subjects. Were I to do that with my kids (I'm a teacher) I would lose my license.

Damn, that makes it all the more important to keep the conversation going.

I'm curious as to why you

Submitted by Kelleen on 15 April 2011 - 12:56am.

I'm curious as to why you feel Jane Elliott's lesson separating her class by eye color was so wrong, and why it nearly brought you to tears. I admittedly do not know all of the details of the discrimination that was aimed at the "lesser" group of kids during the day; if there were some actions that were downright traumatic or painful for the students then I can see where your concern comes from. But I have done a brief activity - a number of times - with first and second graders, separating them by eye color and saying that the one group would get lots of privileges and the other would be last in everything and get 2nd-rate materials to use, and it was very effective and the kids were excited to talk about it when they realized the message behind the activity.

If you actually watch the

Submitted by Kris on 16 April 2011 - 9:49pm.

If you actually watch the video, you would see that what Jane Elliott did was far beyond a few privileges and some 2nd rate materials. She actually taught the students that the "better" eye color meant they were smarter, better people and, yes, significant discrimination occurred. I agree that her experiment went far past the line of what would be acceptable in a classroom today and I am a teacher too.

I would say to the black doll

Submitted by Sarah Leob on 12 April 2011 - 3:23pm.

I would say to the black doll excluded by my daughter and her white doll friends, "You weren't invited to their party? Please come to MY party! We're going to bake cookies and then have a tea party!" I would take the black doll to my kitchen, sit her in a place of honor (ideally my daughter's usual chair), and bake cookies with her. We'd set up a tea service with pretty china.
When my daughter and her white dolls looked too forlorn for being excluded, I would have my black doll introduce herself and say "O, you feel sad and left out! Seeing you look sad makes me sad, too. Please come to my tea party!"
Children learn by observing and imitating; children need see how to act in different social circumstances. Young children do not know empathy; they have to develop it, a process we can assist.

I would say to the Black doll

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 July 2014 - 12:46am.

Having been raised in an exclusively Jewish, and of course, White neighborhood in Brooklyn, interaction with members of other races and ethnicities occurred from a distance. Also, having attended exclusively Jewish Yeshivas (by definition, all-white) throughout my elementary and secondary school years, I perceived those outside my relatively circumscribed world as "outsiders"; even white gentiles were considered outside the "Pale" (a reference to Jewish communities in Czarist Russia). When I finally struck out on my own after high school, attending Brooklyn College provided me a whole new spectrum in which to view the greater world outside the closed and limiting confines of Borough Park. I began to realize that even with a very broad and extensive education, I was still ignorant of the most fundamental lessons of all; we're one big family, not always happy or able to get along with each, but family nevertheless. It was truly an eye-opening experience, to encounter people of every conceivable diversity; racial, religious, ethnic and sexual orientation. Having been exposed, in a truly deep and meaningful way, to the joys and beauty of diversity, I embraced that concept with the zeal of a religious convert. Having been married, in my Sophomore year of college, to a beautiful Black woman, now going on nearly 40 years, with four wonderful bi-racial children, I couldn't imagine what my life would've been like had I not ventured from the closed confines of a very narrow world view. For all our bigoted past, I can honestly say, and with intense pride, that my entire extended family, on both sides of what was once a "great divide", have come to embrace us as opening new vistas in their own lives, and thank us for being the pioneers of that great experience, in which we've all had a share in creating.

I loved that!!!

Submitted by Maria cristina on 14 April 2011 - 7:31pm.

I loved that!!!

BRAVO!!!

Submitted by Dr. Manuel McMillan, Sr. on 13 April 2011 - 6:42am.

BRAVO!!!

Just Perfect Sarah! BRAVO!!!

Submitted by Linda McKinzie-Daugherty on 12 April 2011 - 5:15pm.

Just Perfect Sarah! BRAVO!!!

Contact is key. The child

Submitted by JA on 12 April 2011 - 2:39pm.

Contact is key. The child need more relevant contact with kids who don't look like her. A couple of tv shows and books aren't a substitute for direct experience. Find multicultural events in your community. The parents themselves could make an effort to have a more diverse group of friends. Children learn by observation.

I think the idea of handling

Submitted by Meg Thomas on 12 April 2011 - 1:56pm.

I think the idea of handling it visually was brilliant. My son was a visual learner, and talking to him didn't have much impact, he needed to see a picture, preferably of something real, not pretend (like the picture of your granddaughter with her cousin) that counteracted the visual images he was getting on the news etc.
I might have also tried an open ended question: "why don't they want to play with her" or "why do you say that" to try and get her talking about what she'd seen. Kids see that most grownups don't "play with each other" across color lines and they take the message in.
They also get the message that most adults don't want to talk about race, and studies such as Van Ausedales, "The First R" tell us that children take much of their experimentation with race and gender out of adult earshot. So when kids like Sofie play out these scenes in front of us, we should first feel pleased that they trust us enough to show us their thought process, and then move on to helping them sort out what they have taken in. I believe that often we have to be the ones to bring the subject up...to let them know that we really are willing to talk about race and answer their questions about it.
Meg Thomas
(AMAZE and the Families All Matter book project)

Your suggestions are

Submitted by Susan on 12 April 2011 - 3:21pm.

Your suggestions are excellent. I also felt the way the mother handled it was brilliant. Besides being visual, it was personal. To personalize something is to evoke empathy.

One day in my sixth-grade classroom, between periods, the children piled in, noisy, full of energy. Some were taunting a fellow student, laughing at him and calling him "fat". After the bell rang and when they were settled , I asked them what was going on. Some of them giggled and laughed and explained they were only saying what was true. Without punishing or berating them, I asked all of my students to cradle their heads down in their arms on the desk and to clear their minds. Then I asked them to think of someone they loved who happened to be fat. (I didn't substitute another word - I wanted to defuse the power of the word as a taunt.) I asked them to bring that person to mind, to see them, to recall a time they spent with that person where they felt particularly loved. I gave them time to do this, softly urging them to fill themselves up with the feeling of loving and being loved by that person. Once I felt they were fully engaged, I asked them to imagine that person walking down the street and being called "fat", being mocked and derided for their size. I asked them to picture the person they loved being hurt deeply by that; to witness the effect that it had on the person they loved. A few of the children sobbed. After another few moments, I asked them to look up at me. When they raised their heads, some were red-faced. Some had tears on their cheeks, even the ones who had participated in the unkindness. I told them that they didn't have to tell me who they were thinking of, but that I had a grandma who was fat, who loved me dearly and whom I adored. I told them that she was the one I had thought about. Many of them nodded. I was pretty sure when I started the exercise that many of them would have a grandma like mine.

Without any prompting, I saw some of the children apologize after class to the boy they had teased.

What an insightful response.

Submitted by Adrienne on 17 May 2011 - 2:00pm.

What an insightful response. I will use this technique in the future. Thank you for sharing.

You might consider use of the

Submitted by Karen Denham Downen on 12 April 2011 - 1:55pm.

You might consider use of the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS), Revised, New York: Teachers College Press, 2006, by Thelma Harms, Debby Cryer and Richard M. Clifford.

Rating No. 24 (p. 45) specifically addresses practical methodologies in child care/early childhood education settings, "Promoting acceptance of diversity."

First i would ask what made

Submitted by Sandra on 12 April 2011 - 1:52pm.

First i would ask what made me believe that relying on cartoon characters or fictional characters on TV alone would make think I was taking an active stance on race relations. While I can recognize a shift in representation via pop culture, it's simply not enough. We need to be having explicit discussions with our children about difference. Not "we are all the same," not "we live in a post racial society." Real, honest, messy, and sometimes ugly discussions about difference.

Additionally, "expensive" and "inclusive" preschool is an oxymoron. If it's expensive, it's exclusive and you are exposing your child to a particular kind of multiculturalism that does not take up various issues of inequality that an active discussion about difference could/would/should.

As a Chicana mama I confront discussions about difference everyday. I have had open and explicit discussions with my (now eight-year-old) daughter. It's been hard, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. Still, it is in these moments of discomfort and shame that the potential for change emerges. Indeed it is in those moments of discomfort when actively engaging discussions of difference that we take up our positions as, in this case, anti-racist.

I say this knowing there is no formula for engaging in these kinds of discussions with children and that it will take time and lots of work. But we need to keep trying. And i'm not even getting into a conversation about what's wrong with black Barbie.

I'm intrigued that this

Submitted by Tara on 12 April 2011 - 1:51pm.

I'm intrigued that this article never mentions the race of any of the people in the story. I was unsure at first, but by the end it's implied that Sophie is white when her mother shows her a photo of an adopted black cousin. I think it's a concern that her whiteness would just be assumed. There are several other important details that are either left out or implied. What race are her friends, her parents' friends, the people in her neighobrhood? How many items featuring people of color as protagonists does she have? Are they in the majority among her toys/books or in the minority? If this pre-school is expensive, how diverse can it be? How to raise an anti-racist white child in a racist society is an interesting question, one that would demand at the very least a critical examination of all areas of one's life.

I have to share a story from

Submitted by Allyson McGill on 12 April 2011 - 1:37pm.

I have to share a story from raising my own daughter, now twenty. We are a transracial family: my husband and I are white, and our children are all adopted through DC Human Services and are African American.

I swore that when I became a mom, there would be no Barbies in my home: body images out of whack? Not in my house! Reality had a different scenario in mind, however. When my daughter was in her first year of pre school,she played with the Barbies a lot (and since I volunteered in her classroom, I saw this). The Barbies were all white. I asked the teacher why there weren't any Barbies of color, and she was surprised--she hadn't thought of it. I went out and bought some black Barbies--donated some to the school and kept one at home for my daughter. I figured that if she was going to play with Barbies, she'd have Barbies of color.

She played with them all. My favorite part is that she didn't have Ken, so instead she used Aladdin, a doll based on the Disney movie. So, in our home, black and white Barbies dated a Middle Eastern young man.

This is in no way meant to take away the seriousness of the original story. I'm glad that my daughter had a different reaction, but what would I do if the above-described scenario had taken place? It always helps to talk about it in matter-of-fact ways, so I would do that, just as this mom did. I love using the photograph --no words spoken but a way to show a different way of thinking.

When my daughter was four, she came home from preschool (she would have been in her second year by then) and was sad because one of the little boys in her class didn't want to be her friend because she wasn't white. My heart plummeted. Here it was. How would I handle it? I don't remember what I said, but I know that she felt listened to. She obviously went back to school the next day with a plan because that afternoon, when I asked her how things were, she said fine and that they were going to get married.

I have also found that no matter what we surrounded our kids with (such as art with African American children), it was real life that shaped their actions and thoughts. Are we friends with a variety of people, of different races and religions? Do our kids see us socializing outside our "group"?

It's not easy being a parent in our times (was it ever?), no matter how hard we try to teach them right from wrong.... But people tell me that the foundations we lay do last, even though at times it doesn't feel that way (read: adolesence, for example).

Here's to our children. By the way, my daughter is now 20 and a college sophomore. She has a variety of friends, and when she arrived at college, she joined the Black Student Association. She'd never done anything like that in high school--so clearly, now the time was right for her. We also need to learn to trust our kids sometimes.

Great story and comment.

Submitted by Holly Downing on 20 April 2011 - 7:25pm.

Great story and comment. Thanks for sharing!

Thank you so much for sharing

Submitted by Patricia Scott on 13 April 2011 - 10:52am.

Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful story. ---I remain hopeful.

One Sister says of the other

Submitted by DS on 12 April 2011 - 1:24pm.

One Sister says of the other - cause her skin is brown. A good while back when my children were all in elementary school, and the family was about to take an afternoon nap. One of my daughter's refused to move so the other could lay down besides me, also. Three times my younger daughter refused, I asked why she was giving her sister a hard time. She said, "...because her skin is brown!" The oldest one broke out in tears immediately and my husband took the younger one into another bedroom and explained that she could NEVER, EVER speak to or about her sister in a negative way and that her skin is beautiful. All 3 of my children are extremely close now, (22,22 and 24). The twins (boy and girl) were 4 and my oldest daughter was 5, almost 6. Later that same evening, when bathing the youngest daughter, she asked for her "dollies." Before I could get up to bring them to her she said, "...and mom, please bring my brown dollies also." I have been a Diversity Consultant for over 20 years now, this being one of the many incidents my oldest suffered, that motivated me to go into this field.