Where Da Black Dolls At?
Written by Kaelin Tharpe for Freedom Revamped’s From Pain To Triumph Campaign
I remember this day like it was yesterday. I was about 8 years old and my dad had just married his then wife and they moved to this predominately white neighborhood. I was 1 of 3 black kids in this very huge subdivision in Macon, GA. Our next door “The Jones” were super close with my dad and my stepmom so it was pretty often that they would come over to the house. They had a daughter who was the same age as me. However, since I mostly stayed with my mom, I never met her. Until one day, my dad was like “Hey, The Jones are inviting you over for a playdate with their daughter” and in my head “I’m like a playdate????” Am I 5??” I was a very independent, introverted kid. Fast-forward to the following weekend I go over to the “The Jones” house and to say that it was the most uncomfortable but comfortable experience is an understatement. We watched movies, her mom made us snacks, we played games, etc. Her mom pretty much was the maid and we were the ones running the house like anything we needed she would get it for us. It was a kid dream come true. This was the comfortable part, now let’s get to the uncomfortable part. A couple of hours later the daughter took me to her playroom which was this massive pink a room with these super cool white and yellow flowers painted on the walls. Huge colorful bean bags, toys galore, coloring books, gaming system, basically kiddie heaven. She began to pull out all her toys and I’m super excited cause as a kid its nothing like playing with new toys especially the ones that aren’t yours! She keeps pulling out all these dolls, maybe 30 dolls came out the toy bin. I’m looking and looking and there was not ONE black doll, not even a tan doll. There was this internal cringe in my body because I think for me that was when I started becoming more aware and especially the fact that I was black, and she was white. It was almost like in that moment I had this “aha” moment. I immediately asked her after she had pulled out every Bratz, My Scene, Polly Pocket and Barbie Doll she could possibly pull out, I asked her, “Where ‘da black girls at?” Yes, my Macon came out of this tiny big headed 8-year-old mouth of mines. She looked at me super confused. It was like she saw a ghost. I think maybe she also had that “aha” moment or maybe she was just really confused. I immediately grabbed the first doll that I could lay my eyes on and played it off. We continued to hang out after that from time to time whenever I went to my dad’s. We just pretended that incident never happened and carried on about our lives as children would do. I did not see me or feel me anywhere in that house. However, on the other side I’m also thinking well “I have dolls that look like her.” I never questioned my parents about it or mentioned it to my friends. Even as I got older it was just a mere after thought. No need to read too deep into it.
Looking back on that moment now I do often think about the fact that in some cases my mom had no choice but to buy me a white doll because the black dolls were so limited. Whereas “The Jones” could go anywhere and find a doll that looked like their daughter and have options. I remember getting my first set of black dolls, it was the Destiny Child Dolls with the blue jean outfits! My mom bought me all 3 and you could not tell me anything I guarded those dolls with my life. My friends would come over and I would pull out every doll except those 3. When I think about these moments, I often remind myself why representation is so important. Why do I need to see me so bad? In as simple as a toy. Well, I think it is a couple of things. One, its comfortable, it allows you to feel safe and seen. Two, it shows you that others see you and value you. Which as humans I think those are necessities we are entitled to.
Now when I shop for my friends’ kids, I am the aunt that’s buying all things black! If it’s a black we are getting it; books, toys, clothes. I recently bought one of the kids a set of books “Hair Love”, “I Am Enough”, and “When God Made You”. She’s read 1/3 and she loved it. I want to make sure they always feel seen and they never have to question themselves. Like yes, the main character has big curly hair like you and pretty brown skin just like you! Giving this generation a completely different experience than I had growing up is super important to me. I pray that we continue to see the beauty in being black and being us. It feels amazing because we are the blueprint despite what anyone has ever said or tried to make us feel. WE ARE JUST IT!