My three-year-old has around seven baby dolls and always chooses to play and sleep with the same two — a black doll and a white doll. She won’t give them names and refuses any names I suggest, instead only referring to them by their colour.
I’ve noticed that if she’s playing a game that involves confrontation her black doll is always the aggressor. I’ve been thinking about the movies we watch (most noticeably Tangled, which features a dark-haired evil witch and an innocent light-haired princess) and am realizing that there’s a direct correlation between bad and dark in many of them.
I’m sure my daughter will grow out of this, but I don’t want to ignore how she’s playing. I would love advice on films to watch, play suggestions, or stories about how other parents have dealt with similar situations.
What age-appropriate conversations and play suggestions can I start to challenge my daughter’s conceptions about color and goodness? — Jenni
Whenever you’re dealing with big social issues, it’s important to see what the “adult issue” is. In this case, you see your child making associations based on the racialized world she lives in. She sees dolls, and one looks “good” based on what she’s seen around her. Kiddos don’t think in abstraction. They don’t know about mainstream media or systems of oppression. You have to meet her where she is at and work from there.
Try breaking up the “good” and “bad” binary in general
Talk about how when she is naughty, she usually feels upset, hurt, angry, unheard, or needs something. Talk about how other people doing “bad” things might be in the same place. Make this happen when you play with her (“why do you think the doll is acting like this? Maybe they need a turn with that toy!”). Find stories that don’t make villains in conflicts, or have a dialogue about the ones that do. My favorite is to talk about witches getting hiccups and accidentally doing hurtful spells. It’s silly, kids like it, and it doesn’t make witches scary.
Watch Disney movies at your own risk, and talk a lot about them
They are going to tell you a princess is generally a rich, white, powerless pretty lady. They are going to have offensive stereotypes and totally re-write history. That doesn’t mean they are off limits. Every piece of mainstream media will be problematic in one way or another, and we cannot raise our little people in a media-free vacuum. It means you break that down and talk about it in a meaningful way with your kiddo so they can keep doing that in their lives.
Make sure that your kiddo is exposed to protagonists that are not from the dominant narrative
Get books featuring people of color (and women and queer folks and disabled folks and so on) as the primary protagonist without being focused on race. Go to community events like art festivals and story times that do the same. Expose her to many identities outside her own, and do it regularly. That way she doesn’t learn to be a voyer, she learns to be an active participant in diverse community and see people from other identities as role models/friends/teachers, etc.
Talk honestly about race, racism, and privilege
You don’t have to do it all at once. This is a lifelong journey. I like the book “All the Colors We Are” because it is bilingual and doesn’t presume white as “normal” as a way to start gears turning. Read books with honest history (they make them for all ages). It’s okay if these are sad or scary things to deal with. Kids can have those emotions, too!
This is a lifelong process
Help this little person think critically about “good” and “bad”, help them find ways to critique things around them, give them a real rich understanding of history, and role models from many identities. And keep conversations going. There’s a reason there are sooooo many comments here, and that is because people WANT to have these conversations, there just isn’t space most of the time. A loving home is a pretty rad place to start critical consciousness.