My sister and I had plenty of dolls when we were kids. I think, over time, Fox probably had more than I did, but that could be my bad memory skewing things. I had a lot more stuffed animals, as I recall. We had reasonably aware parents who were interested in our perception of ourselves as black kids … One way I know this is that they bought us socially-conscious toys like “Tamu,” a dashiki-wearing baby doll with an afro who had one of those little pull strings that made her say all sorts of hip things. No, I can’t remember any of the hip things. All I remember is that I deconstructed my Tamu’s voice box to see how it worked … and Fox’s Tamu went wonky, and the only thing she could say after a while was a mash-up of things she had said before, the most fabulous of which was a firmly-declared, “I like Ike!”
We also had a set of hippie dolls. They weren’t marketed that way, exactly, but that’s definitely what they were: Peace, Love, Harmony and Soul in their mini, pucci-print dresses and knee-high boots. “Soul,” of course, was the black doll. She was like ‘Valerie’ from Josie and the Pussycats. And in our games, we definitely assigned her that role: the smart one, the ‘Velma‘ of the gang. Fox had both the Sunshine and Happy Family doll sets. And we both had those giant Barbie heads that you could do hairstyles on, with the hair that would grow out of and be sucked back into a whole in the top of the head. We had the “Chrissy” version — the black girl. One of my first dolls was Holly. She was about two feet tall with blinking eyes and could walk with you if you held her hand … and she was black.
It was clearly very important for our parents to give us dolls who looked at least a little bit like us. We had other dolls, of course, but it wasn’t unusual for us to have black dolls, and we liked them as much as the others, and sometimes more than the others. (I kept Holly until about ten years ago.)
I know Fox and my casual acceptance of black dolls isn’t true for all black girls. Take a look at A Girl Like Me, Kiri Davis’ excellent film short:
It made me smile, made me sad, made me angry. In some ways, I have been all the girls in the film. It’s so fitting that the end credits run over images of girls getting their hair ‘relaxed,’ ‘ironed,’ braided. Hair is so loaded for black women. It’s really only since I cut off my perm and started wearing my hair natural that I began to get past the identity/image issues that the young women talk about on camera. And I was a girl who would have ‘passed’ the doll test, and the issues were still there, dominant-culture bias still infected and affected me. I wonder how all of this is affecting T. She has any number of dolls that do and don’t look like her. She has an unfathomably powerful level of self-esteem, and I want to think that’s enough to help her sail past this garbage. I hope I’m right.