The (Dress) Color Divide

Posted on January 26, 2011 

 

Excuse my grammar, but my momma didn't raise no racist.

I was raised to respect all races while being proud of my own. I mean, as kids we weren't even allowed to refer to people by their race. And our family photos look like the old Benetton ads.

I won't patronize you by listing all my white, Asian, Hispanic and mixed-race friends, but just know that I judge people by the content of their character.

With that said, here goes:

I was determined to expose Michaela to people from as many cultures and races and religions as possible. I wanted her to see the world as a rainbow and not just in black and white.

But I also wanted her to be self-aware and proud of her own heritage.

One of the first things I struggled with was finding a doll that had her complexion and hair texture and eye color.

Then I worked to make sure her movie and book collection was diverse. Thankfully, Disney provides some diversity (The Princess & The Frog debuted around Michaela's 2nd birthday) and the local librarians and other parents were able to recommend some great books.

As for movies, one of the selections I liked best was Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, which featured a racially diverse cast including Brandy, Whitney Houston and Bernadette Peters.

Michaela loved it from the first time she saw it.

But then came the dilemma. This past Christmas, I put "Black Cinderella" on my child's Christmas list.

But there is no such thing.

I searched and searched, then almost decided to get a black Barbie, braid her hair and pass her off as Cinderella. But I was afraid Michaela would see right through it.

Finally, one of my friends (of another race) gave me some words of wisdom.

"She really won't care," she said. "You're making way more out of it than you should."

Finally, I selected the Disney Cinderella, with blond hair, blue eyes and  gorgeous blue gown. (I will admit that I got a black Barbie as a backup just in case. The plan was to put the gown on the black doll if things didn't go over well. Sorry, Shannon!)

I nearly held my breath as Michaela opened the package.

"Cinnnerella!", she said excitedly.

I couldn't believe it. It was one of those times when I wished I could read her mind.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago that it all made sense.

We were watching television when she spotted a blue dress and yelling "Cinnnerella!"

Then it hit me -- she associates the princesses not by their skin color but by their dress color.

Of course. Way to make mommy feel like a racist.

It was such a valuable lesson for me.

As much as we try not to be judgmental or "color coded", we sometimes get swayed by outside influences -- our friends, the television shows and movies, bad experiences, or in my case, overzealous parenting.

I used to wonder why we weren't allowed to refer to people by their race as kids.Or why my parents told us to pick our friends based on their grades in school and not based on their race or income level.

But now I understand.

Race can cloud our judgment. Race is just, well, extra. Underneath it all, we are just people.

Good people, bad people.

As one old man used to put it, "Folks are just folks."

It's okay to be proud of your race and teach your kids about their heritage, but in the end, the lesson to learn is that first and foremost, people are just people. And all of them are special and unique.

All of them are made by God for a purpose.

I am thankful that for now, Michaela categorizes people by only one thing -- the color of their dress. Tiana is green. Cinderella is light blue. Belle is yellow. And so on.

Wonder what Martin Luther King would say about that?

 

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