As the father of an almost 16-year-old, I don’t visit the toy aisle much anymore. In fact, I hadn’t visited the toy aisle for years until the other day, when I happened to cruise through at Walmart just for the fun of it. I ventured down the “pink aisle of death” because that’s the one my daughter frequented when she was young. You know the one – the Barbie/Baby Doll aisle of the toy section. As I began looking at the various and sundry toys, one thing became clear: the toy aisle is for white people.
Let’s be clear. I’m white. Blonde hair and light green eyes. Somehow the genes of my German ancestry beat out my Scotch-Irish and Cherokee genes and gave me this complexion. People have never mistaken my race or ethnicity from just looking at me. I’m white, and the toy aisle at Walmart was clearly made for me and my offspring.
I think white people in general have a hard time understanding why people of color see the race issues in this country. I think there is a large swath of white folks who don’t think there’s a race problem at all – that it ended with the desegregation, the civil rights movement, and the election of a mixed race president. It hasn’t, and you only have to visit the toy aisle at Walmart to see it.
Stay with me here, white folks. I’m not slamming you. You probably didn’t even notice it. To see what I’m talking about, you need to suspend what you know as normal, and see through different eyes. Are you with me?
Good. Let’s do this.
Re-imagine the toy aisle at Walmart. You’re with your daughter who has saved up her money from grandma, and you’re prepared to let her pick out a toy from the “pink aisle of death.” You are excited for this life lesson – money saved up over time and spent for something you want. Your 6-year-old daughter is excited too. She’s been waiting for a long time to pick out her own toy.
You arrive at the toy section. She runs to the aisle she loves. BABY DOLLS!
There are dolls of all shapes and sizes. Some eat. Some pee. Some make electronic cooing noises. Some come with several outfits. It’s amazing what the toymakers can do with what used to be a simple doll these days, but here’s the rub. All but two of the dolls in the entire aisle are African American (or Hispanic or Indian or Asian). Every single doll in the 40-foot long, four shelf high aisle is African American – except for two.
The two “white” dolls are tucked low on the shelves. They are hidden from main view. If you weren’t looking for them, you wouldn’t see them. There is almost no stock for these two white dolls (two of one and three of the other). They don’t burp. They don’t pee. They don’t come with a change of clothing. They are very plain, very simple baby dolls – made as if they were an afterthought to the “cool” black and Asian dolls that line the rest of the shelves.
Can you see it? Can you imagine it? Can you understand how that feels? Can you understand that your daughter who has saved up her money to buy a toy will not be buying a baby doll that looks like she did as an infant? Can you understand how it feels to know your daughter believes that white baby dolls are of lesser quality? Can you understand that your daughter believes that dolls that look like her aren’t special and are no fun? Can you?
Let that sink in for a minute. Really think about it. Really feel it, because that’s the reality of the toy aisle for African American children every day. That’s the reality for Hispanic children every day. That’s the reality for Asian and Indian children every day. The baby doll aisle is white and all the good toys are white.
And it doesn’t stop at the toy aisle. It’s everywhere, and here’s the problem. According to the 2010 Census, only 63% of the population is White/Non-Hispanic. Fully 33% of the population is Black, Hispanic and Asian. The toy aisle doesn’t match that diverse mix of our population – not even close. We have a race issue in this country. Our toy aisles should be better than that. We should be better than that.
©2013 Andy Armstrong. All Rights Reserved.