Monday, July 13, 2015

Babies Aren't Us. Yet.

A guest post by Wendy in which she explores how far we have to go in our civil rights' journey, even as the Confederate flag comes down in South Carolina.

In one of my fondest early memories of my two children, I'm sitting on my bed, leaning back against the pillows, nursing my newborn second child.  Pressed against me, wearing her blue and white striped sleeveless dress,  her older, two year old sister sits "nursing" her own little baby doll.  A peaceful and gentle moment that remains with me a quarter century later.

So last Friday, when the young family who Tom and I mentor gave birth to a little son, I knew that in addition to our gift to the newborn, we would give his older sister a dolly.  I imagined her sitting side by side with her mommy, both caring for their new babies.  And off we went to Babies R Us. 

This is not a diatribe about Babies R Us.  I have a sample of one day in one store at one moment in time. This is simply an observation about that one moment in time. 

While Tom went to get a stroller, I went to the infant doll aisle.  There were lots and lots of dolls.  Hundreds of dolls lined up on row after row of shelves. Some had their own bottles and diapers, some a change of clothes.  They were cute.  They were softly curved.  They were donned in pink or blue. And they were white.  Every single one of them. 

I figured I was in the wrong aisle so I walked around.  And around. Back to where I started to look again. Not a black baby doll in sight.  This in a multiracial city, in a store staffed largely by people of color in a mall patronized largely by African Americans.  I felt perplexed. I felt a flash of vicarious isolation. And then I felt sad, very sad and something akin to loneliness.  I thought perhaps I'd get a stuffed animal for the little sister, but this felt all wrong to me, it didn't conform to the happy memory that I wanted to pass to this young family. 

I thought back to taking my own daughters to the toy store.  It was always a happy occasion.  We'd come home with our new purchases, sometimes a doll.  We never had any trouble finding a baby that looked just like us.  Our worries were confined to whether to buy the doll with the pink hat or the blue. There was no need for a somber talk with a three year old about why there weren't dollies of color.

Tom and I met at the register, I empty-handed, he with the stroller.  And on the stroller box, I noticed something I wouldn't have seen ten minutes earlier: a smiling baby.  Smiling, but white.  And while I'm someone who reads a lot, someone who for years has volunteered with African Americans, with the indigent, with the down and out, that doesn't make you "get it."  Experience makes you get it.   What is it like to live in a society where the people in images of happiness and success ... on stroller boxes and in the doll aisle... don't look like you?  I had five minutes of feeling a bit lost and then I returned to my comfortable life where these questions don't ordinarily arise.  What if you lived this every minute, every day? 

I went to another store and I did find her.  The aisle had many, many dolls and I had to look carefully, but I found her, a beautiful black baby doll.  And we wrapped her in polka dot paper and brought her to the new big sister.

Jeremy Jr., you came into the world on the day the Confederate flag came down.  Slowly we plod forward. Here's hoping that by the time you're a daddy, you can look around the store and say, "Babies R Us."


  1. What a brilliant, thoughtful, and touching essay.

  2. Sent to Bloomberg.

    Have you read "A Talk to Teachers" by James Baldwin lately? Same message. A long way to go.

    Powerful essay, Wendy. Write on?



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