About a week ago, my son and I went to see a friend's new apartment. Also visiting was the friend's 9 year old step son. Kazuo was mesmerized by this kid's big boy toys. He picked them up. Looked them over. Put them down. Picked them up again. Over and over, finally settling on a big ziplock full of collectible figurines. From a distance, I approved. My 3 year old has stumbled into a developmental stage which has him obsessed with categorizing and organizing. Bunch of little people he could sort and line up? Seemed like a perfect fit to me.
Seriously. I should have known better.
5 minutes later I squat down with him. Start rummaging through the collection. And this is what I see:
Lest you think Asians are exempt from this type of caricature stereotyping, check this out. A few years ago, a friend of my husband gave him this toy as a joke:
These are Playmobil figurines that I found in a fashionable, small toy store in my community. My neighborhood, as I have mentioned, is very diverse. There is much social work done in the area and many educated, middle upper income folk who live here consider themselves liberal as well as progressive. This toy store is very popular and prides itself on the quality of its product. It has a huge Playmobil section that represents, surprise! Predominantly White people. These were two of very few people of color represented. Possibly the only two with very dark skin. Please note the portrayal of dark people as different, primitive, backwards, or scary and dangerous. I was particularly impressed by the use of the word "special" on the first, and the juxtaposition of the scary dark pirate to the "friendly" white pirate just below.
Here's more. In attempting to buy my son diverse play people for Christmas, for lack of anything better, I resorted to Lego's Duplo World People Set:
As if to answer my question, walking into Toys R Us a couple days ago, I was greeted by this image:
This is a really uncomfortable post to write (and I'm sure a very uncomfortable post to read). But I hope we can all sit with the discomfort for a while. The more I look, the more I see. Our children are indoctrinated into a racial framework from Day 1 in so many ways. I consider it our job to be as vigilant as possible in screening what they are exposed to, and when that fails, in providing them a counter-narrative to the negative messages they receive daily. Negative messages not only about themselves, but others as well. I found a beautiful quote this morning in Beverly Daniel Tatum's pivotal book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
"All of us want a better, more peaceful world for our children," she writes. "If we want peace, we must work for justice."