Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My brother and sister-in-law just had their second child, a lovely baby girl. She is barely a week old but we are all already talking about whose eyes she has, whose hair, whose nose. I already dream about doing girlie things with her - trying out nail polish, braiding her hair, dressing her up in frilly dresses. And buying her dolls.
My sister-in-law and I were on that subject when she asked what kind of barbies I would get my niece. Black barbies, I said. My sister-in-law laughed in the indulgent way she laughs when I bring up subjects like African feminism and asked, "white dolls or black dolls, does it matter?"
Long after that conversation, I thought about it and I realized that this is one (rare) instance where I do not have an unequivocal opinion.
I grew up with white dolls, as my sister-in-law pointed out to me. Although that was less a political statement on my mother's part as it was because the Nsukka and Enugu markets and shops my mother went to in the eighties had only white dolls.
I loved those dolls, especially the ones that burped. And I turned out fine. I do not think any less of my skin color or ethnicity because I did not have dolls of the same skin color. I did not grow up wishing I had green eyes just because my dolls did.
On the other hand, it is different here, different for us Nigerians in Diaspora. It is different because children here do not grow up in the same environment or with the same unquestioning acceptance of who they are. And because of this, I like to think that is important that children see images that look like them so they do not unconsciously consider themselves freaks of nature. Or so they do not unconsciously attach more value to images that do not look like them but happen to be around them always.
I still don't have an unequivocal opinion. I thought about it often, I recalled my early creative writing, how most of my characters were blond and blue-eyed because all the books I read early in life, starting with 'Kathy and Mark' in kindergarten, had blond, blue-eyed people. Yet, today, I write about mostly black characters in my fiction. I know that I will definitely buy black dolls for my niece and maybe white ones. When she's older, I'll ask her to choose which she prefers. And I am not so sure how comfortable I will be if she prefers white dolls.
Of course dolls are insignificant in the grand scale of things. They're just dolls. But they are symbols after all. And in place of dolls, it could be anything else.
So what would YOU buy your daughter or niece or sister? And above all else, does it matter?