A four-year-old girl was playing with a doll in her classroom when her teacher told her that her parents had arrived, and it was time for her to go back home.
“Don’t forget to say goodbye to your friend who’s sitting by the door,” the teacher reminded her. “She’s moving away and won’t be coming back to this school anymore.”
As the little girl was walking towards the classroom door, she decided to ignore her friend and walked past her.
“I don’t want to say goodbye,” she told her teacher. “I don’t like her. She’s too dark.”
You can imagine that the teacher was not pleased, that the friend was offended, and that the little girl… Well, she was surprised by the words that came out of her mouth. After all, she had always played with her friend during recess, until two days earlier.
On that day, her friend announced that she was moving away and that she was never coming back.
“What do you mean?” asked the little girl.
“I’ll be living far away, and I’ll be going to a different school.”
“But how is that possible? Won’t we be friends anymore?” The little girl was confused and felt betrayed. Why would her friend want to move away and leave her behind? Why would she announce it on such a short notice? What kind of friendship was this?
After this discussion, she had decided to avoid talking to her friend for the next two days, and she never got to see her again.
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Fast forward to today, about 30 years later, and another four-year-old girl opened a surprise egg to find the doll you can see in this picture.
“Mommy, I don’t like this doll, I want another one,” she complained.
“Why don’t you like it? She looks so pretty,” lied the mom who thought that this doll was as ugly as all the other dolls that her daughter found in the previous surprise eggs that she had opened.
“Because she is so dark,” the little girl exclaimed.
As her daughter spoke those words, the mom remembered the incident with her classmate 30 years earlier.
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That mom? She is me.
And after those two stories, here is what I can tell you about kids: They notice stuff. They notice everything, much more than you think they do.
Many times, we tend to blame parents for teaching their kids how to notice differences, but in reality, kids see this by themselves.
Sometimes, kids state facts the way they see them, not realizing how they could be offending others, like saying, “this person is fat.”
Other times, they react to consequences, using the difference that they see as a reason to dislike a person, such as, “she’s too dark.”
And then in some situations, like the case with this doll, kids develop a certain understanding of what is considered to be “better.” Thirty years ago, at a time when all the dolls sold in shops where blond with blue eyes, when all the successful women figures were innocent princesses waiting for a magical turn of faith to live a happier life, having a discussion with a little girl about what looks and feels “good” and “successful” would have been an (almost) lost case.
But today, as dolls like this one are distributed in shops, and as more prominent women figures dominate the scene, explaining to my daughter (who already has a pretty stable and confident perception of herself as a girl / future women) how to appreciate what is different from her, is a different ball game.
I reminded her of her friends who had “darker” skin tones, wondering if she had noticed that too. I pointed out how she used to enjoy playing with them, and she agreed with me.
Although she is still pretty young for this type of discussion, I’m hoping that she will slowly learn how not to immediately scratch what doesn’t fit in the “box.”
Because in the end, there is no such “box”, and I hope that she’ll grow up to understand this.