Saturday, October 17, 2009

Clothing, Bedding, Books---Oh My!

I'm over thinking everything. Maybe it's because I'm trying to be sensitive. Maybe it's because I'm trying to be thoughtful. Maybe it's because I don't want to purchase a single item that might somehow harm or enforce the racist portrayals of black people. I don't want to miss something or deem one of these purchases as "no big deal" and then be reprimanded in word or look from a member of my child's race.

Here goes....

I love Gymboree clothing. I used to, before I became a mom, be a loyal Carter's customer. But I have discovered that Carter's clothing shrinks about 25%---meaning I have to buy my nearly 12 month old size 18 month clothing. It's a guessing game every time I shop for her.

When I discovered Gymboree while on vacation in Tennessee, I instantly fell not only in love, but into obsession. If you've ever shopped there, you will understand what I mean. The clothes are not only adorable, but they are also made well and do not shrink like cheaper children's clothing.

The only downfall to Gymboree is that they have limited lines of clothing in their stores each season. These lines are always theme-based: candy, kittens, polka dots, etc. If you don't like a particular line of clothing, you just have to wait it out until the next season (or, shop the outlets!).

This summer there were two lines dominating the little girl's department: the monkey line and the watermelon line.

Hear me groaning?

Who comes up with these lines, and do they not think that someone other than a white girl might want to wear Gymboree clothing?

Or maybe the designers figure that it's the 21st century and we are well past racial stereotypes.

Or maybe they didn't think twice about any of this while stitching the tiny black seeds on watermelon decals or affixing cutsie monkeys to capri pants. Yes, monkeys and watermelons are fun and adorable, aren't they?

As I walked around the mall with some of my adoptive mom friends, their black and white children trailing behind and between them, we had a lengthy discussion on this topic. One of the moms had her children (both white and black) in the watermelon clothing; she didn't care what the stereotypes were because the clothing was cute. One said she would NEVER put her black children in clothing spotted with monkeys. She shared that her friend donated several baby outfits to her, and unfortunately she had to put aside all of the monkey clothing because she just couldn't fathom putting a pair of monkey themed pjs on her newborn, black son.

One of my friends recently decorated her (black) son's bathroom. Her son loves monkeys, so she went with the monkey theme. The bathroom was gorgeous---chocolate brown walls, lots of jungle-themed accents, and of course, a monkey shower curtain and bath towels. The room looked like it came straight out of a magazine. Beautiful. Before we entered the bathroom, my friend warned me that she felt slightly sneaky or embarrassed to choose a monkey themed bathroom for her black son. I understand why.

My mom has begun the process of converting my old bedroom into a guest room, complete with a queen bed and my old crib. She discovered the crib bedding was far too warn to use, so she purchased new bedding---a set featuring browns, blues, and tans. The design? Zoo animals: giraffes and birds and yes, monkeys. Gasp! Dare I let my daughter sleep on such bedding? What does that mean? What would someone else say if they saw it?

I would love to throw all caution to the wind and say, who cares? White parents would breathe huge sighs of relief if those they fear would say, it's ok.

White parents do wonder what their choices would or could mean to their children. But really, it's more about what other people think. The six week old baby doesn't care if his pjs are sporting baseballs or bugs or monkeys. My daughter doesn't care if one of her books shows a baby's brown hands grasping a juicy slice of watermelon. Children are children---happy, free, ready to explore the world----monkey grunts and dripping watermelon slices included.

I don't know who exactly we fear. Black people? White people? Politically correct people? Racist people? People who say they aren't racist but are really harboring racism?

Is it best to ignore or put aside what has passed and embrace a future where black babies can sport monkeys on their clothing and watermelons on their bedding? Is it better to recognize that some people will never get past these symbols of racism and avoid these symbols altogether?

I don't know. And neither does anyone else.


  1. We need to get past it.

    I would say a zoo themed bedroom is perfectly fine. While we steared clear of monkey-only-themed outfits, if there were other animals present it was fine. And hey, if your daughter grows up and monkeys are her favorite animal, let her decide if she wants a monkey themed t-shirt or pj's. We need to let it go.

    I was super-sensitive (hyper-sensitive, really) in the beginning, but now I see that it's not as big a deal as I built it up to be in my head.
    Watermelon shouldn't at all be questioned, in my opinion. It's by far the most common thing my extended family eats at EVERY gathering during the summer. It's fruit. It's not just for one particular type of people.
    It's cute. It's my son's favorite fruit. If he were a girl, I'd have no issue whatsoever with him wearing a little watermelon themed outfit. Most people won't make the connections the sensitive adoptive mom will make. Just a thought.

  2. I'm not even aware of any stigma that goes along with watermelon :/

  3. I think it's easy to say "get past it"; however, I believe that we do need to be aware of these stereotypes and think how they may (or may not) affect our children...because, while our babies and children are all cute and lovable now, in the real world, as they get older, they will experience racism at some point.

  4. Bereket had the adorable monkey capris and cute monkey tank top and wore it this summer. She loves monkeys. We knew about the stereotype. We chose to face it head on.. how can we battle the stereotype if we shrink away from any reference to it? Who should we fear? No one. I'm not saying this to say stereotypes are no big deal, but to say that we are teaching our daughter that she can love what she wants and wear what she wants with pride. She's a strong girl with a fierce personality and it will take a lot to deter her in life. :)

  5. Maybe it is different because my daughter is Chinese, not black. But watermelon is her favorite food and she calls herself "Mama's monkey". She was born in the lunar year of the monkey. She even broke her arm after falling from her beloved monkey bars. We named our first sewing pattern the "Monkey Girl Bloomer Skirt". But we love monkeys and watermelon around here.
    However, we live in CA. I HAVE HEARD that black people have been called "watermelon eaters" in the South in the past, and that it was a derogatory term.
    We do plan on adopting a black son in the future, so maybe these issues will be more of a big deal then.


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