We always struggle with what to buy a few relatives each Christmas. These few never truly need anything, and though I am creative, I am stumped year after year. And really, how many framed photos of my daughter can I give someone without being a: boring, and b: narcissistic?
This year I came up with the idea to donate money to our adoption agency which is connected with a local maternity home. I thought we could find a small figurine of an African American baby to symbolize the donation and remind those few relatives to pray for the mothers and their babies.
So I began an Internet search for AA baby figurines. I wanted to limit the cost of the figurine in order to give most of the gift money in the form of the donation.
My search lasted several hours over the course of a few days, and I came up with basically nothing. The figurines were either very cheap looking, too expensive, and mostly, just not available! I had a difficult time finding anything featuring an AA baby.
Determined, I decided to look at some local stores: Hallmark, Big Lots, Hobby Lobby, and Everything's A Dollar.
First stop was Hallmark. I figured that surely there would be a Willow Tree Angel that would fit into my stipulations. Nope. Nothing. There was ONE AA figurine, a woman with dreadlocks.
Second stop: Hobby Lobby. The store was CRAMMED with holiday decor and people. As I said "excuse me" two hundred times as I made my way down the cramped aisles, I felt my pulse quicken and increased aggravation. There was not a single ornament or figurine featuring an AA person, let alone an AA baby. Next step, non-Christmas decor. I found an employee who said there was one tower of AA figurines at the front of the store. I felt slight hopefulness, but mostly skepticism. As I approached the tower, I found that the figurines were not African American---they were solely African and were about twenty inches tall---African people carrying baskets and animals.
Meanwhile, my husband was at Big Lots. As you guessed, nothing came of that stop.
Fourth and final stop: Everything's A Dollar, one that I often see AA people coming in and out of, so I figured that surely they would have some sort of merchandise featuring the race of the people who shop the store. There were some AA angels; however, they were, as anticipated (I mean, if it's going to be $1...), terribly cheap looking and nothing like what I had envisioned.
I couldn't stomach another stop and another disappointment. We headed home.
My mind is reeling now. I can't shut it off. Why the inequality? Why the domination of the white race today, still, in 2009? Why is my daughter's race not only left out, but the Hispanic population, the Asian population, the Indian population, etc., too? What about the kid in the wheelchair? What am I to tell my daughter when she asks me why none of the ornaments look like her? Why are they all pale, rosy, smiling babies? Why is there only ONE black Santa or ONE black angel? Why is black Santa at the mall one afternoon, while the white Santa is there everyday?
These things anger me. For so long, as a white person, I was at the center of the proverbial universe...that is until I adopted a black little girl. I realized that I was thrown into some sort of "other" category with her. Though I realize I will never know the "black experience," I am beginning to see what it's like to be an outsider in my own racial culture in subtle ways, like what we experienced when we were shopping.
Before we even ventured to AA figurine stop #1, we went to Toys R Us to buy some snacks for our daughter and to try to find an AA Cabbage Patch doll. Stuck behind four CP dolls with blond hair and blue eyes was an AA CP doll stuck in a smashed, torn box. How sad. Foreshadowing, I guess, of the shopping experience to come.
White parents of black children, at least the ones I know, get really excited when there is one little glimmer of hope, like the Old Navy t-shirt I found for my daughter featuring a little AA girl with puffy pigtails or the doll from Carter's (now clearanced out and never to be seen again) whose skin, hair, and eyes indicated some sort of racial identity other than white. I cling to these items and hope that I can combat everything that isn't there that tells my daughter her race doesn't matter or isn't important, that white is the only race that really matters and is worth depicting in advertisements, on Hallmark cards, on t-shirts, and on toys.
So if you see a white woman this Christmas who is vigorously shoving aside the white baby dolls in toy aisle three at Wal-Mart, you'll know it's me, or another adoptive mom, trying to find something for our sweet children, something that tells them their skin, eyes, and hair is beautiful, that black is beautiful, and that they matter.