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So today, I went shopping for my friend’s daughter’s birthday. 

I’m no stranger to Target’s girl-toy section, or as I like to call it “The Pink Ghetto.” I’ve had people disagree with this term. Some say that it trivializes or appropriates this term that has been used to describe the horrible conditions that are visited upon history’s most marginalized people, but I think it’s apt. A ghetto is a place that we as society, place those whom we care little for and would like to control. The Jewish people were placed in ghettos during the Holocaust. The Palestinian people are placed into ghettos as more and more of their property is seized and demolished. In the US, the poor are ushered into inner-city ghettos, where we forget about them until we need to make some kind of statement disparaging those in poverty, immigrants and/or people of color. Once we place a demographic into their assigned place, we tell them how they are supposed to act. We don’t do this through laws or legistlature, but through the prejudice of the media, societal expectations, available resources and behavior of authority figures. 

In the inner-city, we have music, movies, fast-food advertisement, lack of quality education, unfair treatment by authority all painting a picture of what people are supposed to be, dress like, value and behave… 

In the Pink Ghetto, we have the same. The boys’ section of the toy aisle, the world is open. Pirates, police, doctors, astronauts, architects, sports stars, boys are encouraged to strive to be any one of these things and more. The girls section has baby dolls and (YES THEY ACTUALLY DO) kitchen and cleaning supply toys. There are vacuums, ironing boards, brooms and dustpans, sinks and stoves, and pots and pans, all in sparkly pinks and purples and marketed directly towards our little girls. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these toys, but the very fact that our girls are limited to dolls and kitchen-stuffs while our boys’ dreams are limitless… there’s something provacative about that. There’s something purposeful about training our girls from a young age that they have a singular purpose, and to want something more is unusual, remarkable, and outside the realm of the strictures of gender binary.

But this has been discussed before. 

We can go further.

My friend and her daughter are African American. I purchased a fashion doll for her birthday. I liked her a lot because she was an African American doll with ACTUAL African American features, instead of a European featured Barbie with dark skin. It got me thinking as I walked through the aisles: why, in this world of beautiful diversity and a rainbow of skin tones and hair textures, is finding a doll with tightly curled hair and African American features the EXCEPTION to the rule? Why is this so remarkable? Shouldn’t it be common to find dolls with a variety of features instead of one single black face in a sea of blonde Barbies? I buy my daughter dolls that represent many ethnicities. She has blonde dolls, but she also has Hispanic, Asian and African American dolls… I pick them out when I find them because I want her microsphere to represent her reality. However, my daughter is blonde-haired and blue-eyed. She fits the most readily represented and normative model of this manufactured binary. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be living as another race (and raising children) in a world in which we are considered “other.” If one side of this binary is blonde/blue, and so obviously favored… what must it be like to have to search hard for a doll that represented what my daughter looks like.

So we are told, as females, that our value lies in our prettiness, our ability to bear and nurture young, our ability to care for a home… anything apart from that is straying from normative behavior. Then we are told that we can’t quite reach success in these areas of normativity unless our skin is light and our hair soft and silky.

This year Lupita Nyong’o was celebrated as People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Person of 2014, which is a great start to recognizing the beauty that exists in dark skin. The world is finally stating not, “She’s beautiful for a black girl,” but “She’s beautiful!” When Nyong’o was a young girl, she never experienced a world that told her her skin was beautiful, her hair was beautiful, that the way she was born was beautiful without hair straighteners and skin lighteners. “I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful,” she said. “I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin and my one prayer to God the miracle worker is that I would wake up light skinned … I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted.”

I want to live in a world in which all of our beauty and worth is represented equally. I want our daughters to grow up knowing that our differences are to be celebrated, not placed one above the other or ignored. I want children to grow up knowing their worth and successes are not limited to a binary or *normativity. I want our girls to never hear, “You’re pretty for a black girl.” or “You’re smart/capable/strong/ingenuitive for a girl.” as if these things were an exception rather than the rule.

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