When she was a child, Black + Green Mama writer Kenrya Rankin Naasel’s father only allowed her and her sister to play with dolls that reflected their reality — translation, black dolls. As a result, Rankin says, she never wanted a Barbie doll or anything else that might have given her a slanted view of herself and her worth in American society. Now, as a mother, she’s continuing that tradition and also shielding her daughter from problematic television images like those on The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
His shutout was so complete that I never even noticed it until I was a little older and saw the dolls other kids had in their toy boxes. But by then, the lesson had been learned, so I never missed what I never had, never tried to jack my cousins for their 1992 Holiday Barbies, never longed to comb the blonde hair of the babydoll whose blue eyes popped open when I picked her up from her nap.
My dad’s decision seems like a small one, but one thing he taught me by example is that even the simplest of choices can have far-reaching implications when it comes to children. His Doll Doctrine wasn’t born out of an aversion to white people and the dolls that are literally molded in their image. It was an attempt to show us that we could star in our own stories, even if they were simple narratives we made up on the fly that involved kicking a ball into outer space, teaching a sea of babies how to write their names, and flying invisible airplanes on our front lawn, with our dolls as co-pilots. It taught us that being brown girls didn’t automatically relegate us to bit parts and girlfriend roles. It taught us that we were beautiful, and so were our dolls, ‘cause they looked just like us, and we didn’t need to have impossibly large breasts and hair down our backs to be adored. It also imparted the value of nurturing our own children, rather than playing wet nurse to someone else’s …
So as Babygirl’s mama, I’ve adopted an expanded version of the Doll Doctrine. Her one doll, Baby Isis (also known as Champagne Susie, to my drunker friends) is a little squishy brown thing whom she drags everywhere. Isis enjoys being squeezed within an inch of her life, and having impromptu dance parties when Babygirl’s favorite Yo Gabba Gabba! songs are played on her Pandora station. And she will never own a Barbie or a Bratz or any other odd-looking, sexualized doll that begs to be drafted into stories that involve marrying Ken and living in a Dreamhouse.