A few weeks ago, my little princess discovered that she can look at dollhouses on Google. It’s become a new pass-time, and she literally spends hours drooling at Google Images. Fortunately for me, she’s at the stage where she thinks sex, marriage, and childbirth gross, so I don’t have to worry about her sneaking porn … yet.
Anyway, as we were looking at dollhouses, we also started looking at dolls … specifically … blonde dolls. See, I’ve read all those research papers about how girls of colour think caucasians are prettier. It doesn’t really bug me, because I’ve often been called the blackest white girl, and I have a thing for green hair and pretty eyes. Um … read that backwards. Bottom line is, I like white guys. I think they’re hot. I still can’t decide who I like better – Pierce Brosnan or Shemar Moore. Of course, I also like Johnny Depp and Dustin Nguyen, and the hottest boy I know is just as blue-lack as me, so maybe I’m just boy crazy. But I digress.
I decided to put my princess through a little test. I showed her a bunch of Barbies in a picture to see which one she’d pick. There was a blonde one with green eyes, a Latina-looking brunette, a black haired Asian-looking doll, and a pseudo-black doll whose skin was caramel. She picked the white one. Then I showed her a different selection, this time with the black version looking a little more black. It had ebony skin and long dark hair. She picked the Latina.
I showed her maybe ten more galleries of dolls, and each time, she picked one with a different skin tone. I started to wonder if she was playing me, because she’d look at me before she picked. She was trying to figure out what the right answer was, trying to decide which selection would make me happy. She actually looked really stressed out, poor thing. In the end, I made her pick between Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls. The Bratz are supposed to be more ethnic and youthful since they’re based on teenagers, but for some reason, they have huge, doe-shaped gololi eyes and lollipop heads.
I decided to ask her what was the basis for her selection, and she just said, ‘Because it’s pretty.’ Re: Bratz vs Barbie, she said the Bratz movies and cartoons had cooler songs, hence they rock more than Merliah or Elina. Towards the end of the test, she started to pick two dolls from each selection. I guess she figured it improved her odds of pleasing me. Sigh.
My little girl’s complexion is yellow-yellow-brown-brown. It pisses her off that people think I’m not her real mother because I’m so dark [and also because she looks and acts beyond her age while I look like a college kid. Most people think she’s in Class Six]. We were in a tricky situation once, and a mean cop asked her if she was sure I was her mum. She grabbed my skirt and broke down crying. The next day, she suggested that she should put on kiwi on her face so she could look more like me. I couldn’t help smiling.
I wonder what she’ll be like as a teenager, once she realizes that to most people, the lighter you are, the better you look. But for now, I start every day telling her she’s lovely as she is, and that no matter what anybody thinks or says, she’ll always be my daughter. This is especially important after one of her new playmates mistakes me for the mboch *blink*blink*
Yesterday, a spiteful neighbour called her ugly after a fight. It broke my heart to hear her ask, ‘Mummy, am I ugly or pretty?’ I didn’t know what to answer, because everyone tells her how gorgeous she is. Strangers stop us on the street to compliment her, and when we lived in Tanzania, she got free candy, free ice cream, and even money from classmates and the school bus driver. There’s a premium on beauty in that part of the world, so the freebies weren’t abnormal, but they were still scary.
I always tell her she’s pretty because I don’t want her having esteem issues, but I also tell her not to be vain about it, because that will promptly turn the world against her. I don’t want her thinking she can skirt through life on looks alone, though sometimes I wonder why I bother, because the world outside reinforces that exact message.
Anyway, when she asked me that question this morning, I decided to get the background, before giving a blanket answer. Apparently she had fought with her friend and her friend said, ‘If only you knew how ugly you are.’ My little girl responded, ‘I was not born to be insulted. I was born to be pretty.’ She slammed the door, came inside, and didn’t mention the incident until this morning. Please note that my baby is 8 and the friend is 10. They really shouldn’t have to deal with these things yet!
When she asked again after giving me preamble, I told her that she looks just like me, and that I’m pretty, so of course she’s pretty too! She laughed and accused me of being just as vain as she is. Ooops! So I told her the next time someone insults her, she should respond with, ‘God bless you.’ She seemed fascinated and asked me what would happen if she said that. I shrugged. I explained that when people hit you, they want you to hit back, so when you don’t, they feel stupid. That sated her, and she went to school happy. But I can’t be sure of what I’ll do or say when that spiteful little neighbour kid comes knocking on my door tonight. Ako na wanted huyo *slapping left palm into right fist and gritting teeth*.
A few days ago, there was a discussion among some parents on Twitter. It started when this dear daddy said he was a bit worried that his young black beauty didn’t want to be called a Dark Princess. It progressed to us trying to suggest the names of black role models, and all we could come up with were Halle Berry’s Storm and Captain Planet’s Gaia. Both beauties have dark skin on white features. They don’t exactly look … you know … African.
Well actually, this one looks pretty African. Remember her? She was Rebel’s cousin in Heroes and she could mimic wrestling movies subconsciously just by looking at them. I think her name was Monica.
Aisha then gave us a link to this article about a black mum who flipped when her son asked for a white Barbie doll. Turns out it wasn’t really a race thing – or even a gay thing. It was simply that the boy likes the white doll in Toy Story 3. Hehehe.
For me, race issues aren’t really a big thing. It doesn’t bother me, this whole white-brown-black thing. What does bother me is tribe. See, my little girl is half Kikuyu, and I’m very proud of that. I’m all for ethnic diversity. It’s what gave my baby an Alando complexion, skinny legs, a pretty face, and a Jang’o ass – a combination that will take her very far in life as long as I can keep her sober about her looks.
One of my cousins got her baby a black doll. I don’t know where she bought it, because last Christmas, all I could find were blonde ones, a gypsy one, and an Asian one with a sari. I’m pretty sure I saw a Maasai Barbie at Tuskys, but that price was pretty scary, so I settled for the long-haired blondie with a wardrobe and a bike. My baby doesn’t seem to care what colour the doll is, as long as it has hair that she can comb. Besides, the first thing she does with her dolls is strip them and give them a bath, so within a week, she’ll have plucked out their hair and lost all their clothes. *shrug*
I don’t focus so much on the race issue. Instead, I try to teach her that tribe isn’t important. It’s one thing to be proud of your ethnicity. It’s another thing to put down others. Every time she comes home and makes some silly remark about how people of this tribe do this and people of that tribe do that, I want to smack her. I know she picks it up from school and random relatives, but it bugs the hell out of me.
Last week, there was a tribal TT among Kenyans on Twitter. I was pretty non-committal about it, but I watched bemused as most people joked along and a few were disgusted by the apparent tribalism. Some tweeple thought we were being just as bad as politicians, and were offended at the alleged hypocrisy. Others thought it was all in good fun and asked us to stop being overly-sensitive.
Personally, I was cautiously perplexed, because I remember Dunco and The Sherehe Ngoma Band that performed at a friend’s wedding recently. The couple came from different tribes, and the band had a retinue of tribe-based jokes and music. They even had a Kamba rock song and skat. Nobody was offended, and we spent the entire day in side-splitting laughter.
The band roasted everyone from Kisiis to Somalis, and each tribe was well represented in the crowd. Before each joke, the MC would ask, ‘Kuna waluhyia/wajaluo/wakamba etc hapa?’ So everyone heard a joke about their community, but no blows were thrown and there wasn’t a dry eye in there. I personally laughed tears, and that doesn’t happen very often outside of British comedies and Big Bang Theory.
But yesterday, my little girl recited a joke from the show. She had heard her friend say it in class and thought it was hilarious, but coming from the lips of an 8-year-old, it sounded crass and tasteless, so I wondered where the line is drawn. I asked her not to make tribal jokes because it makes people feel bad, and she shrugged it off and continued with her homework.
When she was little, my baby’s relatives taught her kyuk, and would talk to her to make me feel left out. Now she’s older, her other relatives are pulling the ‘our tribe is better’ card. It broke my heart one day when she said I should stop calling her by her kyuk middle name. It’s a beautiful name, but being a middle name *cough*cough* it’s only used when she’s in trouble. Still, it bothered me, and I asked her why. She said she wanted nothing to do with that side of her heritage, and that she didn’t want to be called a half-caste.
I explained to her that her best friend is Kyuk. She asked how I knew, and I smiled at their innocence, because the friend has actually been teaching her kyuk words and she had no idea. I told her the name gives it away, and she fiercely replied that if the girl was kyuk, she would never talk to her again.
I sat my little girl down and gave her a stern lecture about how statements like that nearly destroyed our country and made people kill each other. I told her Kikuyu is as much a part of her blood as Luo is, and she must never, ever deny any part of herself. I told she must accept her friend as a person, not as a tribe. I was shaking pretty much the entire time, but my voice was calm and quiet, and she knows me well enough to know that tone holds fury way beyond the level of spanking.
My little girl was quiet for a while, then she asked me to teach her how to greet people in Kyuk. I taught her the only five Kikuyu words that I know – Natya, Nekwega, Nekee, Igere, and Reure. Yes, I know that’s probably not how to spell them, but at least cut me some slack for knowing them *grin*.
I describe myself as tribeless and proudly Kenyan. To me, my father’s tribe is simply a surname, a language I barely speak, and a gorgeous dark complexion. It doesn’t mean anything to me. And while I admit that I have issues with my little girl’s dad, that’s half of her DNA and half of her culture. I don’t want her to ever lose that. She wants to learn Jang, but I want her to learn Kuyo as well. I have no idea how, and we’ll probably end up going to some language school in Hurlingham, but hey, whatever works. Meanwhile, we had some major family drama this weekend, and I tried having phone conversations in Jang to keep her out of the loop. Yeah, that, didn’t work so well, because as my brother so aptly put it,
All the key words always end up being said in English… like ‘Amiyo my certificates to ng’anene e HR office…
Hehehehe. I do feel consoled though. I was worried her comprehension was a sign that my Jang is really bad. And for the record, yes, my Jang is really, really bad. That’s why I’m afraid to teach my version of Dholuo to my baby. My ancestors will twist in their graves and torture me! So Hurlingham Language School, here we come.
This all started with multicoloured Barbies, so I suppose I should close up with that. I don’t really care what colour my baby’s dolls are. In the past, you could easily tell who came from where, when or how. But have you looked at music videos lately? Between interracial marriage, make up, and tanning booths, you can’t really tell who’s yellow, tan, or bronze. Aguilera is a blonde, blue-eyed Latina, and Leona Lewis has grey eyes. Zain Verjee is ethnically ambiguous depending on whether her hair is long or short, or whether she’s on KTN lunchtime news or CNN World Report. Brangelina are a rainbow nation all by themselves, and Madonna is a blonde American-Italian living in Britain with a Latino daughter and black son. The rest of us are all somewhere between a pale blonde Beyoncé and a strangely lost Mariah. It’s not just a Michael Jackson thing anymore.
I’m proud of my skin, and I’m proud of my heritage, no matter how much of a baabi I am. I smile when people drop their English names or do their hair in afros because it makes them feel more authentic. I don’t think being black or blue or yellow is really that important in the long run. What matters is what you’re like on the inside, where the blood is all red and the meat is all pink.
But that’s just me. We live in a world full of fear and prejudice, and people will always be hurt for being different. I’m just glad that race, tribe, and gender are the least of my problems.
And now, for my drooling pleasure *drums please* …