What’s a Doll Got to Do With it?

My friend’s daughter had a doll that she loved to carry around. Morissa and her mom, Marcy, are white and the doll is black. Almost every time her parents took Morissa out in public with the doll, someone would comment on the racial situation. An African-American said: “I like your doll’s complexion.” An older white man was outraged and said, “How can you let her carry that doll?” Another older white man said tearfully, “I never thought before what it must have been like for Black kids to carry white dolls for all those years.”

Why was the skin color of a doll such a big deal to everyone? When we stay within the confines of the racial expectations around us, we can be fooled into believing that race doesn’t matter very much. This is especially true for those of us who are white. But when white people step outside of those expectations for having lovers or close friends who are of different races, when we bring those friends or lovers into family situations, when we socialize in the wrong places, or when we speak against the mistreatment of others, the walls of racism become very visible.

And for many people of color, those walls are ever present: in the lack of representation and misrepresentations of people from their own racial groups in the media every day; in the ways people are harassed by [some]police and treated in the judicial system; in the subtle but persistent ways that people of color are treated with suspicion in mostly white situations; and in the maddening fact that people of color can’t know if they didn’t get a job because they weren’t the best applicant or because they weren’t the right color…

Sometimes when people talk about racism, they talk as if it were just a matter of attitudes. It is common for people to see racism existing because some people believe that other people are inferior. While prejudiced attitudes do exist, and are an important part of the picture, the way that racial differences have become woven into the fabric of society is far more important…

Racism is anchored and reproduced in people’s psyches, but it is also embedded in our social institutions…[I]t is built into the legal, political, and economic structures of society.

This above essay is excerpted from the book “Ideas for Action—Relevant Theory for Radical Change” by Cynthia Kaufman and located in a 10-part study program I’m beginning for learning, practicing, and experimenting with the power of creative nonviolence to transform our lives and our world. The study program I’m using was published in 2005: Obviously, we have known about institutional racism for quite a while in this country, but gratefully we are now having conversations in the mainstream of society about it.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words from Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world; but be renewed by the transforming of your mind.” Jesus was a Palestinian man, a person of color by our Euro-American standards in the US. I wonder what his experience would have been if his ministry to the margins had occurred in America in the 21st century. Would I have even heard about him if his entire life was spent with the poorest and most destitute? Would his following have been crushed by the powers and principalities in the world today who would have seen him as a problem to the status quo?

I wonder…

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