Friday, July 26, 2013

Awkward Conversations with Toddlers about Race: Hanna Anderson Edition

After my recent posts about white kids and race, LB decided to give me some additional content.

Imagine the scene: two white ladies relaxing with microbrews (LB doesn't partake, but she does run over with her sippy cup and yell "CHEERS"), listening to The Clash, and reading the new Hanna Anderson catalog.

Eventually LB decided she wanted to see the catalog and immediately pointed to one little girl:

LB: "That Amy! That Amy!" (not her real name).
Mary: "No, that's not Amy."
Mary: "That little girl has brown skin like Amy, and curly brown hair like Amy.  Does she look like Amy?"
LB: "AMY!"
Mary: "She's not Amy, but she has brown skin and brown hair like Amy."  "Is Amy your friend?"
LB: "Amy fwiend!  Amy nice! Elmo fwiend!  Kittycat fwiend!"
Mary: "Who does that look like (pointing to a redhead)?  Who looks like you?"

When LB fixated on one little (brown) girl in the catalog and compared her to another little girl she knows in real life (who does have a similar skin tone and hair color), B and looked at each other and it was awkward.  If you are a reasonably sensible white adult, you know that "Hey [insert name of person of color], you look just like [this other person of color]" is right up there with "can I touch your hair" in the taxonomy of racial shit you shouldn't say.

Let me make a very smooth transition here with the announcement that I know nothing about teaching small children about race.  Yesterday, I also knew nothing about dealing with a dog who was on the losing end of an encounter with a skunk.  But I learned.  That learning was quite painful, involving multiple changes of clothing, sitting fully clothed in a full bathtub pouring diet coke over the head of a terrified dog, but I did it because my only other option was to live with a dog who smells like skunk.

If I won't talk to LB about race, race becomes the skunk dog in our living room, because no matter how much I would rather not deal, race is part of our world.  So, for the two-year-old set: people have different skin colors and hair colors, hair styles, and eye colors. Our friends have different skin colors. Our friends are nice. Repeat."

But, I have to say that in this whole learning process, that Hanna Anderson catalog really isn't doing us any favors.  I once spent a day in an archive sorting and cataloging all the cards sent to a prominent African American family in the 1950s congratulating them on the birth of their son.  There were hundreds of cards, and every single one had a white baby on it.  My young friends, that was what people used to call a "click." These were wealthy, powerful people who knew a lot about their own history, but every single card had a white baby.  So, things have changed in 60 or so years.  At least where I live, you can go to Target, or Hallmark, or Walgreens and buy a greeting card with a brown baby, or bride, or graduate.  But, Hanna Anderson isn't making my life as a white parent any easier by having a catalog that 85% white models.  And I guess you could say: oh it's a Scandinavian company, or is there something wrong with white kids-should our kids no longer be seen in public?, or even, last I checked there was still a white majority in this country-so the models just reflect reality.

I grew up in a place where almost everyone was white.  In my school pictures, there is usually a lone kid of color.  That's not LB's reality.  Her reality is one where kids come in lots of different colors, which was one of the reasons that it was so weird to us when she fixated on the fake Amy.  It's not wrong to see white kids in catalogs, or even lots of white kids in catalogs, but would it be so terrible if sometimes white kids were the one making the token appearance?  Someday, my friends.

LB rocking out to The Clash last year, when she was just a little girl.


  1. Ha! This post made my night! I deal with the same thing with my middle one. It is great to have an entire catalog representing "special kids" but why not just scatter a few here and there??

  2. Seriously, I mean are we all such assholes that we won't buy cute, over-priced, kids clothes made in Bangladesh unless all those kids are typical looking and most of them are white? HA probably has research that says yes to that question, but it's hard to tell kids one thing and have popular culture tell them the opposite.