In Nicholas Kristof’s column of October 6, 2016, he posted a photo of a Syrian girl, reading to forget the war.
What’s happening in Syria is a horrible atrocity, indeed, which should concern us all, but there’s something else concerning in the photo as well. On the shelf behind her sits her doll, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, wearing a dress of lace and pink fluff and what seems to be wings behind that. The doll’s skin is what we’d term on forms of inquiry as “white.” Are angels only white, with blonde hair? Why doesn’t she have a doll, just as pretty and angelic, that looks more like her?
This “white-skinned” doll, so out of place in war-torn Syria, took me back to my childhood, to when I became aware of certain, subtle differences in how people treated me.
At school, from the very beginning day, the teachers oohed and ahhed over my classmates who were blonde and it seemed to me those girls were teachers’ pets and got special privileges. I got to be an angel, even with my brown hair and brown eyes, in Christmas pageants, but it was my petite, blonde-haired, blue-eyed classmate who was chosen to play the head angel, say actual lines, and sing all by herself to much public acclaim and a photo in the local newspaper.
When I began to color, after being introduced to crayons and coloring books in the first grade, I mimicked the world around me. All the princesses I saw in the coloring books and in the Disney movies, were blond and blue-eyed, except for Snow White. I colored all the blonde princesses in the book my younger sister and I shared, and I made her color all the princesses who had dark-colored hair. Of course, she soon balked at that, because she knew the blonde-haired princesses were deemed more worthy, too.
She got the drop on me later, though, when I was in the sixth grade, and she in the third. The Christmas play was a variation of the Nutcracker, and she was a sugar plum fairy, dressed in a pink, crepe-paper tu-tu. Me? I was forced to play a dirty, brown tree stump, made of chicken wire covered with poster paper that I had to make myself, with tiny eye-holes that were hot and impossible to see out of because the stumps bounced up and down when we were dancing.
Who got the dates in high school? Blonde classmates. Who got the parts in Hollywood? Blonde starlets. Who modeled in magazines? Blondes. No one had to tell us blondes had more fun because it had been apparent since the un-blonde of us were children.
To be sure, there were exceptions to my generality, like Annette Funicello or Elizabeth Taylor. The preference was still there, however, no matter how many exceptions could be pointed out.
I’d like to think that kind of bias has disappeared from our subconscious thinking, especially since our hair can be any color we want, but I don’t know for sure. You may think the appearance of a doll on a Syrian girl’s shelf is nothing to be concerned about, but just like Williams’ red wheelbarrow, so much depends on it. It’s the image that leads to the larger and hurtful notion that one race, one skin or hair color, one religion is somehow better in every way than any other race, skin, or belief system. Maybe you’d say that at least she has a doll when other Syrian girls don’t . Maybe an American relief society gave it to her. Maybe one of her relatives is from the USA. You could be right.
All I know is this: A girl ought to have a doll that looks like her. Her angels should look like her, too, and be found just as beautiful and desirable as she is. Especially as sweet, sad, starving, and thoughtful as that girl is, living in a war-torn country with hatred right outside pounding on her window.