By BASSEY IKPI
Boogie is in that “can you buy me that?” stage of life. I dread commercials with anything that races, flies, explodes or turns into a robot-monster-dinosaur truck. If it looks like it might kill you, Boogie wants it. When we’re out shopping and he goes through the, bug eyed, mouth wide open, “OH MY GOD!” process, I tell him that I don’t have any money or I only have enough money to buy exactly what we came for. He’ll pout and “oh man!” or say, “Well, do we really need toothpaste?” but he’s fairly good at listening.
One day at Target, he asked for a Kindle (Yeah. I know.), and I said, “Boy, we’re in a recession.” He looked at me and responded, “Mommy, we’re in a Target.” I’m grateful that he doesn’t throw tantrums like the kids I step over in the toy aisle but still the “can you buy me that” gets a little annoying.
So this morning when I woke up and found Boogie upstairs watching The Fresh Beats (you know from my post a few weeks ago how I feel about that) and thumbing through a Wal-Mart Christmas mailer, I groaned to myself. Halloween was last weekend. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet and can I get some pie before I have to wrap presents? Damn. I watched him for a little bit ,waiting for him to ask for a super Transformer Monster Truck Bicycle Power Ranger Batman car... thing. (He knows better than to ask for a gun.) But when Boogie noticed that I was in the room, he looked up with those massive brown eyes, long curly lashes and big smile and said, “Good morning! Can you buy me a Barbie?”
I’m sorry what?
I said, “Do you mean a Barbie like a bar-b-que?”
He said, “No. I want a Barbie. This one.”
And sure enough he pointed to the iconic toy. That’s what he wanted. I took a closer look to make sure it wasn’t some sort of Barbie-shaped gun or torpedo launcher. Nope. It was Barbie in all her Dream Townhouse glory. And I was confused.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind buying my son a doll. But he’d never shown any interest in dolls before and I really wish if he did, that it wouldn’t be Barbie, of all hideous things. Before I could say anything else, my brown-faced gorgeous baby boy said, “I want the white one.”
What? What do you mean you want the “white one?” I immediately went from “You want a doll?” to, “Oh, and now you want a ‘white one?!’ Boy!” Somehow, I calmed myself down enough to say, “Baby, wouldn’t you rather have a black one?”
He said, “No. I want the white one.”
I said, “But the black Barbie is so pretty. Don’t you want a black Barbie that’s pretty?”
He said, “No. I want the white one. I saw the black one in the store and it was nekkid. I want the white one.”
I had no idea where this conversation came from or where it was going, but now I was firmly in Parental Confusion Land. You know, the place when your child says or does something so outrageous that your only response is a confused, “Oh... okay.” Like when I asked him why he had on two watches and he said, “Because I need to know what time it is all day.” Oh... okay.
Now let me clarify the “black one was nekkid” thing. In Boogie’s world, “nekkid” means shirtless for boys and/or wearing a bathing suit for girls. “Naked”means without clothes. I have no idea how he decided to make this distinction, but like with most things Boogie, you just gotta accept it and move on. He gets it and that’s all that matters. So I’m pretty sure that the black Barbie had on a bathing suit and he didn’t want anything to do with that. But still, if I’m going to buy my son a Barbie, I’m buying him a black one, dammit!
So I said, “E, I’m not buying you a white Barbie.”
And he said, “Why not?!”
And I said, “Because YOU aren’t white! Why would you want white Barbie?”
And he said, “Because it’s cute.”
Me: “WHAT?! Are you trying to say that the black Barbie isn’t cute?!”
Before I knew it, my neck was rolling and I had the black girl finger up. (Let me interject here by saying I knew how ridiculous this conversation with my not-quite 4-year-old son was, but I felt like we needed to have it. I’m not raising no color complex!)
Boogie looked stunned for a second and said “No... the Black Barbie is pretty like you and Kanke and Grandma, but the white Barbie is cute and not nekkid.”
“So why do you want a white one and not a black one? I don’t understand.”
Boogie could tell that he had somehow upset me, but he wasn’t sure why, so he spoke very slowly: “Because I see pretty black people all the time. Plus the Barbie in Toy Story was white.”
It’s true. The Barbie in Toy Story was white. I’m still trying to figure out why I reacted so strongly to his declaration that he wanted a white Barbie and not a black one. Raising a brown boy into a black man in this country is difficult; all the subliminal messages about what’s good and what’s bad and who’s good and who’s bad sneaks in before you know it, and I got a little scared that my baby was starting to feel like his brown wasn’t beautiful. Boogie’s concept of race is all over the place. He thinks light-skinned people are white, and he identifies my friends by skin tone. “Chris That’s the Color White.” and “Mychal That’s the Color Brown not Michael That’s the Color White.” (Both of them are actually black men.)
Outside of distinguishing features, ethnicity doesn’t mean much to Boogie and I felt wrong for injecting race in a conversation that was simply about the toy he wanted because of the movie he loved. But at what point is the conversation valid and necessary?
I want Boogie to love his skin and his heritage and his people, but I want him to respect and love the culture and heritage of others. When I was in college, I was all Arrested Development, Badu-ified, and I just knew that any child of mine would go to an African school and wear African clothes and speak African... like Africans! Apparently, being half Nigerian wasn't enough.
Now that I’m older and my worldview has expanded, I know I want my son to have a more layered approach to loving himself and respecting others’ differences. I know I have to teach him that before the world teaches him different. I just don’t know how to raise a child who is proud of who he is and accepting of others without upsetting that delicate, child-like innocence that makes so much sense in his big ass head.
I do know this much: I'm still not buying him a white Barbie.
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About our MyBrownBaby Contributor: Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic who is the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi. She's half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the leftover bit is a caramel creme center. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is currently working on a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Find more Bassey on her site, Bassey's World.
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