Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New African American Barbies

Mattel has introduced a new line of African American Barbie dolls, created by a Black designer. The collection is called So In Style (S.I.S.), and the dolls come in pairs--there are 3 young women paired as "mentors" to 3 girls. Michelle Bryer wrote an interesting article a few months ago about them here. I think the concept of selling the dolls in pairs is neat, and I appreciate Mattel's efforts for more multiculturalism.

Some say that yet again the doll manufacturers have created the standard Barbie only with darker skin, that her features do not otherwise reflect what African Americans look like. And, of course, the dolls' hair is a source of debate. Only one of the adult dolls and one of the girl dolls have natural 'dos. The rest have the long, straight hair, and critics complain that this just perpetuates the accepted "white" aesthetic and reinforces the old good hair/bad hair issues. They say that more of the other various hairstyles African American women wear should be represented too--braids, etc.

It never ends.

I can see their point, but I think we should give Mattel some credit for trying at least. The truth of the matter--please don't hate me for saying this--is that little girls like dolls that have hair they can comb and style. It's more fun. A TWA or short natural 'do made out of synthetic hair (see the irony there? No matter what the doll's hair is going to be fake) might not be as pliable or allow for braids or ponytails, etc. I can see that perhaps this can lead to dangerous internalized racism if the girls want to look like their Barbies and don't elsewhere find positive reinforcement for the way they look (see the Kenneth Doll studies), but is it always that way? And what if the girls' mothers relax their hair or wear weaves, as a large percentage of AA women do? Maybe these dolls represent their mothers or the AA women girls see day-to-day. This goes back to the question of whether doll makers and media should strive for representation or positive progressiveness. To me, the media (print advertising, movies, etc.) play a strong role, and I'm more inclined to complain when they mess up or shy away from positive, realistic representations of real, live Blacks. Furthermore, I think the responsibility falls above all to parents to tell their daughters again and again that they are beautiful, that their hair is acceptable in its natural form, that dolls are just dolls.

My question about the new line of Barbies is this: Where are the African American male dolls? What might their absence communicate?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora--2nd Annual Gathering

What: 2nd Annual AFAAD Gathering
When: November 6–8, 2009
Where: The Washington Inn, Oakland, CA
Theme: Growing and Organizing Together: Creating Our Own Identities

More information here. Please share with anyone you know who might be interested in this event.

I'll be there. Will you?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Local Salon Advertisement Reinforces "Good" Hair/"Bad" Hair Pathologies

I do not appreciate what this advertisement is saying about acceptable hair. What's wrong with a fluffy Afro, and why does it seem to indicate rebelliousness? Why is a more "tamed" look attached to an A+ grade and docile smile?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Van Jones Resigns

Van Jones resigned from his position as green czar/environmental advisor to Obama on Sunday. It appears the biggest reason for this is because of right-wing defamatory campaigns against him citing his prior brief involvement with the radical group STORM and for signing a petition for that questioned the official story of 9/11 in 2004. True, Van Jones says he regrets this. But do these things really trump all the work he's done pioneering "green-collar economy" initiatives? I find this news diappointing.

Any little thing you do your entire life leading up to top politics will be placed under a microscope. When I run for mayor of something someday, I hope the fact that I cheated on a test in third grade and in 2008 gave $20 to won't mar my record.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dyeing Black Hair Blue

This weekend we attempted to put blue streaks in my roommate Adri's black hair.

She had a kit made by Splat which included bleach and the blue dye. First we used the bleach on about fifteen 1-inch chunks all around her head (protecting them from the other hair with aluminum foil), erring on the side of style-caution by not bleaching streaks in the top layer of her hair. We figured hints of blue peeking out from underneath would not only be classy but subtle too. Because Adri's hair is SO dark and she knew from previous experience just how resistant it is, we left the bleach on her hair for an hour and a half instead of the recommended 50 minutes.

Still, what resulted was not the prescribed "pale blond" but rather shades of rust to apricot orange.

Ah, well. We moved on to the dye and coated her entire head with blue (what's to lose? we thought--her hair has a slight blue cast anyway, so we figured it wouldn't show up in the dark parts.)

After 40 minutes, Adri washed the dye out of her hair (it took nine washes!).

Guess what you get when you dye dark on dark? Dark! So dark you can't even tell it is dyed at all! The beached orange streaks did not, in fact, show up a sexy electric blue as we hoped.

Turns out the blue wasn't so "electric" at all. It's a dark blue, which just simply didn't show up in her hair. After 5 hours of separating, bleaching, washing, blow drying, dyeing, and washing again, we've got nothing to show for our trials except a few mildly blue-looking strands, and that's only if you dig and squint your eyes. Boo!

This endeavor was largely unsuccessful, but I discovered that it's fun to learn about and play with other people's hair. I've always struggled over the particular challenges of my own hair and rarely touched others' (as a kid I feared my hair wretchedness might contaminate theirs), but now I want to get my hands on as many heads of hair as are willing. In fact, I'm putting together a Web site on "hair compositions" for my multimodal composition class this semester, so there will be many more hair adventures to come!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Movie with Background Theme of Adoption

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Gigantic starring Paul Dano as Brian, a single 28-year-old mattress salesman who has always dreamed of adopting a baby from China. He’s going through the process of getting approved, and at one point reveals to his maybe-girlfriend Harriet (Zooey Deschanel from Elf and the music group She & Him) that it’s difficult for him because he’s not an ideal candidate.

“I’m 28 and single, not married in my thirties.”

This is fairly true to life. Though it’s easier for single people to adopt these days, it’s still not an ideal placement for obvious reasons. I’ve also considered of adopting after I turn 30 regardless of whether I’m married. Then I thought about all that would entail and changed my mind. Hopefully family and adoption will come my way differently.

When I read the description of the movie before watching, I was under the impression that Brian stopped his adoption quest when he started to fall in love with Harriet, and I was all ready to get riled up about this on behalf of the orphan. But it didn’t exactly happen that way. He does indeed fall, clumsily, in love with Harriet, though I’m not sure why—she’s a total train wreck/ditz and constantly wears a deer-in-headlights look on her face. Perhaps he wants to save her? Then, does he want to adopt the girl from China because he wants to save her too? Viewers never really know.

A good bit into the film we learn from Brian’s father that Brian decided he wanted to adopt from China at age 8. My question is, why? What made that so attractive, especially to a young kid? I wish this would have been explored a bit more, because this crucial detail would really flesh out Brian’s character, as he is a fairly reserved person in general. If he saw some advertisement or heard a story of the sad state of Chinese orphanages in the 1990s and made a commitment to do his part, then that says a lot about who he is. If he just thought that was how babies came about, that makes sense too. Or maybe he decided that he’d been single for so long and getting so close to 30 that there was no point in waiting any longer (that’s my suspicion).

As with many indy films, the overall character development is pretty good otherwise. The characters are quirky but real, hopelessly human enough to fall totally in love with in less than 2 hours.

SPOILER! At the end Brian does bring home an infant. In a powerful scene he comes around the corner from his kitchen leading a tiny dark-haired girl as she tentatively steps in front. You get the impression she has just learned to walk. I found it significant that he allows her to walk instead of carrying her. This makes me think he did not adopt her in order to have a token Asian child, and that perhaps he’ll be a good dad.

Some rules for watching adoption-themed movies with your kids, from an AAC handout.

1. Know your child's developmental level. Be attuned to their reactions (and yours). Be prepared to answer questions and deal with possible grief responses.

2. Give your child permission to react.

3. After the movie, address any issues/questions that arise. Acknowledge feelings. Don't shush or scold.

4. Share with other adoptive and foster parents when you see an adoption-themed movie. Look for the lessons inside the "fluff."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Non-Biological Resemblances

The other day my friend Cottrell e-mailed me a photo of him and his adopted brother. He said people who didn't know they weren't related kept commenting that they look alike, which didn't make any sense. Naturally I've always been obsessed with phenotypical resemblances and note immediately the way in which features echo each other throughout families--the same jawline, slope of the chest, hair. Traits of my own I've never seen reflected in anyone else. There are non-physical similarities in families, of course, such as mannerisms, temperament, facial expressions. But some likenesses don't fit in either category, and it's probably those that people saw in Cottrell's picture. There's probably some sort of scientific explanation for this, but I prefer to see the poetic side sometimes.

I have a tiny theory about the strange phenomenon of how couples who have been together for a long time, adopted and biological family members, and even dog owners and their dogs start to resemble each other. It's something subliminal, invisible, perhaps similar to the pull of pheromones in the air. I believe it is the look of love--worn and polished--in the heart where no one can see, like a pearl in a clam's embrace.

I think perhaps these quiet forces, the ones that reside in our souls, connect us all. You can't look at them directly. You can ignore them if you want. They are bonds that transcend race and blood and are the color of humanity, which James McBride's mother says is "the color of water." Barbara Katz Rothman, who writes about mothering her adopted black child as a white woman in Weaving a Family, describes how over time she perceives herself "darkening" as she continues to ingratiate herself into her daughter's ethnic culture, as though this search for understanding motivated by love displays itself physically too.

If our own beauty is a measure of our love for others, how might this change our hearts?

And when we begin to resemble those we love, regardless of blood, what could be better than this?