I took my year-old granddaughter Mae Elizabeth to a clown program at a library Monday afternoon. A preteen girl sat next to me with her mother while Mae walked among the kids seated on the floor, stopping to pat several older girls, feeling their long straight black hair. After the program, I told my seatmate that I admired her beautiful hairstyle, an intricate, elaborate sculpture of dreadlocks. The mother shared that her daughter said that Mae-by looks like a baby doll. My stomach lurched.
You see, Mae has alabaster skin, blonde hair, and big blue eyes. When I heard the dark-skinned mother of a dark-skinned girl compare Mae-by to a baby doll, I was reminded of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eyes, in which one of her African American characters, Pecola, thinks she’s ugly because she has dark skin and her eyes are not blue. Pecola wishes for blue eyes because she thinks they would make her beautiful. Her belief stems from the gifts of white, blue-eyed dolls she received throughout her childhood, none that looked like her. So–when this beautiful dark-skinned girl said my ivory-skinned, blue-eyed grandgirl looked like a baby doll, I was tongue-tied and had a sad tear in my eye.