I was nine at the time. The doll filled me with all sorts of emotions I couldn't place. Addy felt like a doll for other people, not for me. I had no idea why, but I felt like I didn't have permission to want the Addy doll.
I didn't fully understand why being black was any different from being white. Nickelodeon would host Black History Month spots in between episodes of GUTS and Pete and Pete, and while I liked the idea of people taking pride in who they are, I still harbored that sense of confusion regarding why it was such a big deal in the first place. I was never encouraged to take pride in my white skin. I found myself wishing I were black, so that I could take pride in something, too.
When Addy came out, there was one black girl in my thirteen-kid class; Mercy. Naturally, she got the doll for Christmas. I saw it in her house at her birthday party that year. I touched Addy's chocolate-plastic skin, feeling like doing so broke some unspoken law.
In fourth grade, we learned about slavery. I cannot stress how much this blew my mind.
I had no idea such a thing had happened in American history. I had no idea that human beings had the capacity to come up with such an idea. I felt horrified, guilty, shame for a crime I hadn't committed.
Learning about slavery drew a definitive line in the sand for me. Where I had once seen an Us, and only an Us, I became hyper-aware that some of Us were a Them. And how, given our history, They might not be so keen on Us.
After that, when I interacted with Mercy, I hoped my actions made it clear that I had no desire to enslave her, not even a little bit. I know that seems ridiculous, but it consumed my thoughts.
"Mercy! You look awesome today!"
Subtext: I do not want to purchase you and make you work in my non-existent fields.
"Hey, Mercy! Do you want to play four-square with us?"
Subtext: Look! I am offering to play a game with you, because I do not want you picking any of the cotton I'm not growing!
"Want a cracker from my Lunchable, Mercy?"
Subtext: I do not want you to cook for me. Rather, I will feed YOU! See? Equality.
I still don't know what to do about this line, and I struggle with it constantly. I don't know what to do with these feelings. It often seems that I'm expected to know better than to try sorting through them publicly.
On the one hand, I clearly see the danger in burying the past, and understand the need for awareness.
But on the other, the more aware I become, the more I'm taken away from that place where we are all equal and thrown into a world where every African American I see becomes Mercy. Every interaction becomes a fear that I am accidentally oppressing, then worrying about that fear being the very oppression I'm trying to avoid.
Every interaction grows from the seeds of me hoping you realize that I'm fine with you having your own doll, while wishing I didn't even realize the difference between our dolls in the first place. Indeed, you don't need my permission to choose your own doll.
But maybe I need your permission to choose mine.
*I really struggled with the topic this week. I feel extremely nervous about posting this, because I have a difficult time articulating my feelings surrounding white privilege awareness and it gets me into trouble sometimes. I hope this entry is taken for what it is: An attempt for one flawed human being to sort through her thoughts.