Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Racial Sensitivity Check: FAILED!

Costco Stores released a series of dolls. Each of dolls had a baby girl shaped doll one black, one white, and one Hispanic. Each doll came with a small pet monkey doll as well. Each of the little doll girls is wearing a headband with the nickname "Lil Monkey". Yes that means that doll of the black girl has a headband with the name "Lil Monkey" on it. I'm sure you see the problem right?

Now on Costco's part they did pull all the dolls off the shelves within about a day of their release but this is a dark reminder that racism is still a part of everyday life and can appear anywhere. Given the quick and immediate response I'm of mind that that there was no actual racial intent (I'll get around to why that matters...to an extent one day) however it does show that manufactures, marketing agencies, corporate (just three places where the production of this line of dolls should have been changed/scrapped) etc... must practice more awareness when it comes to race relations.

For years black people have had to put up with such things and it hurts even more to see it in a child's toy. Imagine (and I honestly would not be surprised if a few of them did get out into the public) a child getting one of these and growing up with the notion of calling a young black girl "Lil Monkey". If said child is black they would literally be growing up with the weight of internalized racism. Insulting themselves and their race and not even realizing it. If said child is not black they would be growing up with the notion that it is okay to refer to a black girl (and possibly boys as well) as monkeys. Of course this would be the fault of the adult figures in that child's life but it would still be quite damaging.

In the end I appreciate Costco's quick response but the fact that it happened in the first place and the first sentence of BrassKey Keepsakes CEO Mary Gustaff's statement:
"It's so unfortunate that it has been portrayed that way. The dolls were in no way meant to be disrespectful."
results in a failure. Failure to keep this from happening and failure in acting as if the people who "portrayed it that way" are the problem.


womanistmusings said...

It does not matter what their intent was. Ignorance is no excuse when POC must learn from an early age to negotiate Whiteness. Costco could afford to ignore the consequences of their actions because Whiteness has never been reduced in the same manner.

Meadester said...

Danny, I respect your views on race relations and appreciate your exceptional efforts to be reasonable and fair on such matters. For that reason I tried to give your view in this post a fair consideration. If this offends you, who are far removed from the perpetually complaining professional victims, then maybe there is something to it.

Still, I would say that intent is the most important factor in cases like this. While I respect your feelings, you do have to stand back and try to determine if your feelings make sense or if they are a visceral reaction, based on past experiences, that does not apply in this case. I have learned to try to see things objectively when I feel put down for my learning disabilities; its not easy and sometimes I do overreact to a joke or an innocent misunderstanding. But I often find that if I check with others with a different perspective, I feel better and am able to let things pass, making it much easier to get along with others and let go of resentment.

So, while my opinion may not matter here, I will give it just in case you or others who feel as you do might benefit. "Little Monkey" is a term of affection that parents of many races call their children. Black parents who call their children "Little Monkeys" do not necessarily have internalized racism - nor do they pass it on to their children - any more so than parents of any other race who use the same affectionate term. The fact that the dolls so labeled came in various races proves that there was no racist intent, meaning that racism only existed in the minds of those who chose to see it. The fact that people of African decent have been put down by being called monkeys is unfortunate but not relevant here. It is no more relevant than the use of "retard" in the movie Tropic Thunder, which I really enjoyed, has to do with the hurtful use of that term against me in the past. It is no more relevant than the fact that cartoonish stereotypes of leprechauns and drunken Irish brawlers, or Mafiosos and greasy Guidos, may have been believed to be reality by ignorant a-holes in the past (and may even be be believed by a few isolated inbreds now). The fact that these may have meant something at one time does not stop a present day Mick-Dago like me from laughing at such stereotypes, now. Granted, I have not experienced ethnicity in the way many Black Americans have, but my point is that the more you can laugh at silly stereotypes the closer you get to true equality. You will know that African-Americans are part of the American mainstream when black jokes are seen as innocuous as Polish jokes. That could be why so many Asians tried to prevent Abercrombie & Finch from pulling their Asian stereotype t-shrts from the market, they did not want to be associated with the small minority of people who claimed to speak for them.