One Saturday evening, eight-year-old me was in Toys “R” Us, choosing between two similar dolls. Both of them were Barbies. Both had a yellow Labrador with searing blue eyes, who wore a silver collar that hooked onto a blue leash. Both had a silver feeding bowl that came with a white bone. Both had a turquoise broom and a turquoise scooper. And lastly, both had straight hair and wore jean shorts. I then took note of their differences. One wore pink shoes; the other wore yellow; one had blue eyes; the other had green; one wore a zebra-striped shirt; the other wore a white polka-dotted gray one; one had blonde hair; the other had brown. I liked their clothes, shoes, hair, and eye color, but something made all the difference in the world. One was white; the other was black. Without a second thought, I grabbed the package of the white Barbie and ran to my mom, who was beside my brothers, watching them look through the Transformers toy section. “Mommy, Mommy look!” I yelled, grinning. I held the doll up to her face with both hands. My mom’s eyes peered away from my indecisive brothers and went to examine the doll's blonde hair and blue eyes. She then gave me a curious look. “Why did you choose the white doll?” she asked. I hugged the doll against my chest and furrowed my eyebrows, a frown taking the place of my smile. I thought it was a very obvious “why.” “Because I liked it better,” I responded. My mom raised an eyebrow. A thick silence formed between us; she was confused with my response, I with her question. She then shook her head and sighed. “Okay, baby, put it inside the cart.” And that was that. The minute my mom parked the car in the garage, with the doll strapped tightly against my chest, I burst out of it, rushing inside the house and up the stairs of my bedroom. I plopped on my bed, on the light green blanket with daisies, and then started to rip the clear plastic with all my strength. Barbie, her Labrador, and all the accessories were strapped to a rectangular cardboard, so I raced out of my bedroom door to find scissors to cut the plastic bands. Once I did, I freed Barbie and decided to sit cross-legged, not noticing the Labrador and the accessories, which I did not cut out, pushed off my bed and onto the carpet floor. I analyzed the Barbie that I was holding with my right hand, touching her with the fingers of my left, combing her soft blonde hair, tracing her blue eyes, her pink-lipped smile, and her small nose. If someone were to look inside the bedroom, they would see me, a little girl in love with her new doll. But if they paused and stared at the mirror that stood in front of my bed, they would notice an overwhelming sense of longing in my eyes and smile. They would see not just any little girl, but a little black girl who wanted to be like the doll, and it wasn’t just the outfit, accessories, or the dog, but due to her straight hair, blue eyes, and white skin. And the mirror would show a buildup that caused my internalized racism in less than a decade. They would see how I subconsciously believed that black girls were less than white girls because I mostly saw white girls as stars in the movies and tv-shows she’d watch. A situation where a white girl ripped out my box braid, and my all-white classmates started to laugh or look at me in disgust, strengthening the wish to fit in. And when my crush told me that we couldn't be together because “I’m white and you’re black.” His words are humorous, but it branded me. But I understood; I, too, believed I was inferior. Over the years, I grew up mentally and physically, and was more accepting towards my blackness, and it wasn’t just maturity. I remember a couple weeks after I got my doll, my babysitter and I were watching reruns of Barney and Friends, and a white girl with a blonde bob came into frame. Immediately, I started to admire her. I voiced this admiration out loud to my babysitter, telling her I wished I looked like her. Without hesitation, my babysitter paused the TV, turned to me and, “Don’t say that. You’re beautiful just the way you are.” She then pulled me in for a hug after she noticed tears pricking my eyes. For most of my life at the time, I believed that 4c hair was undesirable–– the straighter, the better. Here I was challenged for that belief; I was overwhelmed with confusion. How can it be? But then, as she whispered affirmations to embrace my blackness, relief swallowed me whole. Maybe I don’t have to feel so bad about myself. Maybe I can love the color of my skin. Seeing more girls that looked like me in mediums such as movies and tv-shows, also helped; they told me that we could be foreground. For example, a year after getting the doll, my babysitter took my brothers and me to the theaters to watch the movie Annie, which surprised me to see it starred a black girl, considering I watched the first and second Annie from before, both starring white girls. I stared in awe at a later scene, where Annie was wearing a bright, poofy, red dress, singing proudly, looking beautiful. As we all were walking out of the movie theater, my babysitter pointed to a cardboard cutout of Annie and said, “Hey she looks like you.” I never thought my smile could spread even wider. Affirmation and diversity were the key to unlocking the cage that held my internalized hatred, ripping it apart little by little, soon being replaced with love and acceptance. So, if my babysitter were to take me to Toys “R” Us after the movie, and there were two similar dolls, I would choose the doll that was black like me.
Darlene Neyou is a seventeen-year-old from Ohio. She has been published in the Cartharthic Youth Literary Magazine.