Christmas morning, as I opened my gifts from Santa, I started to feel like Santa (aka my husband) was trying to tell me something. First, I unwrapped a beautiful Kente-clothed, Black doll named Kenya. She’s part of the Disney collection “It’s A Small World,” and when you press her tummy, she sings the Disney tune first in English (“It’s a small world afterall, it’s a small world afterall…”) and then in Swahili. Santa left a note explaining that this gift was to get me excited about my upcoming travel to Kenya and also to remind me of how much I love the “It’s A Small World” boat ride each time I visit the Disney Theme Parks.
The next gift I unwrapped was the Rue action figure doll from The Hunger Games. When I first read The Hunger Games (no spoilers for those who haven’t read the series. But, if you haven’t, read it!), I instantly related to the character Rue, a 12-year old girl from district 11 selected to participate in the 74th Hunger Games. From the author’s description of district 11 and of Rue, I pictured her to be a little brown-skinned, naturally curly haired Black girl. And, apparently, when I saw the first film, so did a lot of other people. Yet, there was a social media frenzy about people’s upset and disappointment that the role of Rue was acted by a young Black actress, Amanda Stenberg (read more). For me, this role was cast perfectly–Ms. Stenberg embodied everything I imagined Rue to be. But, also, how wonderful for young Black girls and for the little Black girl in me to read about and see representations of ourselves even in an imagined world. Now, thanks to Santa, I had my own action figure of her.
The last gift I unwrapped was a babydoll of the Disney princess Tiana of The Princess and the Frog. Princess Tiana was Disney’s attempt at giving us a Black princess (sorry, but Nala from The Lion King does not count *side eye*). While the storyline was still quite problematic (princess ends up with the coveted prince), there’s still some power in representation. As a child, I just wanted dolls and action figures that looked like me. But now, on this Christmas morning, I was becoming a little suspect–what was Santa trying to say? I’m almost 40 years old. I don’t play with dolls…anymore. And, now I’m staring at 2 dolls and a female action figure–what am I supposed to do with these?
Along with these gifts came a note from Santa that read,
“From the many conversations we have about our childhood holidays, I’ve always wanted to give something to the little girl I would one day marry. As you continue to help and teach Black girls and boys, here’s to seeing the innocence in us all, especially the innocence I’ve learned to appreciate in you.”
These gifts were a perfect reminder of the importance of honoring the innocence and youthfulness that is still within me. In this world, it ain’t as easy for little Black girls to claim this innocence. We have to grow up too fast, too soon. We receive constant messages that diminish the mere plausibility of our youth, of our innocence. Even in the imagination, the young, beautiful Rue cannot be a Black girl. Even in the imagination, the princess who kisses the frog to discover her prince cannot be Black. This holiday season, I was reminded that we have to reclaim Black girlhood, celebrate it and protect it. This reclamation starts with me.
So, in this new year, I am searching for the little Black girl who still lives within me. The girl who plays with dolls, jumps double dutch, skips hopskotch, races matchbox cars, eats mud pies, and collects worms. This is a reminder for me, too, as I live my yoga on and off the mat that it is OK to imagine, to play, and to be free flowing. If I want to sing and dance in public, I can. If I want to race my son to the car, I can. If I want to spend an afternoon watching old cartoons, I can. If I want to play make believe with my new dolls, I can. And, I should because Santa said so (and my Santa is a Black man).