by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse
This weekend, my mother called me on my cell phone, a bit frantic over Christmas gift shopping:
Mom: I have no idea what to get Lacey [one of my young cousins]. She has everything!
Me: Why don’t you get her a book, Mom?
Mom: Well I am here at the store, and all the books I keep finding only have pictures of little white girls. No brown children like Lacey!
Me: Well, you could always color them in.
Mom: Yeah, but the fact that I even have to…
Almost every holiday involves a conversation that goes something like that in my family. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Easter, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day . . . you name it. Decorations, cards, and even gift wrap tends to forget that non-white people exist. When greeting card companies, toy stores, and all parties involved in the corporate holiday conspiracy to make us max our credit cards and pull out all our hair do decide to include people of color, they all look the same. All the black children have medium-brown skin and dark curly ‘fros (or Afro-puffs), all “Asians” become East Asian and are a faint yellow with straight black bobs, Latina/o children all become some derivative of Dora the Explorer, and children of other ethnicities somehow cease to exist. I give them credit for getting much better over the years. When I was young, even the aforementioned groups were virtually ignored, save the occasional black child featured on those “We Are the World” stick figure style Christmas cards.
It got to the point that just in order to make sure that holiday cards were appropriate for my family members, my mother and I would break out my box of Crayola colored pencils and use various shades of brown, yellow, and beige to get the skin colors right. Every momentous occasion involved a DIY craft project in the Muse household.
But now, in an era in which multiculturalism is more lauded by the powers that be in the merrymaking process (possibly because they recognized that POC had buying power and were active holiday consumers just like whites), it’s sad that we, as members of minority groups or even white parents and families who want to create a more inclusive environment for their children (and their kids’ friends), have to face the reality that there may not be a card, wrapping paper, or even a toy that is physically representative of non-whites.
Or if there is, there can be a tiring amount of digging involved. Mattel recently launched a new set of Barbies and have had Asian-American, Latina, and Black Barbies available for quite some time as well as their collectors’ set of international Barbies. Though Mattel’s nod toward expansion and inclusion has prompted several complaints, many of which you can find on this very site. The greeting card companies, as I mentioned earlier, have also improved, but I am still waiting to see people of color on cards beyond the special “ethnic” card section (which, even then, is only limited to black people, much like those ridiculously labeled “ethnic” hair care aisles. Wait, where are the Irish-American hair care products when you need them?!??!!). The same could be said of Christmas ornaments (painting the tree-topper angel was often easier than finding a brown one).
It is my hope that these improvements continue, and as I mentioned earlier, I give companies credit for their recent attempts to be more inclusive, particularly considering that some countries still face this issue in more glaring ways that we (For example, in Brazil, dolls of color are harder to come by. Most of the dolls are white with blonde hair and blue eyes, despite the significant phenotypic diversity of the population), but little moments like my mother’s phone call remind me that finding presents or gift accessories on which a person of color is one of the main points of focus, the protagonist, the central figure can be surprisingly still hard to come by.