My Brown Barbie

I stood in the Barbie aisle beside my mother in Kmart with a crumpled green ten-dollar bill secured in my grasp. Choosing a doll from the hundred pieces of plastic perfection posed between cellophane and cardboard with my own hard-earned money at ten wasn’t easy. I imagined buying all of them and how I’d play with each. There was blonde Peaches and Cream Barbie – a doll with a cream-colored gown who smelled like dessert, an Island Fun Ken doll with a Hawaiian swimsuit and a pink and orange lay, and Rollerblade Kira. She had long, dark hair like mine and yellow roller blades that sparked when they moved across the ground. I had seen commercials for each.

“Which one do you want?” Mom asked.

“That one,” I said, deciding. I pointed to Kira. “She’s pretty.” I liked her turquoise top and biker shorts, and her neon yellow knee pads. Her skin resembled Mom’s in the summer after she tanned, golden-brown. When I grabbed her from the shelf, the plastic crinkled beneath my pale fingers. I imagined what it would be like to push her along on the kitchen floor and watch her roller blades ignite.

“That’s a great choice.” She smiled. I interlocked my fingers with hers, and we walked to the cashier with the doll pinned between my side and my arm. She was my new favorite, different from any doll I had at home. Special.

In line, an elderly white lady smirked at me from behind her bifocals. I could smell the mothballs on her stuffy pink polyester pants. “Hmf,” she said as she curled the left side of her lip and crossed her arms over her flowered smock.

I clung to Mom’s legs and hid behind them. I didn’t like strangers, especially smelly old ladies with nasty looks on their faces.

Mom tightened her grip on my hand and encouraged me to ignore her. When it was our turn, I placed my doll in the middle of the conveyor belt with my wad of money on top and looked away from the lady behind us.

“Shouldn’t she buy a white doll?” the lady demanded.

“That’s a silly question, isn’t it?” Mom said, her voice sweet like syrup. She batted her eyelashes and gave the old lady a phony smile with too many teeth showing.

The lady huffed and rolled her eyes.

The cashier handed me my new doll in a grocery bag and put the change in my palm.

Mom nudged me towards the exit. Outside she said, “Remember –  don’t let people like that influence you, Danielle. Be smarter.”

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Categories nonfiction, UncategorizedTags , , , , , , , , , , ,

22 thoughts on “My Brown Barbie

  1. The best advice ever!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As always, thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. You have a great mom! Loved this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cheney! She was pretty special.


  3. Glad your mom was supportive of your choice and it doesn’t sound like that old racist lady had a chance!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Go, Mom! She told her. 🙂 I loved some of the images you painted here, especially “plastic perfection poised” and the way you described Kira at first. Because as a child that’s exactly the way you would have seen her. Racism is clearly learned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Melony! I’m glad to be able to share bits of her through my writing.

      I definitely agree. Racism is learned.


  5. Danielle, I love the way you put us right in the scene with sensory details like the moth ball scented pants. I loved your child’s perspective on why to choose the doll you did. I love that you showed us racism without using the word.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Margaret!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Parenting win!!!
    I love how small Danielle doesn’t even notice the thing that makes her “different” from Rollerblade Kira, but only the things alike. In fact, if we didn’t read the title closely, we might not have even picked up that Kira was a “Barbie of Color” until right at the end when mom shuts that bigot down. Beautiful work reminding us that racism is learned not born.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading and for the nice comment 😊


  7. Maggie’s already pointed out the really charming parts of this story, and I agree with her. The fact that little Danielle was oblivious to both the differences in skin tones (I do love that little you thought Kira’s skin was the same colour as your mother’s when she had a tan), and to the old lady’s bigoted advice was an innovative way of conveying the power dynamic and little Danielle’s age. You did a good job of pitching the voice as a child’s, and having your mother confront the racist lady. It would have been much less believable if little Danielle had responded to the old lady.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Asha!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Important lessons imparted just like that in a K-mart. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My mom always gave her best lessons on the fly 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You struck a nice balance between giving us a child’s perspective in a child’s voice, without making it feel childish. I think it’s the way you spun out the reveal and details, but it was delightful to read. This was so similar to the day I bought my Cabbage Patch doll, Yvonne, minus the nosy mean lady (RIP, Yvonne).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Michelle!

      Cabbage Patch Kids! Ahh, my first one was a bald baby. Last one left before Christmas. I think it was the one time my mom almost fought someone for a toy 😂😂. His name was Leonard.


      1. And now it’s your turn… 😁

        Liked by 1 person

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