A cashier from a Target in Clover, S.C. was taken aback when two-year-old Sophia Benner brought a black doll to the counter. But when she expressed her skepticism — BOOM! — the little girl dropped the mic on her.
Her mom, Brandi Benner, took her out to buy a toy to celebrate being fully toilet trained. A black doll dressed as a doctor caught her eye because she’s adored doctors ever since a recent visit to her pediatrician. Brandi told PEOPLE magazine:
“She was looking at all the dolls and telling me they were all so pretty and when she saw the doctor one she stopped and said, ‘Mommy, she’s a doctor like me! I want this one.’ ”
Alas, the cashier didn’t seem nearly as enthusiastic. She skeptically asked, “Are you sure this is the doll you want, honey?” When Sophia Brenner cheerily answered, “Yes, please!” the cashier gently tried to persuade her to pick a not-black doll.
“But she doesn’t look like you. We have lots of other dolls that look more like you.”
A concerned Brandi Brenner was about to step in, but her tenacious daughter staunchly insisted:
“Yes, she does. She’s a doctor like I’m a doctor. And I’m a pretty girl and she’s a pretty girl. See her pretty hair? And see her stethoscope?”
After getting shut down, the cashier stopped carping on the black doll and replied, “Oh, that’s nice.” Brandi also appears to have given the cashier a free pass and let the matter drop. She explained to PEOPLE:
“She thought Sophia was the cutest. She was trying to make conversation with her. She was an elderly woman who looked like my own grandma. I don’t think she understood the implications of her words or how discouraging it could be to anyone else’s daughter.”
Alas, most of us white people are guilty of looking the other way when it comes to our racist grandparents. After all, arguing with the ones who are still alive is futile, we can’t send them out on an ice floe, and deep in our hearts, we love them but are still afraid of them.
This mom was so proud she posted a photo and her story of the incident last week.
The post went viral with over 404,000 responses and 226,000 shares as of the time of this writing. She takes care to mention she wasn’t trying to pat herself on the back, she was just proud of her daughter’s awesome handling of the situation.
“A kid of one color wanting a doll of another color shouldn’t be a big deal. I just shared it for my friends and family and thought it was cool my daughter stuck up for herself without me having to do anything.”
She was also awed by the massive response.
“But I’m so grateful that people have been touched by it. It was a really proud mom moment.”
Here’s the video from Wednesday’s report on NBC News.
And here’s another video from PEOPLE with some more great photos.
— People (@people) April 5, 2017
It’s sad that a white girl wanting a black doll still makes headlines.
This story gives us a much-needed feel-good break in a time when most of the news makes us feel sad, outraged, terrified, and helpless. After getting the GOP’s president Donald Trump elected, we white people damned well need something we can feel good about.
— Farrah Gray (@FarrahGray_) April 6, 2017
— SoulbSoul (@SoulbSoul) April 6, 2017
But many remain unimpressed with our intrepid heroine and see the story as a way for white people to congratulate ourselves while pretending that racism no longer exists.
BLACK DOLL BABIES DON'T ABSOLVE RACISM.
BLACK DOLL BABIES DON'T ABSOLVE RACISM.
BLACK DOLL BABIES DON'T ABSOLVE… https://t.co/VgJY73egct
— Baethoven (@NikkiAnnieInc) April 6, 2017
you know what im sick of, white moms posting that their daughter picked out a black doll at the store instead of a white one like CONGRATS
— shania (@sonofapiccolo) April 2, 2017
Another astute twitizen points out that — from the mom, to those of us who’ve been gushing over her facebook post, to the media reporting on this — we’ve focused on Sophie Benner’s unlikely embrace of a black doll while glossing over the racist incident that created this story in the first place.
Because, make no mistake, colorism — an insidious form of discrimination based on skin color, including degrees of darkness and lightness that’s part of, but not the same as racism — is still hurting small black girls who are just as idealistic and beautiful as Sonia Bennon but who are cruelly made to feel ugly in proportion to their blackness. And colorism is pervasive in our society.
Face it. We live in a world where a little white girl becomes a hero because she thinks a black doll is a beautiful and accomplished doctor who’s everything she wants to be. And the reason this is newsworthy is because of the many more people — white, brown, and black — who think that black doll is ugly and not destined for greatness or a prestigious career in medicine.
One of those stories went viral on Christmas Day back in 2015. A proud (white) mom and dad took a video of their twin daughters opening gifts by the Christmas tree…And reacting in horror as they unwrapped a pair of black baby dolls.
The Atlanta Black Star got hold of it and even they found it shocking.
It turns out the girls have an “Uncle Seth and Aunt Cynthia” who apparently sent them black dolls for Christmas to encourage them not to become scary racists like their parents. One managed to barely keep her composure as she icily made her displeasure known with a stone face and immutable basilisk stare. The other burst into tears. Meanwhile, the parents burst out laughing as though this was the funniest thing in the world.
Seriously. The parents posted this.
And here’s something even worse…Even black children see black baby dolls as ugly and less desirable as toys. Back in the mid-20th centuries, the “Doll Tests” were employed to study how segregation affected black children. Of course the results were appalling.
“children between the ages of three to seven, were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which color doll they prefer. A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it.”
When asked a series of questions, black children always preferred the white doll and assigned superior qualities to it — like being “good” and “nice.” Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark began these tests in the 1940s and had a huge influence on the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. By proving that so-called “separate but equal” education made black children feel inferior, the “Doll Tests” supported desegregation of our nation’s public schools.
“Oh, but that was way back in the 1940’s,” you may be thinking. “Things are different now.” Um…no they’re not. In 2008, an MSNBC documentary re-enacted the “Doll Tests” and found that a whopping 15 out of 21 children still preferred the white doll to the black doll. If you look at things that way, a white child — or any child — preferring the black doll is something we should celebrate and encourage in all of our children.
Featured image: Brandi Benner via PEOPLE.