Batman Didn’t Make the Cut – Toys for Transracial Adoptees

Dawn Davenport

14

raising transracially adopted kids

When my daughter was little, I spent way too much money and way too much time finding just the right Asian baby doll.  When she was old enough for Barbies, I broke my “I don’t buy Barbies” rule to buy her the Asian one (although it hardly looked Asian) to go along with the three traditional ones she got from friends for her birthday.  Her lunch box was adorable with its politically correct picture of kids of all colors and ethnicities holding hands in a circle, proclaiming something like unity and world peace.  I was thrilled; my daughter was unimpressed.

She wasn’t a baby doll playing type of girl, preferring her trike or anything that moved to cuddling with a doll, Asian or otherwise.  She couldn’t have cared less about the ethnicity of her Barbie, so long as it had the outrageous chest and feet, and could fit into all the clothes. (I, on the other hand, had heck to pay with my older daughter for buying her younger sister a Barbie when I had subjected her to my “Barbie represents all that is evil” speech when she requested one when she was seven.)  As to the cute-as-a-button lunch box?  Well, truth be told, she really wanted the one with Batman, just like her friend Jodi.

Who are the Culturally Specific Toys Really For?

The irony was not completely lost on me.  An objective person would have to ask exactly who all this culturally specific stuff was bought for.  My kids showed no preference for the Asian themed toys, and yet I continued to buy them and most of the time paid extra for them.

I had read all the books (heck, I even wrote one of them) and believed that culturally specific toys were important for children who were a different race or ethnicity from their parents or were the minority in the culture where they lived.  I had read the research on transracial adoption and seen that one of the measures of a well formed racial identity was a child preferring to play with a doll of her own ethnicity.  I wanted to do right by my child. And yes, if I’m being honest with myself, I wanted to be the good adoptive parent, the one who aced it.

What Should Transracial Adoptive Parents Do?

I think that most of us transracial adoptive parents want to do what’s best for our kids if only we knew what that was.  As always the best advice comes from those who’ve walked this path before—adult transracial adoptees.  The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute published a study on how to create health racial identity in cross racial and cultural adoptions titled “Beyond Culture Camps: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption“.

We summarized the research here, but the part of this report I found most helpful was the list of specific things the adult transracial adoptees thought was helpful.  Alas, only 49% found a doll from their birth culture was helpful, and I’m pretty sure Mildly Asian Barbie doesn’t qualify.  Lunch boxes, not surprisingly, didn’t even make the list.

The Best Thing I Did

One of the best things I think we did was have books of many nationalities, including that of our kids’ birth culture in the house.  When they were younger, we read a lot of folk tale books, including Tales from A Korean Grandmother and Korean Folk Tales.  For good measure I also read them Tatterhood and Other Tales, which featured tales with feisty strong heroines.  As they got older, we made sure that they had books with Asian main characters to read, such as books by Linda Sue Park (e.g. Single Shard).  Being surrounded by books that honor your birth culture wasn’t specifically listed by the adult adoptees, but I am convinced it has had a big impact on our whole family’s identity as a transracial family.  We include a list of some of our favorites on our Suggested Book for Kids pages divided by country and type of adoption.

As with most things in parenting, the older my kids get, the less sure I am of most things.

I would buy the Asian baby doll again.  In case my child had turned out to be a baby doll loving girl, she might as well attach to a doll that looked like her.

I would probably hold to my Barbie is the source of all evil rule knowing now how short lived the Barbie phase would be, and how long my eldest daughter would use this as fuel for her “hypocrisy” speech.

I would absolutely buy every book again since they enriched every member of our transracial/transcultural family.  Plus, I’ll keep them to read to my transracial/transcultural grandkids.

Sadly, I now have to admit that the children of the world lunchbox was all for me.  No first grader really cares about world unity, especially when the alternative is Batman.  I wonder if there is any way I could talk her into a Mulan lunch box?  Humm, that’s a thought.

First published in 2011, updated in 2015.
Image credit: Scott Rubin

12/10/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 14 Comments



14 Responses to Batman Didn’t Make the Cut – Toys for Transracial Adoptees

  1. Sara says:

    Any suggestions on where to find toys that are representative of various nationalities? Finding toys for kids from India is challenging!

  2. Hello Everyone,

    I am the adoptive mother of three young adults who were adopted as infants from Korea.

    When my daughter was four years old, I also thought it was a good idea to buy her an Asian baby doll, it wasn’t that easy to do, 20 years ago, but I found one.

    This experiment didn’t backfire, but it did give me an enormously important insight into my daughter’s psyche.

    Both my twin sister and I were watching Stacee as she opened her gifts with great glee, until she was staring at this adorable Asian infant in her bassinet.

    Stacee literally froze, stared, and then walked away without saying a word. Both my sister and I thought ourselves, what was that all about?

    My sister Jan took it upon herself to go into Stacee’s bedroom, bringing the doll with her. Jan said, “Stacee this little girl needs to have her jammies on, so we can put her to bed. Would you like to do that with me”? At that point, Stacee was ready to treat this new doll with the same loving care she treated all of her other dolls and stuffed animals.

    After thinking about it for a while, I came to this conclusion. There’s no way to know for sure, but my intuition tells me that Stacee felt like she was literally staring into her own face, and what she might have looked like the five months before she came to me.

    Stacee arrived a very depressed child, so that is what I base this intuition on. We adoptive parents have to do a lot of intuitive thinking and feeling.

    I love reading other people’s stories and sharing mine. You can read more at http://www.mysecondmama.com

    Jane

    • Dawn says:

      Hi Jane. My kids are also past the cute footy pajama stage, so it’s nice to have another been-there-done-that mom join our community. You’ll find plenty of others here already with varying degrees of expertise. I enjoyed your website. Please share your experience by commenting on this blog and by joining the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/40688106167/

  3. BR says:

    Mattel has launched a new line of black Barbie dolls with fuller lips a wider nose and more pronounced cheek bones a far cry from Christie Barbies black friend who debuted in the 1960s and was essentially a white doll painted brown..The So In Style line features BFFs Grace Kara and Trichelle each with her own style and interests and a little sister she mentors Courtney Janessa and Kianna.

  4. Gina S. says:

    I loved this. Very true for me too.

  5. Leah says:

    I know that books with African Americans and Ethiopians have been vital for my daughter’s racial identify. One of the first things she articulated was that the girls in the books have braids with beads on them just like she has. And then she noticed they had brown skin like she has. This went on to her noticing people in the larger community who look like her. By having positive, age appropriate images available I think it has helped her realize that while her skin and hair is different than the rest our her family, it is not different from what is in her daily life. I know some of this is a developmental stage of 3 and 4 years olds of noticing race, I feel it has been beneficial to have those images as a norm in our household. With that said we have toys depicting all sorts of races and she is never made to play with one over the other.

  6. Jess says:

    I loved this. Sounds just like me. I love your show. Best thing we did on this long long journey through IF and now adoption was downloading your show each week. DH listens on way to work on Thrusday and I listen while at the gym Thursday night. Then we compare notes on Friday. Good stuff.

  7. celia says:

    I think about this too, because I want to make sure my son is not boy-brainwashed. Soooo dolls and trucks and Angelina Ballerina as well as No, David. He looooooves Angelina, I thought he would since the illustrations are so nice. I can hardly wait to read him The Paper Bag Princess.

    • Dawn says:

      Celia, yeah, I did that too with my first son. He went straight for the trucks and balls. The second son got all the gender neutral hand me downs, but I didn’t make as much effort. The one place I had “success” and stuck with it, was with books. We read them all to all the kids. I love books, so maybe I’m prejudice, but I really do think we can influence our children’s attitudes through our choice of books. You really need to read him Tatterhood and Other Tales.

  8. Avril says:

    Nice and funny. Great work

  9. Heather says:

    I know that books with African Americans and Ethiopians have been vital for my daughter’s racial identify. One of the first things she articulated was that the girls in the books have braids with beads on them just like she has. And then she noticed they had brown skin like she has. This went on to her noticing people in the larger community who look like her. By having positive, age appropriate images available I think it has helped her realize that while her skin and hair is different than the rest our her family, it is not different from what is in her daily life. I know some of this is a developmental stage of 3 and 4 years olds of noticing race, I feel it has been beneficial to have those images as a norm in our household. With that said we have toys depicting all sorts of races and she is never made to play with one over the other.

  10. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the perspective on this from a parent that’s “been there.” I too fret over racially appropriate toys and objects. But, after looking at that list again I see that the most important things aren’t things, but life experiences and relationships.

  11. Julie says:

    Your post made me laugh. When my son was 2, he loved playing with dolls at school. It was a PITA but I finally found a boy latino doll. It was a cabbage patch doll with a blue mohawk (speaks to my old punk soul). He still loves it and the crazy thing is – the doll’s name when it came was “Dov” which is my son’s hebrew name ~insert Twilight Zone theme here~

    I see nothing wrong in including heritage related toys and books in their world as long as it’s not made the end all be all of their toy and reading world. No child has 100% heritage related stuff in their play boxes or book cases but I’m sure most kids have something that speaks to their roots. Black kids in black families have books on black culture as well as Dr. Seuss and they have black dolls and white dolls and maybe even Latino or Asian dolls.

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