A Girl Like Me……and oh speaks like me too!
My little nephew once sketched a pretty impressive image of himself. A young artist in the making I thought to myself. But something else caught my attention on his drawing. He had drawn himself with a mop top hairstyle. I asked him why he had a Mohawk hairstyle while his picture had a mop top. I already knew what his answer would be, but I just wanted to hear it from him. “Because I want to look like Ben 10” he said. He grew up watching Ben 10 all the time. He would not watch anything else. On his birthdays, he would not appreciate anything more than a Ben 10 watch or pyjamas. Anything that did not have a Ben 10 picture on it would not have much of his attention. He once asked his dad to call him Ben!
This sort of behaviour is admittedly common in growing children. This is when they begin to develop concepts and ideas of what is right and what is wrong, that which is acceptable and that which is not, what is beautiful and what is not. And they do so by watching and observing what they see other people do. They also learn from the books they read, the things they see on TV and the toys they play with. These are the things that influence the way our children see themselves and the world they find themselves in. Children between the ages of 5 and 8 have been found to have a concept of beauty based on the kind of dolls they play with. Beauty for them is the tall, slender, long straight hair, icy blue eye doll mummy and daddy bought for them. That is what they play with day and night. And that is how they want to look! That little girl will have no other hair style but the ponytail her doll has. And can you blame her?! She spends hours caring for her precious little doll. She bathes it, styles its hair and clothes it. She sleeps with it and would carry it everywhere if mummy lets her. She loves it and loves the look of it. That for her is the pinnacle of beauty!
This issue is even more complex with black children. They are caught up in a perplexity of how their skin and eye colour and their hair look so different to that of their elegant dolls. In 2006, Kiri Davies, a black teenage girl recreated the famous Clarke’s doll experiment and documented it in a film called “A Girl Like Me”. This experiment sort to explore black children’s idea of beauty in relation to the colour of the skin. The children were presented with two dolls. Both dolls were identical except for the skin and hair colour. One was brown with black hair while the other was white with yellow hair. These children were asked questions like- which doll they would want to play with, which one they thought was nicer and which one looked bad. 15 out of the 21 black children questioned in this experiment preferred the white doll.
The result from this experiment is quite surprising. But why is this the case? This is why- Children turn to stick to what they are used to and have grown to like. If daddy teaches him to tie his shoe laces in a double knot, that is how he will do it, and he would not have it any other way! If uncle tries to tie it in a different way, he will let uncle know that is not the way to do it! If a child grows up watching Ben 10, that is what he will choose if he is asked to make a to choice between that and SpongeBob SquarePants. Likewise, if a black child grows up playing with a white skin doll, that is going to be her of standard of beauty. And if asked to tell which one is prettier, a white doll or a black one, she will inadvertently choose the white one! So how do we as a people try to get our children to appreciate the beauty of their own skin colour? How do we make sure at an early age they appreciate and become comfortable in their skin?
Now will you please step forward Rooti Dolls! Created by Mr. Chris Chidi Ngoforo, these dolls are the answer to our problem. They are created as a real image and identity of us as black people- African, African Caribbean and African American. They have wider noses, fuller lips, long curly hair and they come in various shades of black. And these Rooti Creations Ltd dolls also come dressed in a mix of elegant African fabric and western fashion styles. So from an early age, we are getting our children to appreciate the beauty of African products and fashion trends as opposed to all the negative images we see in the media about Africa.
The genius of this product, however, lies in the fact that it speaks, and it does not just speak. It speaks a wide range of African languages! Its interactive! This doll is like Siri and Barbie moulded in a black skin. The children of many African parents are growing up with very little or no knowledge of their parents’ mother tongue. This is even more horrifying in cases where children grow up in Africa but do not speak any local dialect! They can only speak English! This product is the potential solution to the danger of the demise of Africa’s ethnic languages. Children can pick up words and phrases from playing with these dolls and this will serve as a building block to learn to speak and preserve our rich and beautiful African languages.
Rooti Creations Ltd have a range of dolls for every African country and can teach your children words and phrases in the ethnic languages of each particular country. So Ama, the Ghanaian doll can speak words and phrases in Twi, Ga, Danmgbe, Ewe, Hausa and many other dialects. If they demand is high enough, they may make one that can azonto! And the Afro Caribbean dolls can also interact and teach your child Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch and other European languages. Eastern European parent can also have dolls that can teach and interact with their children in Polish, Romanian, Russian and a host of other languages.
Now the solution is before us, so let’s start putting things right! Let us as a people save and preserve our identity as well as our rich and diverse languages. Let’s all root for Rooti Dolls!!
By Maclean Arthur