Commenting About Race Is Complicated

Yesterday, Latoya riffed on a Wall Street Journal article about the new black Barbie dolls, and the prickly issue of reflecting a vast diaspora of people in one mass-produced toy. Her post was great; some of the comments were not.

Why? Because comments about how it's not just black people who are not represented by Barbie, but Asians, Greeks, Irish, Russians, brown-eyed girls, brunettes, the near-sighted, etc. are not the point. In fact, comments like these miss the point entirely. These experiences/issues are, of course, valid, and have a place in the world, but not on a post about black issues. Comments like, "Where is the freckled Barbie?" have nothing to do with the issue at hand, which is the historic and systemic racism against a specific ethnic group in this country. The marginalization of African-American people from the mainstream culture. We have seen lots of these kind of comments persist on stories about race — and race as it pertains to hair — and not only are they off-topic, they're insulting, insensitive and dismissive. Why? Because what they do is:

— Insinuate that it's a personal issue, when, in fact, it is cultural, societal and global.
— Diminish racism to lookism or oversight
— Undermine the original post
— Degrade and disrespect the struggle of black Americans

We have a strong commenting community, but many of the comments on posts about race are, quite frankly, embarrassing. In a post I wrote about the politics of Michelle Obama's hair, there were many comments along the lines of "I'm [not black], but my hair is curly, and I wear it straight because I like to." Again: The topic is not so much a personal issue as it is one with cultural and racial implications. The politics surrounding a black woman who is also the First Lady straightening her hair and a some other woman straightening her hair are very different, as are the intricacies of Mattel creating and designing a black Barbie, as opposed to one who looks Irish.

The writers on this site have a job to do, which is post commentary on stories in the media, and, where appropriate, insert opinion/personal experiences. Though these posts welcome comments, commenters should realize that inserting their opinions or experiences is not always furthering the discussion. A post about the issues with the black Barbie is not a call for everyone to write about how Barbie makes them feel. And as Latoya wrote in long, thoughtful and yes, frustrated comment on her own post late last night, "People keep deliberately inserting their experiences into a narrative that does not fit. It's not the same experience." Please keep this in mind.

Earlier: Keeping Michelle's Hair In Perspective
Black Barbies: A Question Of Representation