I’m not mad that Blue (Ralph Angel’s young son on OWN’s Queen Sugar) is usually shown playing with a long-haired doll but I know some folks who are. I recently watched the new season premiere with a group at a summer conference and comments abounded questioning creator Ava DuVernay’s product placement. Apparently the doll prop was a DuVernay add-in and not part of Natalie Baszile’s fine novel. “Why is Ava pushing her agenda so hard?” someone in the group asked. My antennae went up at that not so subtle sexist and homophobic dig. For one, there’s a question about DuVernay’s sexuality based on no facts other than perhaps her solo red carpet appearances. So what? As far as I know, DuVernay has not made any definitive statements in that regard and she shouldn’t have to. Let me also just say that even if she is gay, then so what again. Gayness is not “an agenda”. It’s a life.
On to the other concerns. Some wonder whether a black father would really be okay about his son playing with a doll. Often we buy into our own stereotypes and not in a good way. Even though I know that masculinity is a very delicate subject for many black men and black fathers, I don’t agree that being a so-called “real black man” necessarily equates with going all macho-ballistic if your son shows an interest in “girl things”. There might be legitimate concerns about what it all will mean in the long run, like is the child going to be teased or bullied out in the cruel heartless world? A real and legit query. There are definitely black fathers who would stop the child from going the doll or princess route and “redirect” him to Tonka trucks and GI Joe. There are others who would be angry enough to go further and perhaps ridicule or shame the child. (Our history of black men being emasculated, treated as “less than” and disposable in countless corners of America is still with us and quite raw.) But there are also the exceptions who would take the high road and allow the kid to be who he is. I’m harkening back to the father of “Princess Boy,” Dyson Kilodavis who, with his mom, made the morning show circuit a few years back. Cheryl Kilodavis, the mom, wrote a children’s book about Dyson who, at 5 years old, loved pink and wore dresses often. She, her husband and the older brother did not discourage the choices. Their motto is #acceptance. The father said his son is no different than any other boy. He “plays checkers and plays in trees… he just likes to do it in a dress.”
I know this family’s decision sounds extreme to some (evidenced by a number of brutal comments on their Facebook page) but we as a people need to be more accepting in general of difference than we currently are. The Black Christian church most prevalently gets in the way with its dogma about homosexuality being a sin that sends you straight to hell and folks apparently just run with that. How is it that some sins are more sinly than others though? And the Catholic church really shouldn’t say a word.
I did some checking into the background of the doll in question. Contrary to some viewers’ beliefs it is not a white doll although it does rock straight, straw-textured hair. It is actually a black doll from the Barbie collection, called “Barbie Style Grace”. Blue has named it Kenya. What Ralph Angel is doing to support his son is much less than the Princess Boy’s father but it runs along the same train track. What statement is being made by the doll and Ralph’s acceptance and even defense of it (see Season 2, Episode 2)? How did he become so liberated? Will we find out or do we even need to?
One father of a son like Princess Boy opined in a post that when girls want to play with traditional boy toys we aren’t worried, we just think it’s “cute” but find it problematic when it’s a boy with traditionally feminine items. This is similar to people who tolerate or even think it’s kinda groovy for two women make out but are repulsed at merely the idea of two men engaging in the same behavior.
I noticed on Episode 3 that Blue was playing with Kenya as if she were an airplane so maybe it is more of a symbol that goes beyond standard doll status and is no different than a stuffed animal or a blanket some children (like my brother when we were young) drag around for comfort. I remember somewhere it being mentioned that initially the doll was to help soothe Blue because his mother was not in the picture. Meanwhile if DuVernay does have an “agenda” this is the explanation she gave the Los Angeles Times:
I want to start to interrogate the ways in which we embrace our identity and that’s happening with all the characters. Everyone is upside down with who they are and what it means to be someone else. It felt like there was a good opportunity with Blue to do the same, particularly around issues of identity as it relates to the ways in which we conform to certain notions of masculinity in the black community.
She is delving into this deeper at the right time, now that her audience is hooked (It is the highest rated show OWN has ever had) and cannot turn away. It reminds me of when President Obama was pushing for gay marriage and I overheard a bible-toting black woman in 711 say, “I don’t agree with him but he’s my baby so I will just agree to disagree.” I think it’s exciting when someone single-handedly tries to change the paradigm and the conversation. I love that DuVernay’s not worried about what white people think either. This is an issue among black folks to be discussed by black folks about our identity and where and how we construe and/or construct it. I’m intrigued that she has also said there is much more to come with regard the doll and the larger issues she wants to explore with it as the catalyst. Not to worry, Ava. We will all stay tuned.