The Game Done Changed
So one of my oldest and dearest friends (we met in 1949 as wee assistants at Elle – me, beauty; her, fashion) has a bright, hilarious, precocious like you wouldn’t believe 7-year old daughter. Let’s call her…hmm…Topaz. I could rhapsodize about Topaz’s slightly wild, pre-Raphaelite waves and early-Blair Waldorf style choices, but I hate to focus on looks when describing a little girl (as my mom always says when folks tell Bobina she’s gorgeous: “…yes, and she has a gorgeous MIND as well, don’t you, beautiful?”). Topaz is also white. Half Italian-American, half Sephardic Jew. Not waspy-white, but no one would mistake her for ethnic. And yet…
She is obsessed with blackness and always has been. Since before she even understood what she was talking about (she barely does now!). She thinks there’s nothing, nothing, more aspirational and glamorous than blackness.
[Key background info: We live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a ripe-for-SNL-sketch little utopia of privileged, mixed-race families in every combination. Exhibit A: at Lina’s birthday party last year, Topaz was the only one that wasn’t light brown with curls as a result of Black/Ecuadorian or Indian/Japanese or Jamaican/Irish parentage. Everyone’s an artist or a writer or something cool. In my hood, if you’re a non-organic Republican, I fear for your safety. Long story short, we live in an ultra liberal, post-racial, super-gay environment that doesn’t at all represent the rest of the country.]
Topaz is exclusively interested in black dolls. When the New Orleans Creole American Girl doll came out last fall, Topaz’s mom already knew she was expected to be first in line at the Fifth Avenue storefront, day of. Her best friend at school is white/Middle Eastern, but Topaz insists she’s black. She was recently asked to draw a self-portrait at school, and sketched a girl resembling Rudy Huxtable. One time, Topaz’s mom was brushing one of her black dolls’ hair, and Topaz freaked. “You’re doing it wrong! Ask Tia Tia, you can’t brush black hair the same as white hair! Black hair is special.”
Wait…whaaat? I mean, when we were growing up, anyone of color in America was secretly (or not so secretly) coveting whiteness. It’s just our country’s history. I mean, we all remember Whoopi’s ’80s stand-up sketch of the little black girl rocking the sheet on her head, aching to be white with long, blonde hair. We’ve all read The Bluest Eye. Pretty is white. Smart is white. Power is white. Black is ghetto, ugly, animalistic, base and unsexy. The fact that this privileged little girl — who, bee tee dub, goes to an ultra-white prep school — feels the opposite is kinda dope. It baffled me, until I really thought about it.
Topaz’s president is black. Topaz’s first lady is a fucking fashion monster. Oprah owns us all. Topaz’s mom’s two best friends are glamorous black women (*hair toss*). I repeat, TOPAZ’S PRESIDENT IS BLACK. The most important family in this country is black, mothafuckas. Growing up knowing that, seeing first-hand what we’re capable of – of course she thinks we’re the shit. This is all she knows. I’m loving experiencing the beginnings of this cultural turnaround. Again, I realize that we live in a rarefied place – but it’s a start. This little white girl thinks black is all things classy and powerful! Here’s hoping we start believing this, too.
And here’s hoping Topaz never stumbles upon Worldstar Hip Hop or Basketball Wives.