I’m a fan of This American Life, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, I’m a devoted fan of stories. And This American Life often features very powerful stories. Big oomph in small packages… Like last week’s episode, “The Matchmakers“… Here’s the summary of the third section, from the website:
Act Three. Babies Buying Babies.
Elna Baker reads her story about the time she worked at the giant toy store, FAO Schwartz. Her job was to sell these lifelike “newborns” which were displayed in a “nursery” inside the store. When the toys become the hot new present, they begin to fly off the shelves. When the white babies sell out, white parents are faced with a choice: will they go for an Asian, Latino, or African-American baby instead? What happens is so disturbing that Elna has a hard time even telling it. (16 minutes)
Oh, c’mon. Like anyone who studies race in these here United States would even be surprised by what happens. The echoes of Clark and Clark’s doll study–used to help make the case against segregation in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case–live on except for one important difference. It’s not the white children who reject these baby dolls of different colors. It’s the parents.
Elna describes how she and some of the other FAO Schwartz toy sellers (dressed up as “nurses” for an “adoption agency”) began working against these white mothers, placing babies of color in the children’s arms and telling them how lovely they looked as mommies, and what good mothers they were to these babies. The mothers resist these adoptions. But in the absence of white baby dolls, the Asian babies go, the Latino babies sell… until all that are left are the black babies.
The story is not new, yet it is heartbreaking in its familiarity. This happened recently. Not ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago. So, go. Listen to it. Because there’s more that I haven’t written down. That I can’t tell. That will make you want to cry.