In 1954 I was four-years-old and had never seen a black man in the environs of our middle-class suburb in Melbourne or anywhere else, either. For some mysterious reason my mother bought me a 10 cm black, hard-plastic, chubby doll as a ‘playmate’ for my pink doll. I named her Topsy, making her clothes from the off cuts of my mother’s dressmaking endeavours.
Growing up in a Jewish family that had escaped the Holocaust, I was aware from a young age that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the second world war; moreover, that thousands of blacks, homosexuals and communists et al also died in concentration camps for no other reason than an imagined betrayal of Ayran perfection. The cruel legacy of the war inspired my mother’s moral teachings that colour, creed and sexual diversity were irrelevant in appreciating human worth, always remembering her philosophical values with Topsy becoming my favourite toy and enjoying many ‘tea parties’ together in my doll’s house.
Against this backdrop, I reflect on the tragic reality of the current racist murders in America; be they of innocent black people or white police officers. It may be timely to recall the nostrum attributed to Jesuit St Francis Xavier who allegedly said: “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man…” Indeed, the Brexit vote in Britain was as much about anti-immigration as economics according to various theorists and in our own country, the rise of anti-Islamic sentiments must impel us to understand human history to ensure past mistakes are not repeated. The late great British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “There is no evidence that there is any advantage in belonging to a pure race…The supposed merits of racial purity, are, it would seem, wholly imaginary.”
Perhaps families around the world should purchase dolls in different dress for their young children to laud and love; an Indigenous elder with his grandchildren, an Imam at a mosque, an Arab woman in a hijab or burqa, a black African in bright, colourful gear, a Hasidic Jew replete with his fur trimmed hat, a white police officer smiling benignly, a young afro-American with a stethoscope hanging around his neck and maybe too, a Russian homosexual living joyfully with his same-sex lover etc As my black doll introduced me to a richness of self denied to the blind, it is imperative that as children we learn to embrace people as human beings to transcend the fear, ignorance and hate that too often are absorbed, albeit unconsciously, by many people without reason or thought. A doll may save many precious lives.