This holiday season, many children opened gifts they loved. But for Katie Nachman’s daughters, the dolls they opened were more than toys to play with, they were dolls to teach life lessons. The dolls they opened were not a new toy fad. In fact, they’re simply American Girl dolls. But instead of getting ones that looked just like her daughters, Nachman gave the girls black dolls.
Nachman posted a video on Facebook Sunday of her two daughters talking about their dolls.
“What do you like about them?” Nachman asks Aden, 8, and Phebe, 4.
“I like the way they look,” Aden says.
“What do you like about the way they look?”
“They have hair and they have eyes,” Phebe says with a smile on her face.
Nachman chose to post the video in response to another viral video posted just days before. This video featured two young, white girls upset and crying after opening their Christmas gift of black baby dolls. The mother was laughing and asking them questions about it. The video sparked outrage from many parents and others who said the video was racist. The original video has since been removed, but other sites have reposted it.
Nachman was angry after seeing the video and felt she needed to do something to put a positive message out for others who may be feeling the same way.
“I was hoping other white people would see it and realize that talking about and exposing your children to race is something you have to purposefully do,” Nachman says. “Parents will often teach kids that all races are equal and we should love everybody, which is great in theory. But that’s not enough.”
Jocelyn Chadwick , Vice President of the National Council of Teachers of English and a national consultant on diversity within curricula, says actively teaching race early is as essential as learning to walk, speak, and form relationships.
“Exposure to race and ethnicities different from one’s own should have a purpose--an endgame, a ‘so-what?’” Chadwick says. “If that purpose is not to gain a better understanding and appreciation for all the individuals who make up the planet, then the exercise itself is futile.”
Nachman said she intentionally starting buying her daughters (and son) dolls of different races and ethnicities because she believes it is important that her children are exposed to people that do not look like them. Through exposure, she tries to foster conversations about understanding diversity.
“I want my children to grow up and recognize their privilege,” Nachman says. “We have the luxury of not thinking about race so that’s why you need to be purposeful in your parenting about it.”
Chadwick says parental models and attitudes surrounding race affect how children interact with those who are different from themselves as they grow older.
“Actively teaching race and diversity prepares children to function within a global community,” Chadwick says.
Nachman says her approach to parenting around diversity is to set an example and talk to her children early about race and privilege.
“Black parents teach their kids how to survive. White parents need to teach their kids to be inclusive,” Nachman said. “It’s definitely been a struggle for me to explain these things to them. It’s hard to explain that to kids. I don’t think you can fully explain this to kids this young. But you can give them bits and pieces when they are younger and as they age, it becomes a full story.”
This post originally appeared on NBC News’ Parent Toolkit, which is supported by Pearson.