The quaint downtown toy store has always held wonders for me. Remnants of my childhood, books you don’t see anywhere else, arts and crafts of varying complexities. It was my dreamland as a little kid, and still strikes the imagination even at 35.
Today, my birthday, I walked in with my son and my husband. The first thing I saw was the wall of LEGOs. I perused the latest and wandered up and down the wall, but only one struck my eye: the LEGO DUPLO My First Construction Site. My child, like most almost-two-year-olds, is OBSESSED with diggers and dump trucks. I am obsessed with LEGOs and creating things. It seemed like the perfect way to spend the evening of my birthday.
After dinner, we cracked open the box, and pulled out all the pieces. Thomas handed me orange squares and gray orange shovels, and we both clicked them together into place.
We finished the dump truck first, and then the digger. My last step? To place the two people inside their vehicles. I grabbed the first and settled him into place. Grabbing the second, I stopped short.
Another man. I put the set down and walked away, frustrated.
I logged onto Amazon and found the set. It’s Amazon’s Choice, it turns out, and “includes 2 construction worker lego DUPLO figures with safety helmets.” Go back one version, though, and see the thing I did … essentially the same set, but this time it “includes 2 workmen LEGO® DUPLO® figures.” Everything else remains unchanged as far as I can tell.
Other sets show the same thing. The LEGO DUPLO Town Police Patrol is an “inspiring toddler toy features a buildable police van with a detachable lock-up with opening door.” Inspiring, sure, but for whom?
The LEGO DUPLO Farm Adventures has a male farmer with two small children observing him as he works. Don’t tell my sister — she’s a farmer too.
The LEGO DUPLO Town Airport has a male truck driver and a male pilot. We see some representation, thank goodness, in the black female passenger. But I would LOVE to see her flying that plane.
LEGO has done better … I guess. The LEGO DUPLO Push Train has a male train engineer, but a female truck driver hauling the harvest. There’s another version of the plane set where I THINK one of the people it comes with is a woman who is a pilot potentially (I am nervous that she may be a flight attendant).
“Can you take away the people from him?” I asked.
“Ok … why?” my husband replied.
“I don’t care if he plays with the truck and digger. But I do care that it isn’t proper representation.”
“Maybe this could be your thing,” he replied, innocently, obliviously.
“What does THAT mean?” I snapped back.
“I mean … you could write them?”
And herein lies the problem. There are too many fights. And it isn’t that I’m not willing to fight them, it’s that I’m wishing they didn’t have to be FOUGHT.
I don’t want to explain to my white, straight, male husband why it would be nice if someone else fought for me. For us. For those who are less represented. And I don’t want to explain to him, either, that our white, male son is seeing himself everywhere, but not his uncle Korey or his aunt Rashidah or even the female farmer he knows, his aunt Becca. Selfishly, but worst for me, my son rarely sees me.
Once I settle into my anger, however, I can see that it’s also a welcome reminder to check my white privilege and recognize I need to introduce more diversity into my child’s toys. We’ve already started to diversify our book collection, which has been, unfortunately, more difficult than expected. And now we’ll work to diversify our toys as well.
Other figurines will go the way of the DUPLO “workers” currently residing in the recycling bin unless they are more representative of this country or, better yet, this world. According to the World Population Review, that means, by 2020, the United States will be comprised of 49.53% men and 50.47% women (this, of course, completely ignoring non-binary folks). And, according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, as of 2015, we need to represent 62% White, 12% Black, 18% Hispanic, and 6% Asian (again, ignoring those who don’t fit into clean, perfect buckets).
I can’t, and won’t, put it all on LEGO to fix this problem. I also need to take action. My wallet and my awareness can send a strong signal. Talking about it out loud sends an even stronger one.
Frustration breeds action, and I have my plan. What’s yours?