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Posts tagged ‘Childhood’

Agency in Hoop Dreams

In ­Hoop Dreams, Arthur Agee and William Gates struggle with the dream to get out of the ghetto and make it to the NBA, but there is no one really in their lives to help them reach their dreams. It is all left up to their own agency in a lot of ways. However, in the documentary you can see that both Arthur and William have a hard time with larger outside forces that are outside of their control.

A few instances of agency for Arthur and William in the documentary are when the boys choose to attend St Joseph’s on partial scholarship.  They make the 90-minute trip to and from school every morning so they can have a shot to make it out of the ghetto and in to the NBA like Isaiah Thomas did coming from the same school. However, William thrives more at the school than Arthur does by making Varsity is freshman year and finding a private donor that commits to paying the rest of his tuition at St Josephs. Both Arthur and William come in to St Joseph’s with very low education levels, but William works harder to keep up his grades and learn than Arthur does. Another case where William takes his future in his own hands and shows agency is when he decides, against the coach’s advise, to be a father to the baby he and his girlfriend have.

The two boys are also at the mercy of larger forces against their control. Arthur’s family is not able to pay the balance of the tuition at St. Joseph’s so he is forced to leave the school and go back to his neighborhood high school. The high school he attends does not have a strong basketball program, so when recruiting time comes around, the larger schools are not showing any interest in him. This is hard on Arthur because he wants so badly to make it, but he just does not have the chance to do so. William also struggles against larger forces when he injures his knee. The doctors tell him that he may have to sit out the year, and the look on his face shows the pain not only in his knee but also in knowing what that would do to his chances at the NBA.

I think that James depicts agency in this way because it shows that even though that no matter how much a person wants to have control over his own future and not matter how much he work to reach their goals, sometimes he just cannot triumph over the larger forces at work against him.

The “Wanna Be” Barbie

Bratz Dolls

The original Bratz

When I was younger I had Barbie everything. I had the Barbie dream House. I had Barbie and Ken; I had just about everything. Except I never had a black Barbie. I really didn’t the purpose in getting one. They looked exactly like the white Barbie except with a darker skin color. As years went on more and more Barbie stuff would come out. There would be new Barbies, new Barbie accessories. However, one day I was watching TV and I saw something that wasn’t Barbie. I saw Bratz. the Bratz dolls really intrigued me. Bratz dolls came out in 2001 when I was 9 year old. The Bratz dolls were made by MGA Entertainment. These dolls looked like they were for girls of different ethnic backgrounds. They originally started off with 4 girls; Sasha (black), Jade (Asian), Chloe (White), and Yasmin (Hispanic). There was one for every girl that may have wanted one. Bratz did not start off with just one white doll and later add on another; they began with different dolls. This gave little girls more of an option to pick which one they wanted. It also helped because these were dolls that were more like them. In our class discussion of Ethnically Correct Dolls, I felt like this connected to the discussion. It was mentioned in class how it was harder for the little black girls to connect to the white Barbies because they lacked black features. I found this to be true. I didn’t want a black Barbie because it looked just like the white ones. They had the same features, the same type of hair. Nothing was different. However, with Bratz I could relate more to those. The black Bratz doll had curly hair, big lips, and had the same color eyes as me. I feel like the Bratz creator was truly thinking about every little girl when they created these dolls. I have to say Bratz was my favorite doll to play with growing up.

“The Snowy Day”

In 1962, prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” and in the midst of the civil rights movement, a unique children’s book was published. The name of the book was “The Snowy Day”, and it was written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. The book deals with the adventures of a young boy named Peter, as he explores the winter wonderland around his neighborhood that results from the previous night’s snowfall. What separates this book from the multitude of other children’s books written about similar situations is that Peter, the story’s protagonist, is black. Perhaps even more distinguishing about this book is that while other stories attempt to highlight the child’s race or make it a central figure in the story, “The Snowy Day” does not. Peter is portrayed, quite simply, as a child. His race is irrelevant for the purposes of the story, because the plot focuses more on the beauty of the snow, the simplicity of his experiences, the carefree quality of his happiness- experiences that all children can relate to. Thus by doing so, “The Snowy Day” breaks down the barriers of race by producing a timeless story enjoyed by children of all shapes, sizes and colors, rather than targeting their story specifically towards black people (which would, by alienating other etnicities, almost constitute a form of racial segregation in itself).

Today marks fifty years since the award winning “The Snowy Day” was published, but it is worth noting that the world of children’s literature has not changed dramatically since then. According to a 1995 study by the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center)

In 1995, the CCBC found that out of 4,500 total books published, only 100 books written by African Americans, and 167 written about (without taking into account any probable overlap). (page 2 of article I used to write this post)

An even more troubling trend, according to Michelle Ann Abate in her book “Raising Your Kids Right”, is that:

Books for young readers reinforce racial, ethnic, and cultural hierarchies. (page 8, second paragraph)

Even when books are published for black, hispanic, asian or children of other ethnic backgrounds, the race of the child is highlighted. It is almost like a “for us, by us” stamp is attached to the literature, and the mere presence of this psychological stamp causes the very segregation that those seeking equality and integration vehemently oppose.

In chapter two (“Looking to Get Paid”) of Robin D.G. Kelly’s book “Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional!”, there is mention of children seeking to use the avenue of professional sports (specifically basketball) towards success because they feel that their options are limited (page 415, course packet). I found this passage about Brian Collier, an award winning artist/illustrator, (page 2,”The Snowy Day” article on the Christian Science Monitor) particularly relevant to this situation:

“I don’t know what it was (‘The Snowy Day’,” Collier said, “but when I saw that boy Peter, he looked like me. I was like, Wow!” Growing up as the youngest of six during the often snowy winters of Maryland, Collier said he knew exactly how Peter felt watching the ”big boys” having their snow ball fights. The Snowy Day had subconsciously planted a seed inside of him, Collier said. For 10 years that seed waited, while Collier dreamed of playing professional basketball like the great Dr. J. But one day the 15-year old hoops fan stumbled into a freshman art class, and the seed was finally ignited. “It was an impact, it was visceral. You just feel it,” he said.”Just like the feeling of that first art class, Collier said America felt a bit of a spark with the publishing of the landmark picture book. “I think it put so much greatness into the world, a sense of diversity,” he said. “It unveiled something that was always there. The jolt was that the rest of the world, the publishing world, didn’t get it. They didn’t really get it until they saw it.”

This work inspired Collier to pursue a field many would have said someone of his race would find it hard to succeed in. The seed of hope implanted in him by the simplicity and beauty of “The Snowy Day”, however, resonated in his youthful mind, and eventually propelled him to success in the illustration and art communities.

In Elizabeth Chen’s book, “Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture”, there is a section called “Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry” (page 358, course packet), in which she points out that (following the inspection and subsequent refuting of claims that Shani dolls’ butts were larger than Barbie dolls’)

These ethnically correct dolls demonstrate one of the abiding aspects of racism: that a stolid belief in racial difference can shape people’s perceptions so profoundly that they will find difference and make something of it, no matter how imperceptible or irrelevant its physical manifestation might be. (page 366, course packet)

It is my belief that this “stolid belief in racial difference” is exacerbated by the fact that the Shani dolls were produced specifically for black children. I believe that if those dolls had been released under the Barbie name and not under a demeaning, racially condescending subsidiary, those differences would not have been highlighted. In sharp contrast to the release of the Shani dolls was the manner in which “The Snowy Day” was presented. Rather than target the book towards black consumers, it was written as a non-racially binded children’s book. It was a book that all children could relate and identify to, regardless of the skin color of the protagonist. That to me is an extremely progressive idea, and an appropriate step in the right direction in regards to the dismantling of racist stigmas. Through the concept of understanding, of kinship readers felt towards Peter, they could learn that black children are not so different from themselves. Basic childhood experiences- laughter, wonder, excitement- are common ground that every child shares. And common ground is a huge step towards an ideology of equality in place of segregation.

Perhaps the greatest message “The Snowy Day” has left us with was summarized by the late Deborah Pope:

“As anyone who’s ever brought home a snowball could tell you, ultimately there is no color to put on children’s experience of snow.”

Cover of "The Snowy Day", courtesy of

Lunchroom Politics or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gushers

A variety of the General Mills' Fruit Gushers. You always pick out the red and green anyway.

During my childhood, namely throughout 90s and early 2000s, kids’ snacks were evolving. As always, cheap and pre-processed goodies were easily available in every grocery store, strategically placed on lower shelves and in bright, eye-catching packaging. However, it seems that a new trend took hold, whereby advertisers and the companies producing these packaged snacks began to re-brand their products to appear healthier and more nutritional while still maintaining the appeal of ‘kets‘.

Of course, it’s fair to say that notable examples like General Mills’ Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Rollups, Fruit Gushers, and many more were and still are convenient filler items for packing children’s lunches or as a midday snack requiring no more effort than a quick trip back into the house. Despite their names, they are little more (or no less) than glorified and gelled candies.
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Move it, football head!

One of my favorite TV shows from young, couch potato-ing days was “Hey Arnold!” Airing on Nickelodeon from 1996-2004, “Hey Arnold!” was an animated TV series which followed the adventures of the title character, Arnold, and his friends, family, and neighbors in the fictional city of Hillwood.

The main character, Arnold, a blonde kid who wears a tiny red hat on top of his large, football-shaped head, lives with his grandparents in a boarding house, which they own, located in the heart of a busy metropolis. The boarding house, called Sunset Arms, is a very cramped residency, filled with several quirky characters from vast ethnic backgrounds, who provide Arnold with a colorful home life. Arnold’s best friend is Gerald Johanssen, a hip, black kid who knows all of the urban legends in the city. Helga Pataki, a girl in the group, comes from an upper-middle class background (her dad has a great, beeper empire) and is secretly in love with Arnold, though she disguises this by acting cruelly towards him. Arnold’s other friends are very culturally diverse as well, including Jewish, South American, Japanese, and rural children.

“Hey Arnold!” is reminiscent of our recent unit in class covering the childhood of disadvantaged, urban youths, because the show is one of the few children’s animated series to be set in a completely urban environment. Several of the characters, including Arnold, are missing one or more parents from their lives. Much like in our Elizabeth Chin readings, the children’s neighborhood is not very open to play. In the episode “The Vacant Lot”, the children, fed up with cars interrupting their street baseball games, find a rare, open, grassy lot in the neighborhood which they attempt to convert into a baseball field. The children converting their neighborhood into a place in which they can use for play is similar to the girls in the Elizabeth Chin reading who make their white dolls more like them by braiding their hair. In both instances, children are able to adapt the situation they are confined to into something they can enjoy more.

Below is the “Hey Arnold!” episode, “The Vacant Lot”

Hoop Dreams

Picture of Arthur Agee and William Gates from

In the film, Hoop Dreams, filmmaker Steve James shows two African American boys, Arthur and William, as they face many challenges throughout their lives that come in the way of their original plans for their futures, basketball. There are numerous external struggles that they both encounter on their journey towards a career in basketball, which leads to important decisions that must be made by the boys and their family members.

The film begins with Arthur and William entering high school as freshmen, both with high expectations of who they wanted to be in the future. Both Arthur and William were promised to help achieve their goal by a recruiter in setting them up with scholarships from St. Josephs, a private high school in the suburbs of Chicago. The recruiter, while still trying to help the boys, had outside motives in recruiting the boys though. Both boys would end up leading very different lives from that point on. The recruiter, Mr. Smith, admits in the film that he wants Arthur to go to St. Joseph to help himself in his career as a recruiter and look superior for the coach. Arthur then starts to not do as well as hoped at his short time in St. Joseph, which leads him to lose his scholarship and be forced to return to his public school. Arthur’s mother openly admits that if she had realized that St. Joseph was not going to provide him with a scholarship his entire time there she would have opposed him going in the first place. On the other hand William excelled during his time at St. Josephs, and was promised a scholarship for college, but a catastrophic injury to his knee would prove to be too much to overcome. After William’s injury, his coach did not seem to care as much for him then as he did in the beginning.

I believe that the filmmaker, James, chose to depict individual agency the way he did because he wanted to portray how difficult it is to be in an industry where the players are treated like pieces of meat even from the time they are freshmen in high school. In one scene when William was being evaluated by college recruiters, one of the recruiters said, “They have NBA bodies already”.  This shows recruiting in a negative way, because it shows that these people are usually only in it for the end game and how scouts and coaches make important life changing decisions for these young boys without care of possible negative outcomes. All in all, it was a sad story, but it is a story that many lessons can be learned from.

Fight Like a Girl!

When I was younger my house was always chaos, mostly because I had six other siblings. Of the five girls in my family (fours sisters, two brothers, plus me equals seven), I was always labeled the tom boy and playing rough came with the title. Because of my love for rowdy play and wrestling, I remember receiving one of my favorite Christmas gifts of all time, the Sock’em Boppers!

Sock’em Boppers were inflatable boxing gloves that children would blow up and place over their fist then proceed to punch each other. They were very popular among kids of the 90’s but were produced in the 70’s. They resurged in the late  90’s with a slightly different name, “Socker Boppers.” They can still be purchased at any major toy store and can even be bought on for around thirteen dollars.

Despite the unavoidable fight that came with every purchase of this toy, the commercial ads depicted Sock’em Boppers as nonviolent play and even used the slogan “more fun than a pillow fight.” Honestly, I can remember on numerous occasions being “socked “in the faced with in one of these and it was not always pretty. Of course this toy was supposed to be played in the presence of adult supervision who could advise the “not in the face” rule but let’s get real; when two kids are alone playing with these oversized fists of fury it can get pretty brutal.

So who was it that said television, games are what make/made children wiolent?

Lynn Spigel, author of “Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs” argued that “so long as the young are protected from certain types of knowledge” they will stay an “innocent and pure” youth (146).  By “certain types of knowledge,” Spigel meant television. But while television may have been the source of commercialization of toys such as Sock’em boppers, the act of playing with this toy was the form of violence that altered the “innocence of youth”. This leads me to another reading that blamed the rotting of children on Television and technology, Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt.” Bradbury’s story also creates the technology in George Bradley’s house as the antagonist. The conclusion of the story outlines the children’s vicious act in forcing their playroom to eat their parents.

In the end, I am simply arguing that while television, video games, and other technology may have some violent affect on the nature of children; let’s not forget that playing outside with a pair of Sock’em Boppers can force children to think and act just as violent. Rowdiness and aggression is many times an inherent nature of some children, and ultimately as a child, how they release that inherent nature of rowdiness lies in their own hands, with slight parental supervision of course.

Here’s is a commercial ad from 1997 of the Sock’em Boppers.

Just a quick side note, I find it funny that there is not one single girl in this commercial.