Joseph: the “good” brother

I usually let Mercy pick out which books she would like me to read to her when I tuck her in for her afternoon nap. Today it was the story of Joseph, or “The Egypt Story” as she called it. The book is one of a set we were given that includes the story of Noah, David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, and Moses.

When I got to the last page where Joseph stands, surrounded by his brothers who are pleading with him for mercy, I realized the strangest thing: while every other member of Joseph’s family appears Middle Eastern (dark hair and non-European features), Joseph is a totally European-looking blonde.

Doug and I often talk about the “christian” books we have been given by various people. Some of them (the non-Bible story ones like books of prayers, etc.) make an obvious attempt at representing ethnic diversity in the pictures of little girls and boys and mommies and daddies. But we have sadly noted that, on any page where Jesus is depicted with children, it is always a blonde child that is held in his arms or seated on his lap. Brown and black children are always relegated to the periphery.

I sometimes wonder how Mercy and Aaron’s worldview is affected by living where they are the ethnic minority. I will never forget one of my first trips home to Seattle after Mercy was born. We were in my home church’s nursery and she was hesitant to go to people there that she did not know. One of our good friends there who is African American came in, and Mercy turned and went straight to her. And this last trip, Aaron was utterly enamored with our pastor’s daughter (who reflects her dad’s Mexican heritage) and only wanted to be held by her.

I have spoken before of my daughter’s Cinderella fascination. I have made the observation that Cinderella has grown more blonde over the years (she has wonderful strawberry blonde hair in the movie and original Disney books, but in all the annoying “princess” paraphernalia that is now being sold, she is totally blonde). But what is interesting to me is that the two figures Mercy has selected to be “Cinderella” in our house have black hair (I won’t even speculate here about Cinderella-Tree). One of them is a cloth doll from Mexico that I bought years ago when I studied there. The doll has on a partially pink dress which, for Mercy, apparently was enough to doom her to Cinderellahood. The other is a Little People figurine that looks Asian.

Many of us had the chance to see the disturbing film made recently by a high school student that deals with self-image among black girls. The filmmaker resurrects a famous study from 1947 and shows black children consistently and heartbreakingly preferring white dolls to black ones, identifying the white dolls as “nice” and “good” while naming the black dolls as “bad”. Watching this film made me cry.

I certainly don’t know the intentions of the Christian publishing house that chose to illustrate Joseph as a Europen-looking blonde. But it actually makes my stomach feel sick.

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