There have long been debates regarding Disney’s lack of diversity and further, the lack of diversity in dolls for children of color. While reading an article on this subject matter, I came across a comment that made me raise a brow.  A reader commented: “The color of these characters is not a big deal. Kids watching won’t see any difference if no difference is highlighted. They will grow up thinking anyone can fit into these roles.”

I’ve seen the sentiment expressed in this comment numerous times in an effort to brush off a call for diversity as “overreacting.” There’s this prevalent myth that kids do not see color. That they grow up colorblind not understanding race relations, but personal experience and social research has proven otherwise.

Let me start with experience:

During thanksgiving break, my 6 year old sister convinced me to play dolls with her. While brushing her doll’s hair, my sister said “Her hair is not like mine. She has white people’s hair.” Caught off guard by her statement, I asked “What do you mean white people hair Kelly?” At first she hesitated to respond but after a few minutes, she replied “Her hair is straight, not like mine.”  My 4 year old brother quickly followed “Yeah, and she’s not brown like you either.”

My sister’s comment proved that even at this young age, she noticed the differences in her doll baby and in herself. She noticed that her doll’s hair is straighter, that it has a small sharp nose, a skinny body. She noticed that her doll is white and that she is brown. Most importantly, she noticed that those characteristics listed all belonged to white women.

Now to research:

In 1947, Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie Clark conducted an experiment where they asked black children to choose between a black doll and a white doll. Clark used four plastic, diaper-clad dolls, identical except for color. They showed the dolls to black children between the ages of three and seven and then asked them the following questions in this order:

  • “Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with”

  • “Show me the doll that I the ‘nice’ doll”

  • “Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’”

  • “Give me the doll that looks like a white child”

  • “Give me the doll that looks like a coloured child”

  • “Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child”

  • “Give me the doll that looks like you”

Almost all of the children readily identified the race of the dolls. However, when asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white dolls and attributed positive characteristics to it.

a.jpg

Gordon Parks, photographer. Dr. Kenneth Clark conducting the “Doll test” with a young male child, 1947. Gelatin silver print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (62)

The Clarks also gave the children outline drawings of a boy and girl and asked them to color the figures the same color as themselves. Many of the children with dark complexions colored the figures with a white or yellow crayon.

This experiment alone proves the importance of representation. Many young girls grow up playing with dolls. To them, their dolls represent beauty and everything they would like to be. It becomes problematic when a brown girl is idolizing the beauty of a white doll and wondering “Why does this doll not look like me? Am I beautiful?”

Debbie Behan Garrett, author of Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion, shared her views on the diversity of children’s toys in a February Collectors Weekly Article.

“I’m emphatic about a black child having a doll that reflects who she is. When a young child is playing with a doll, she is mimicking being a mother, and in her young, impressionable years, I want that child to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being black.”

Young brown girls are growing up believing that beauty is exactly what they see in their Barbie dolls-white. It is important for brown girls to have dolls that reflect who they are. It is important that brown girls do not doubt their ability to be a princess, a superhero, a Barbie doll. In order to ensure this, we need to have more options in baby dolls. We need more black dolls with natural hair, more Latin@ dolls, more Asian dolls, more Indian dolls… We need more brown dolls. In addition, we need more diversity in Disney princesses. We need a princess from the LGBTQIA community, a princess with a disability, a princess with a hijab and so on because “Children are going to look for a doll that looks like them and if every doll is out there but none of them look like them, they might feel symbolically excluded.”

To parents of brown girls: I urge you to buy your daughters dolls that resemble them. They may not be easy to find, but the search is worth it. It is worth your daughter growing up being confident with her crowning glories. It is worth your daughter growing up knowing that she is not inferior to anyone. It is worth your daughter knowing that on Halloween she doesn’t have to wear a blonde wig, or make her cheeks rosy red.

Representation matters and even if the media is not willing to hear us, we must realize and act upon the importance of representation in our own households.

  • Elana S

    For me, my biggest problem with dolls have always been the hair, and the curves. I’m skinny, but not curvy. I have dark curly hair, not straight light hair. Both of those were enough to lead me to hate playing with dolls, especially when I had friends that looked much more like them. I’m certainly not brown in skin, but definitely tan. If these dolls could have such a negative impact (I remember asking a teacher once why there were no curly haired dolls. She said because girls are more pretty with straight hair) on myself, I can only imagine what it would be like to wish you had the body, hair, and skin. Diverse is something companies should definitely look more towards; not to only have one type, but all types.

  • ThaYuuki

    It’s depressing, but I know a lot of girls when I was little were discouraged from getting the non-white barbies. I got questioned enough for wanting a brunette white barbie, let alone a non-white one. This is probably why there are so few now, because I swear barbies were much more diverse when I was younger.

  • Susan

    I have always bought my daughters a very special very beautiful black doll. I did so so they would realize all the different types of beauty God has created. I remember as a white teacher in a predominately black school trying to braid my blond girls hair into cornrows and admiring how neat her classmates’ hair would remain and not hers :)
    I LOVE the dolls depicted in the pictures above. Where are they from? Where can I find them?

    • brown girl

      what a great comment and experience! i love this attitude and wish we could all have it. it goes even beyond wanting dolls who represent our daughters, to wanting dolls who represent all of God’s beauty in creation. what a great thought.

    • Bilphena

      Hello, Some of the dolls in the pictures were created by Cora Taylor or Miss Coco. I’m not sure if she sells her dolls online yet. You can also find black barbie dolls with natural hair Stylishbella.com. The other dolls can be found on Amazon and Ebay. Thanks for reading!

  • monalisa15

    Where can i purchase these dolls?

  • Deana Besala

    for the people who say things like children don’t see color. most are hopefully white and stuck in their privileged way and don’t want to see the truth. it doesn’t matter if you don’t tell a young black child that black is beautiful. if the only images they see when they grow up is an image other than themselves, they will see themselves and others like themselves as “the other.” when you hear girls say things like “I’m no barbie…” followed by them describing their beauty what they’re doing is comparing themselves to the standard which has been set to be norm. I’m all for searching for black barbies for my siblings. it takes time sometimes but if i can’t diversify their barbie with different shades then i won’t buy only white ones. money is votes. as mothers, fathers, women who grew up not having black barbies we need to work to promote more of it. It does help to try and advocate that those companies make more diverse barbies, but honestly a lot of times they don’t care and do not see the issue with having 98% white options, 1 black option and 1 Asian option. But we care and we should work to create what we want to see.

  • sheenabeenaghana

    Well even in Ghana at the markets, if not used dolls, they sell new white dolls. Even in the new Shopright that opened up in Accra, the dolls they sell between the grocery isle are white. Come on, this is Ghana, where mostly everyone is a black – why is this little girl in the village walking around with a plastic white baby? And no wonder there are so many billboards posted along the roads for skin lighting.

    • Deana Besala

      thoughts exactly. many african countries also put the same western world beauty standards on their own countries. don’t tell me you can’t find it. find it or don’t buy it in my opinion. i’ve never heard of a childhood ruined because a child didn’t get a barbie. but i have heard about how having white barbies only affected how black girls grow into thinking white is the standard of beauty to emulate.