Monday, November 19, 2012


"Why Do You Have Black Dolls?"

Uptown Magazine and a new documentary by Samantha Knowles on the importance of black dolls.


race, childhood

30 Comments / Post A Comment


I don't think they even sold black dolls where I grew up, that's how white/racist it was. (That is slowly changing as more people who used to live in Toronto but want to be able to afford a house move there)


THIS DOCUMENTARY LOOKS AWESOME! I'm white and I grew up with both black and white dolls. (Well, I had Latina and Asian Barbies too.) My favorite non-Barbie doll was Lindy (doll nerds--a Hasbro My Beautiful Doll). I remember having another white girl come over to play at my house and ask me why I had black dolls. @n

sarah girl

I remember when American Girl added Addy to the product line and it was a HUGE DEAL. It was wonderful to see them embracing diversity, but in retrospect kind of sad that it was so huge and groundbreaking.

Adult Footie Pajamas

@Sarah H. This is a sentiment that a lot of people still feel around symbolic cultural change in regard to race. Ole Miss just crowned their first ever black homecoming queen, and the comments section on CNN was full of "why is this still a THING?" mostly from white people, I'd imagine, who feel like they are having to deal with a racism hangover they had no part in making. What they don't understand is that privilege-denying is racist too. You're totally right about it being sad. It is. But racism isn't gone, (see also: the onslaught of hate speech on Twitter the day after the election) which is frustrating to say the least, considering how long the fight has been and how slow it can feel. Full disclosure: I am a white, straight cis-lady, so I only know what I know from observing and trying to empathize.

RK Fire

@Adult Footie Pajamas: I don't think Sarah was denying privilege, but I think your comment is right on so many angles that it is delightful.
My husband and I are both people of color, and there is something kind of depressing about reading older books by people of color and thinking "shit, I really identify with this.. oh wait, this book was written in the 1930s, fuck." (He's been reading Invisible Man recently.) I got the same feeling when reading This Bridge Called My Back, even though that book was at least written in the 1980s.


Does anyone remember those triplet dolls that came in a pouch? Early to mid-90s? Anyway I got them for Christmas one year and my rural Indiana family was SHOCKED when we opened the box and they were *whisper* "black!!!" I remember being indignant and seven and all like, "I WILL LOVE THESE BABIES NO MATTER WHAT COLOR THEY ARE!" The end.


I remember having exactly one black barbie doll (I'm white) & I'm pretty sure she (the doll) was a total racist stereotype, but it was the 90s, so I think Mattel was doing their best or whatever? but anyway, my friend & I were playing together one day, & when she saw the Barbie, she twisted her face all up & was like "why do you have a BLACK doll??"

Anyway, I couldn't even watch this video because no audio at my work computer, but this post made my flashback to that moment I realized my friend was racist.

fondue with cheddar

Black dolls were always available where I live (South Jersey near Philadelphia), but it always bothered me that the black dolls were always the black version of a white doll, and not their own entity. They were merely an afterthought. It also suggested that white girls should play with white dolls and black girls should play with black dolls.

I never had a lot of Barbies growing up, but I had a few, and they were always the white ones. But when Barbie and the Rockers came out there were four dolls in the band, one of which was black and one of which was Asian. I only had the regular Barbie and the Asian one, but I wanted them all. I thought it was cool that each of them had their own name and identity and weren't just "black Barbie" and "Asian Barbie". Granted, they were still the token racial characters in a group, but it was still progress. At least their outfits were cooler. :)


@fondue with cheddar I love these Barbies . There's only 2 black ones? But one has natural hair. ETA, there are more black ones in the newer collections too and they are even better.

fondue with cheddar

@iceberg Hooray for the natural hair, not to mention the very dark skin color. I wonder if the other one is supposed to be black or some other medium-skinned race.


@fondue with cheddar Actually, as a little black girl, I had the opposite experience/attitude: I hated that the black dolls were someone DIFFERENT, and not just Barbie. It made her feel like she wasn't as good as Barbie, she had to have another name, which made me not want her, because she wasn't the real Barbie.


@fondue with cheddar When I was in elementary school, a friend of mine was the only black girl at the school. Her family would only buy her black Barbies, but when she would play at other kids houses the Barbies were all white. For her birthday some one gave her a white Barbie and I remember her saying "Oh! Now I have the real Barbie!" It's kind of depressing looking back on it now.


@thebestjasmine Totally makes sense. When there's a main character "and friends" the main character is never a non-white person. Until I guess Mulan & then Princess & The Frog? I dot really count Princess Jasmine because she was a secondary character.

fondue with cheddar

@thebestjasmine That makes sense, too. Ugh...you know, it seems the only way to make this right is for the toy companies to promote dolls of other races as strongly as they promote the white ones. Get on that, toy companies!


What an odd question "why do you have black dolls?" - I feel like the only possible answer is "why not?"

We only have 2 dolls and both are white (we were given one, and they only *had* a blonde white girl in the style of doll we bought) but our Duplo and Fisher Price people are diverse and we have one Brave blankie and one Tiana blankie, so I feel like we're off to a good start (we're white).


@iceberg Ugh re reading my own comment and feeling like an asshole. Not trying to get cookies for thinking about diversity. It's just that I read somewhere if you don't start the conversation about race early, kids will pick up weird shit on their own, or pick up that it's not something you talk about or whatever, so it's one of the things I am mindful of. I'd definitely be fine with the girls picking out whatever race dolls but it seems like a good idea to make sure they get a range that reflects the community around them.


I have a hispanic angel for the top of my tree, and she makes me very happy. Reminds me of my mom, my cousins, my grandma. I never had a hispanic doll, but then, when I was a kid, I had no concept of race. I didn't realize I was anything really, until I was about 13 and went to get my social security number, and had to come home and ask my mom what I was. (She said, "Put white, it's better." Thus probably exempting me from several college scholarships, but whatever! She paid for it later!) I say all this assuming that having hispanic dolls is relevant to the conversation, right? Having dolls that say something relevant about or validate your heritage? I hope I didn't intrude in the conversation. I didn't mean to.

fondue with cheddar

@carolita Your comment is totally relevant. Different race, same idea. In fact, your comment introduced a deeper problem, as black dolls are a lot easier to come by than Hispanic dolls.

I don't know what they were called, but there was a series of international dolls that my grandmother bought for me, one every year. She only bought me a few (Irish, Russian, Israeli) before switching to non-international dolls (ballerina and bride). I don't know if the company moved away from the international ones or if my grandmother just liked the ballerina and bride ones, but they were my favorite dolls, especially the Irish one because I'm part Irish and she had red hair like my brother. I wish I'd gotten dolls of different races. I imagine they were probably available, but I don't know if my grandmother would have bought them because she's not-really-but-sort-of-racist in the way that old white people tend to be. :(


@fondue with cheddar My niece's doll looks like Dora the Explorer, but she wasn't packaged as specifically "Hispanic". My mom told me she had to look far and wide for a "not-white" baby doll though, since she wanted to find baby girl a doll that looked like her (middle eastern/white).


@carolita It's so hard to find hispanic dolls, even in my area which is predominantly Mexican-American. I remember never having a hispanic doll until Josephina came out from American Girl. Until then my family would give me, and my sister white, and light black dolls.


This seems like an appropriate place to put this: Natural Hair Barbies!


@Panzerschwein the dreads one! ah those are great.

fondue with cheddar

@Panzerschwein Those dolls are fantastic!


@iceberg Every so often a photo set of of a bunch of natural hair dolls pops up on tumblr and it's GREAT. If tumblr wasn't blocked at work (sad), I'd link to it.

fondue with cheddar

Okay, I'm not into dolls but I really want the sister with funky hair and boots. She's fabulous.

de Pizan

I come from a white family, but have two biracial nieces. It's important to me that they get dolls (and books, movies, etc) that reflect them. It can be discouraging though trying to find toys that reflect that diversity. And not only them, but one of my other nieces is at an age where everything is absolutely concrete and opposite: it's bad or good, boys do this girls do that, etc. When the other girls were visiting her over the summer, I heard her saying some things about "you have to do that because you're black, but I'm white so I don't." She's definitely not getting it from her parents or the family, so it's possible it's from school. Anyway, it made me realize that it's not just my biracial nieces that will benefit from having and being exposed to those dolls/books/movies. Just like boys benefit from playing with/reading about "girls" things and vice versa.


@de Pizan first off, love the name. I think that seeing models of yourself, as good/interesting/smart/whatever is so important, as is other people also seeing that (my mom, for example, had me and my brother have a black doll, and a doll without one of its arms. the second one came like that. she was going to send it back but decided it would be a good lesson. hope it was). also, again, this is not the same, but wanted to keep sharing random memories. I come from a small odd religion, and so my parents read us books about it, which was nice.


@theotherginger when I was little, my dog chewed off the arm and leg of one of my barbies, and put teeth marks all over her face. I wanted my mom to get me a replacement, but she told me to play with differently-abled barbie, so I did.


Am I the only one creeped out by the doll with the moving head? I think it's the fact that it has no facial features AND the head moves. I feel like if it was in my room it would be watching me with its doll judgment.


I had a fairly diverse set of dolls as a child. My mom always wanted me to have a Native American doll (I'm half Native, half Jewish, they make no dolls for that combo), and when I got one it was a big deal. I had several Hispanic looking dolls, but my favorite doll, even after all these years is my Black Cabbage Patch Kid. I wasn't being progressive in choosing her, she just smells good. Now she lives on my bedside table but I still cuddle her occasionally.

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