Giving dolls to babies and little girls (or boys) is serious business. Everything about the doll has a potential message and impact. The Barbie skinny-body debate has gone on for decades and even popular updated dolls like Bratz come with concerns from many parents and child experts alike. For me, the skin color of dolls is at the top of my list of considerations right now as I try to be thoughtful about what I toys I provide my girls.
I have one black daughter (10 months) and one [Jewish-Puerto Rican] white daughter (6 months) and I’m looking to buy some dolls. Currently, the girls have one plastic doll that is black and several plush dolls, gifts, that are white. My last foster daughter was mixed-raced (white and black) and I accumulated predominately dark-skinned dolls for her. Like 40 black dolls and 2 white dolls, to be exact. A friend, who also happens to be mixed-race, challenged me on this. She thought the dolls needed to have more diversity.
Hmmm. I had just figured the more black dolls the better, especially since I’m [for the most part] white and white continues to be the predominate color and culture of the U.S. Years ago, I was deeply struck by a famous experiment done by black psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s. In the experiment, young children were shown identical black and white dolls and were asked questions such as, “Which doll is ‘nice’?” and “Which doll is ‘bad’?” and “Which doll would you like to play with?” The results reflected the deep racism of the time – both black and white children chose the white doll as more desirable, with the black doll possessing all of the negative qualities.
In 2005, a high schooler named Kim Davis directed a widely acclaimed Youth Film “A Girl Like Me” (viewable here), in which she conducted an experiment similar to Clark’s and found similar results. Do watch it if you can; it’s about 7 minutes long. Anderson Cooper also did a follow-up study in 2010, albeit less scientific, seen here, which showed that despite having a black president, little has changed.
Obviously, purchasing black dolls for my daughters isn’t going to be enough. Yet, it is important. Having dolls that span the whole spectrum of skin color and physical features of the world is also important, but to what extent should I stress about it? What if they have more white dolls than black? What about the different styles of dolls and the lack of black dolls on the market all together?
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