The Doll Situation: Not so Black and White

A few years ago I attended a professional development meeting at the school where I was teaching. We discussed the issues facing minority students there, and particularly the challenges faced by black/African-American girls. The principal showed us this video:

I mentioned the video to my supervisor at my practicum site this year, explaining to her how disconcerting it was to see black/dark-skinned children preferring white dolls over black dolls, and describing the white dolls as “nice” and the black dolls as “bad.” She told me that the same phenomenon happens in her room time and time again – in a school where fewer than 1% of the children are white, students continue to argue over who gets to play with the white doll, while the rainbow of other dolls is ignored.

With this backdrop in mind, I recently set out to go shopping for the Primary Project playroom at my practicum site. I planned to purchase baby dolls and dollhouse figures to represent the spectrum of skin colors who work, study, and play at the school, from black to chestnut, and cocoa-colored to tan, and everything in between.

In this era of multi-cultural models and exaggerated political correctness, this task was remarkably difficult to accomplish (aside from the Bratz dolls collection – not a viable option). As I passed row after row of silky-haired, blue-eyed dolls, I began to fume. I was shocked, frustrated, and infuriated to discover how difficult it was to find dolls with wavy hair and dark skin. After visiting three different stores, I finally found dollhouse dolls that fit the bill – shoved to the back of the shelf, out of reach, and behind a wall of blond. The baby dolls were slightly easier to find, although the only two choices in skin color available appeared to be white and slightly darker.

The moral of this story of course, is that race continues to be a salient factor – even for young children, even in play. And as schools seek to foster self-esteem, academic achievement, and pride in students from increasingly diverse backgrounds, I believe that we must be cognizant of the implicit signals we are sending to children about race and beauty, beauty and self-esteem, and self-esteem and ability.

While I am disheartened that the students I work with may not see themselves reflected in the toys with which they play, I realize that tracking down dolls of color is far easier than finding and hiring teachers, principals, and school psychologists of color. I wonder what I, as a white woman, truly have to offer these students, who are largely surrounded by white faces during the day at school, but faces of color at home. While I could easily write several more pages on the intricacies of race in education today, I also know that this is not a circumstance with a simple history or a simple solution. But I hope that I can spark some conversation, and muddle through the discomfort and awkwardness that comes from talking about race (most often felt by those in the white majority, as far as I can tell) in a way that opens up dialogue and perhaps allows for asking of difficult questions about racial privilege, how we perceive ourselves and others, and how we operate in our broader cultural context.
And, I hope that this conversation can be more productive, self-reflective, and complex than my attempts to lecture the stunned eighteen-year old cashier about the lack of racial diversity in the toys at Target. Maybe next time I’ll just show him the youtube video.

About shansenmspp

I am a second-year school psychology student. I completed my undergraduate degree at Macalester College, with majors in Sociology and Spanish. In addition, I have a master's degree in Public Affairs. I have worked as a language teacher in the U.S. and Latin America, and I speak Spanish and some Portuguese. I love reading, yoga, cooking, traveling, and hanging out with good friends. Oh, and playing with my impish rescue pup, Atlas.
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15 Responses to The Doll Situation: Not so Black and White

  1. This makes me so sad and angry at the same time. Thanks for sharing.

  2. monica says:

    Thanks for sharing…nice and useful article.

  3. How do we change this? I think it’s so unhealthy for kids. Thanks.

  4. Lareelacey8 says:

    Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. Thank you for a good webpage and I hope you preserve up the great function. If you do I will keep on to checked out it. This is such a nice blog to read. It is an interesting article. You have spoken your thoughts very well in this. The author has done a great job with this blog. Great.

  5. It’s a horrible “catch-22″ situation with doll makers and the buying public.

  6. What a relief to come across someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. More people need to read and understand this. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have talent at this.

  7. It’s really sad and frustrating that the world continues to work this way. Thanks.

  8. It can be really frustrating since most students lack sensitivity with there surroundings.

  9. lovestations says:

    Good info and straight to the point. I don’t know if this is actually the best place to ask but do you folks have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thx

  10. Oh my, she has a toy :). This is the cutest that this sculpture can be

  11. honestly I little bit confuse with your article. but this is interesting

  12. Jasmine says:

    This is a very great article. I am happy to read such blog like this. It is so informative.

  13. I truly appreciate your frustration with this matter . I am happy to tell you, at least in the dollhouse world, it is not impossible to locate a choice of skin tones. The internet is a great place to locate items that may not be readily found in local brick and mortar stores, today’s economy makes it hard for them to stock every item that a wholesaler might offer.

  14. Thanks very much for sharing very helpful information. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. I really appreciate your wonderful knowledge and the time you put into educating the rest of us.

  15. Thanks for the blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

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