Apr 16, 2014

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I’m White, My Daughter is Latina, and I Buy Black Dolls

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I have to admit, when I was a kid I probably never thought about buying a Black doll. I don’t recall if I’d ever even seen one as a child, but I can tell you that it’s a very important subject for me now. Some may be wondering, Why are you buying Black dolls for your daughter? She’s not even Black!

Well, it’s kind of a long story, or a short one depending on your experience. Some are shaking their heads right now like, “Yeah, that’s right! White people could benefit from a little exposure to color!” For real! I’m with you and here’s why…

I grew up in a fairly “modern” time, 1980-90′s…and yet, race was a big issue for me.  I didn’t know what it was all about as a child, but I knew that people reacted with hostility and disappointment whenever it was mentioned.  I watched when people saw a black man and they would lock their doors or accuse him of being a criminal and stealing the car he was driving.  This is common in White families…and it was common “knowledge” when I joined my hubby’s Latino family too (hubby not included!).  Now, that’s not to say that all people are racist, or even that those with prejudice are filled with hate…but there are definitely some very real problems with the way that many of us view the black community.

When New Orleans was under fire by the media, with preachers claiming that “God punishes the wicked“, I could have hit them all in the face (sorry Lord!).  Even though I didn’t live in south Louisiana long, I was born there and always felt a connection to the people of that region.  My emotion was amplified because the year before the Katrina disaster I had taken Black History courses in college and participated in many local events with black community leaders.

I learned so much and met inspiring people that I, as an uniformed white, didn’t know were out there.  I felt for the struggles of black folks in the south who were victims of Katrina and were, I felt, left on their own when Katrina broke down.  We didn’t do enough, we didn’t react quickly enough, we didn’t care enough.  If seeing images of the families of Katrina isn’t enough to wake up America to the problems of racism, I don’t know what is.

So, what does this have to do with black dolls?  Two years ago, Disney came out with their very first black princess.  She was a New Orleans native, a strong black woman, altruistic, dedicated to making a difference and dead set on reaching her dreams! Maybe it’s not a big deal to some, but for a woman who’s raising a daughter of color, it’s important to me!

I’m aware my daughter is Latina…yeah, she’s not black, but I don’t want her to grow up like I did. Not seeing positive images of people of color…including (but not limited to) people who look like her.  If I look back to my childhood, the only positive image I can recall is the Cosby show…and that’s a shame.  I still love that show, but even today…programing like that is hard to come by.

I buy black dolls for my daughter because I want her to understand the value of everyone, regardless of color. I buy black dolls because I know that the media is filled with negative images and it presents a challenge for our kids to grow up feeling good about dark skin.  I buy black dolls because I want to change the norm.

My family and in-laws both challenged me about buying black dolls because “we’re not black“, but that drives me on even harder.  It really makes you stop and think, why is this even being challenged at all? My daughter’s Latina, but if I bought her a white doll, nobody would object…nobody has objected!

From experience, I can tell you that I’ve seen black girls pick white dolls.  But who wouldn’t pick a “princess” over any other doll?  What girl wouldn’t pick the “special” one?  My daughter prefers princesses too…and when you don’t have dolls of color with the same status as Disney princess characters, they tend to get pushed to the side.

The problem is that we don’t often portray African Americans in a way that would motivate children to identify with them. Americans have left the black dolls on the shelves and displayed them as token images…an attempt at so-called “diversity”.  But, I’m beyond proud that we now have a black princess and hopefully many more positive images that can help defeat the negative stereotypes about African Americans and their supposed lack of “desirable” qualities.  Our daughters need them, not just black daughters…but white, Latina and any other.

P.S.  Waiting on a Latina princess!  *hint!*  ;)  Disney?

 

Chantilly Patiño is  the publisher of Multicultural Familia and Bicultural Mom.  She lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughter and has a passion for writing about multicultural lifestyle, social justice and family relationships.

 

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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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Comments

  1. Love this! How great of you to expose your daughter to different cultures. We try to buy dolls that reflect our daughter, but find it hard at times to find them. In my opinion, making the dolls brown in color is sometimes not enough. Angelica, I hope you don’t mind me sharing a post I wrote a couple of years ago, titled Brown is Not Enough: http://www.modernmami.com/parenting/multicultural-dolls-needed/

    • Thanks so much Melanie! I remember reading your post too and I loved it! It is way too difficult to find dolls of color out there and you’re right that it does leave children feeling less than beautiful about their own skin color. Something’s got to change. I’ve seen a few online stores pop up to meet the demand, but far too many are ignoring this issue. Thanks for sharing the link to that post! =)

  2. Wow! This is a powerful article. Thanks for writing it. I am a mother of color and you are so right about how media portrays African Americans and other PoC. I actually just wrote an blog article on “whitewashing” that I will publish at http://www.ethnicbabies.com this week.

    • Hi Love this post, I am white but when I was little I had a black doll. My daughters are mixed race, but still what I would call white, and they too have had black dolls and white dolls. They don’t really distinguish that there is a difference when they have been playing with their dolls. It can be almost impossible to find black dolls in the general shops, they are so rare to find. My youngest’s doll is wearing away and I have had to mend her a couple of times!

      • Karima, thanks for sharing. :) I’ve visited your blog a few times and if you have links to stories about your experiences raising multiracial daughters, please feel free to share them on the Bicultural Mom Facebook page too! ♥

    • Thanks so much Yolanda! I can’t wait to see that post your writing…please let us know when it’s up! :)

  3. Great article – brown and/or black dolls have always been hard to come by here in Sweden – I can’t even remember seeing a a white brunette doll as a kid… And I am also waiting for a Latina Disney princess…

    • Wow…I can imagine! They weren’t common when I was a kid either. I used to have to search long and hard to find a doll with brown hair that looked like me. I still remember the first time that I found one…it was like Christmas! I think that every little girl should get to feel that way. Like that doll was made just for her and that the her beautiful image is desired enough to create a mini replica of. ♥

      • Ay, Chantilly! What a beautiful article! I am half Mexican and half Swedish and proud mami to 2 Mexican (3/4) boys who have always played with dolls. I also buy them dark skinned dolls because 1) it’s hard to find a medium toned one, 2)I read a study in Sociology once about little African American girls always choosing to play with the blond, blue eyed doll over the one that resembled their beauty, 3) because I wanted to help support the companies that go out on a limb and make dolls that look different (we love Cabbage Patch), 4) because I want my kids to see everyone as beautiful and of worth so if they are caring for a little dark brown baby and guarding it with their life maybe they will have appreciation for all people when they are older. We spent a lot of money on an American Girl doll because of the same idea that you stated in this comment “Like that doll was made just for her and that the her beautiful image is desired enough to create a mini replica of. ♥” All children should be able to feel this….

  4. Love this! I think it’s essential for us ALL to broaden the horizons of our little ones beyond the sometimes limited views of our homes and communities. It’s such a beautiful thing to see them innocently embrace culture and the beautiful differences in people they WILL come across in life at some point or another. It also stands to expand their perspective on life, allowing life changing enrichment that will benefit them in future business, educational and social agendas. Way to GO MOM!! ;-)

  5. Thank you! ♥ GREAT POINTS! You’re exactly right that we will all encounter diversity at some point and why leave our children unprepared and feeling uncomfortable about it? It is beautiful to watch out children participate in new cultures and it only benefits them in the future. I really believe that the example starts at home with steps as simple as buying products and attending activities with diversity in mind! Thanks for sharing. =)

  6. This is such an important topic. When I first became a mom I went a bit overboard and insisted my daughter only have dolls with brown skin. Then one day my husband made a great point. If the point of my efforts was to encourage diversity, shouldn’t there also be some white dolls in the mix? I’ve since loosened up on my brown only policy =)

    And on the Disney princess front, what in the heck are they waiting for?

    • Lol! What a sweet hubby! Don’t you hate it when they’re right? ;) Seriously though, I love spouses who can call each other on a subject, but be sweet about it. ♥ I’m so glad your daughter is enjoying a diversity of dolls!

      About the princess situation…for real, what ARE they waiting on? LOL! I’m so ready! ;)

  7. This is a great post! When I came from the Dominican Republic to New York city, my mom wanted my first christmas to be the best. She asked me to pick any doll in the store and I, being 7, picked up a black doll named Starla. My mom was horrified. She kept asking me if I didn’t want the white version that was “so pretty”. That always stuck in my mind. Since the age of 7. Which is why it’s so important that we are introduce positive multi cultural images from a young age. trust me, these are things that you carry with you forever. I did and it’s 20 years later.

    • Wow! Lari, that is terrible. I think it was easier to make mistakes like that for our parents because so much of the nation agreed with the idea that a white doll was better, more desirable. I hope that our generation can turn it all around. Just hearing the comments here, I can see that it’s become an important goal for many of us and that’s very encouraging! Thanks so much for sharing. ♥

    • I am so hurt by this. Te mando un gran abrazo! My MIL always talks about how her gr. children who have light skin and lighter hair and eyes are so beautiful! My oldest son is very tan like my dad from Mexico City and his Abuela (MIL) from Oaxaca. I finally realized that for her growing up as pretty much an Indigenous looking person and being treated poorly for the color of her skin and growing up poor with no shoes and watching the little guerritas go off to school instead of working like her made her feel that she would prefer that her descendants not have to go through that. It is still difficult to hear but we try and give this explanation to our son so that he won’t ever feel his skin is not as beautiful! I have my mom’s color and burn in the sun so I would have loved to have his beautiful tone growing up. Funny how many people admire what they don’t have…curly or straight, black or blond, green eyes over brown. My intent is to teach my children to love all colors and differences because it is how God made us and He doesn’t make mistakes!

  8. Chantilly – I think this is fantastic and I hope you inspire more mamas to do the same. I have boys so I didn’t get to buy baby dolls really, but I always tried to show them diversity in other ways. When they had to draw a picture for homework and would ask for my help, I would always pull out all the shades of brown – from dark brown to peach and ask which color they wanted to color the people in the picture. It was nice to see them choose without discrimination — having grown up with me (very fair skinned), and their father, (medium to dark brown depending on the time of year) – they knew that people can be any of those colors.

  9. Great point Tracy! I’ve heard a lot of talk in the blogosphere about how difficult it can be to raise boys with diversity too. You come across the same problems…there just aren’t enough diverse toys out there. We’re finally starting to catch up with children’s books, but there is still so much more that needs to be done. Thanks for reading amiga. :)

  10. Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

    This has been such a great conversation. I’m so glad Chantilly wrote this article. My oldest daughter has brown complexion and looks ‘indiesita,’ with very curly hair. So when it came to purchasing dolls I had two important things to keep in mind and celebrate: feminism and diversity. I will admit that it took me a very long time to purchase my daughter a doll. I wanted her to play with trucks, puzzles, books, and other less traditionally gender-specific toys. But when I did purchase a doll, I made sure the doll was brown or dark skin, AND looked ethnic (or similar to how my daughter looked). I am proud to say that my second daughter, who is now 5, loves, loves dark-skin dolls — that’s all she’s chosen in the past. When I ask her why she chose that particular doll, she proudly answers “she looks like India…” (my oldest daughter). *wiping off tears…* ;)

    • Awww! Angelica, beautiful story about your daughters! ♥ I’m there with you on feminism too…VERY important in picking a doll…and pretty much everything else from clothes to TV programing. Great, great point amiga!!! It’s wonderful to see so many parents picking with both in mind. My daughter also plays with trucks and for Halloween she asked me to make her a Karate princess costume! Too cute! I will have to write a post about that experience soon. :) Thanks so much for sharing…your daughters sound adorable! ♥ Thank you also for the opportunity to guest post. I am so glad to be able to share this post with your audience. ♥

  11. Laura S. says:

    Thank you so much for posting! I’m White and my daughter is Latina as well, and I can so relate to your post. While my son’s complexion is fair, my daughter is a light olive so I have always wanted to make sure that she has a diverse array of dolls, books, etc. so that she can feel pride and not shame of her skin tone. My husband’s family (Mexican) has always bought her blonde dolls or at the most light complexioned brunette dolls and while I am appreciative of the gifts it goes back to what other posters have said in that for some reason it’s okay to purchase the White dolls for her but they would never consider Black. So when it came time for “Dia de Los Reyes” this past January where she requested a Barbie, I was torn and finally purchased her the Veterinarian Barbie in the African American version. (Truth be told I think the African American version looks Latina but that’s another post altogether – LOL!). I was lucky in that as a little girl I had Christie and other black dolls right along with all my other dolls and I enjoyed them all but I do remember one litte girl I played with refusing to use Christie. Such a shame when I think about it now.

    • Wow. Thank you for sharing Laura. My husband’s family is Mexican American also…Tejano. I’m so grateful to find so many parents out there who are making a positive difference in the way that they present diversity to their children. With all the negative messages out there about skin color and certain features, it’s so very important that we present positive images and it’s encouraging to know that we’re out in numbers and supporting each other. Please stop by Bicultural Mom and connect with us! I would love to get to know you better. :)

      • Brava! Brava! Yes, we need to expose all children to black, white, brown, yellow, et al color dolls and action figures AND authors. When my nephew was little I would send him birthday cards with black people on them and sometimes in Spanish to expose him to different races and to remind him (and others)that he wasn’t “white.” He was a mix of white and brown and should be proud of it. Today, I buy my grand nephews and nieces all types and colors of dolls AND also all authors. It’s time for them to read Latino, Black, Chinese, White authors etc. I want to expose them to as much of the “outside” world as possible because THAT is their world and they need to understand it, appreciate it and live in it. (Should I have said, survive?) // PS– I believe Barbie dolls were the first to have black and brown friends. I liked that about them. –Maria Ferrer, Founder, www (dot) latinabookclub (dot) com.

  12. This is a post very dear to my heart. When I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to have dolls that didn’t look like me. I’m a brown-skinned latina…I’m multiethnic. I think I had one white doll, and I could have any other doll that was of color. But buying multiple white dolls were out of the question. I think it is important to have dolls that look like the child, but not to the exclusion of any other…then it seems like the “other” color is bad. I don’t think I minded it much when I was younger, and did not understand the issues of prejudice until I got older…and until my mom told me to color my doll’s child brown because she didn’t need an”other” doll…I didn’t color that “other” doll. It’ll be her “one white doll”…and I don’t know how strictly I’ll stick to that number “one”.

  13. Monica Asefa says:

    I found you when I was looking for black dolls.I am black and married to a black man.When I had smaller kids I looked every where for black dolls for my kids and couldnt find them.I was leaving in Africa then ,Now I live in Canada,I bought my kids first black doll in UK and then bought some american african dolls online …very expensive but I had vowed that my kids will have both colour dolls not just white.Today I was looking for cheap black dolls to send to kids in Africa.I am still searching because I want to give for free,
    Thank you for giving your girl a black doll it makes me feel happy inside but I would love if your chld have a latino and a white dolso that she love them all.Thanks.Why are black doll more expensive though.

  14. So many emotions and thoughts were running through my head as I read this. It brought me back to my childhood, and I want to share this article with all of my friends. Thank you for a wonderful article.

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