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.