Friday, December 24, 2010

Black Girls and White Dolls

It was Christmas 1984. Like all little girls, I had my heart set on one thing – a Cabbage Patch Doll. After opening a series of small gifts on Christmas morning, my mom presented me with the box I had been waiting for all year. As I tore through the wrapping paper, my excitement immediately turned to disappointment when I discovered that the doll of my dreams was brown.
I was just five at the time, so I took no pains to hide my displeasure with Santa’s choice. In fact, the painful moment is caught on VHS, when I turn to my mom and ask “Why Didn’t I Get the White One?” Although it was nearly forty years later, it was an episode straight out of the famous Kenneth Clark experiment form the late 1940s, when an overwhelming number of black children were found to show preference for white baby dolls.
Despite the fact that I was raised by a strong black woman and grew up on the West Side of Detroit, media and other outside forces had a powerful influence on my perceptions of beauty.
In 2005, Mattel, Inc.’s Caucasian holiday Barbie doll sold out so fast that the company had to issue rainchecks to those who were not lucky enough to get their hands on one. Meanwhile, the African-American holiday Barbie doll stayed on the shelves for most of the holiday season. Brenda Wade, a family psychologist, says its not completely surprising that black girls still favor white Barbie as study after study has shown that a significant number of young black girls still associate white dolls with beauty, purity, and goodness.
The fact that the African-American dolls bear little or no resemblance to the target market serves to further complicate matters. Many buyers often complain that black dolls appear to be nothing more than white dolls with brown skin or too ethnic, to the point of not resembling black children.
This year, I have had the opportunity to travel all over the country and to parts of Africa promoting my new book Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for and Maintaining Natural Hair, and yet I still find that many of our black and Latina daughters, mothers, and grandmothers have not come to grips with the fact that their brown or black is beautiful. This holiday season, my message to you regardless of how old you are, is that you are beautiful just the way you are.

1 comment:

Lisa Thompson said...

I have to tell you (stumbled on your blog), I too got a sweet Cabbage Patch girl the first Christmas they came was Gina Galena...She was black, and I am white. I couldn't have cared less what color she was. I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll, I got one, and I was overjoyed. I still have Gina Galena. :) I've had many other dolls since, but she will always be #1 for me.