Why I Only Buy Black Dolls For My Daughters
As a kid, my collection of toys included stuffed animals, footballs and trucks. I hated Barbies. Even though I had a disdain for the popular waif doll, I often received the dolls during Christmas season. All of these dolls had two important features: They had a lot of hair and they were Black.
Owning only Black dolls fell in line with the norm for our household. Our home was adorned in Black art, Black figurines, children’s books with Black illustrated characters, and during Christmas time, a Black angel topped the tree and a Black Santa sat on our counter. Representation was never a problem within the walls of my childhood home.
I now have two daughters (one child is two years old and the other is 10 months) and so far, all of the dolls that they have are Black. It is important that our children have great self-esteem at an early age, and displaying toys that look like them is important since the need for diversity is lost on much of media.
In her essay, The Beauty Ideal: The Effects of European Standards of Beauty on Black Women, Susan Bryant explains how the lack of representation can effect young Black girls:
The detrimental effect of these European beauty standards on black women is a societal issue that is often unaddressed on a multisystem level. Black women today are subjected to incessant messages about European ideals of beauty through family, peers, partners, the media, and larger society. If young black women stand in contrast to what society dictates as attractive, they may find it difficult to grow to accept themselves. As a result, the internalization of racialized beauty standards can perpetuate into a lifelong, intergenerational culture of self-hatred.
It’s no secret that the presence of Black people, especially Black women, is lacking in media. After all, only 14 percent of female characters were Black in the top 100 grossing films of 2016. And who could forget Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll test, which proved how at a young age society’s beauty standards cause us to have feelings of inferiority. Both White and Black children chose the White doll as the one they preferred and attributed “positive characteristics” to it, including being pretty and nice.
But Black dolls date back to the 1800s and to individuals like Leo Moss, a black handyman. His collection of dolls was exhibited in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit from September of last year to June of this year. I See Me: Reflections in Black Dolls displayed the history of Black dolls, porcelain and plastic toys and let many, finally, see the beauty in them.
“The purpose really is to show how dolls empowered African Americans throughout history as a way to see yourself, to empower yourself,” said Jennifer Evans, assistant curator at the Wright Museum to The Guardian. “Having so many dolls in one place, and for those growing up who couldn’t have a black doll, is very powerful.”
While keeping Black dolls probably doesn’t sound like that serious of a thing in this day and age, it’s still very much important.
I’ve had a couple of people question my decision and even assume that only buying Black dolls will limit the exposure my children will have regarding race. To those people I say that it’s not about other people but about my kids and how they receive and perceive images and see themselves.
Not only do I plan to continue buying Black dolls for them, but I will also be mindful of what shows/videos and books they are viewing and reading. Of course, there will be characters of various ethnicities, but with innocent nursery rhyme videos that show the one Black character in a less than positive way and an educational app which contains the only Black girl under the word “sad” (both scenarios are real and were watched by my toddler and quickly turned off), I have to stay abreast of what my daughters are taking in. It warms my heart that my toddler can look at her Princess Tiana toys and say “a princess.” When seeing other princesses whom are normally White, both in toy form and real life, she now knows a princess can be Black as well.
I want to ensure that my children know and comprehend that their blackness is beautiful and should be celebrated. They will understand how to love all people regardless of their color, but appreciate and love all shades and features of their own people. So while I appreciate someone buying our children gifts, one gift we can’t accept is a doll that doesn’t look like us.