by Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie
The topic of Black dolls is as much about battles with colorism in Black communities as it is about a racially exclusive toy industry. The topic was made famous by the US Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, wherein Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s research on dolls and children’s self-esteem helped end racial segregation in American schools. The Clarks asked White and Black children a series of qualitative questions about a White and Black doll, and found that nearly all Black children preferred the White doll.
Though the results were troubling in Black communities, they weren’t surprising given the struggle for Black representation and longevity in the toy industry. Only a handful of Black dolls were mass-marketed to American children in the 20th century. Rather than spend money on producing ethnically accurate Black dolls that broke from the literal White mold—or from Black minstrel dolls that were popular in many White households—manufacturers chose to dip White dolls in brown dye instead. And when companies created more ethnically representative Black doll lines, most were mysteriously out of business by the 1990’s. Overall, Black children have had few options for dolls to play with that represented them accurately and favorably.
Fortunately, Black children’s doll preferences have expanded since the Clarks’ doll test. While some Black children still prefer lighter and Whiter dolls, many have demonstrated Black doll preferences. Social psychologists now claim that Black children’s doll selection is as much a reflection of the dominant racial ideology of the time (i.e. Black consciousness or multiculturalism), as a regurgitation of society’s views toward Blackness. In other words, it’s complicated.
With children of color now outnumbering White children in the US, the toy industry is taking notice. African American purchasing power is estimated to be over $1 trillion and as a result, several companies and entrepreneurs have created Black doll lines that are enjoying success in the market. We appear to be in the midst of the next wave of the Black doll movement.
While many are familiar with the Queens of Africa doll series, there’s still many other lines that consumers may not be aware of. For Harriet wanted to shed a spotlight on these dolls too, so here are 5 Black dolls that are changing the game.
|Photo: Positively Perfect Dolls / Dr. Lisa Williams|
The Black Panther
|Photo: The Black Panther / Marvel|
Natural Girls United
|Photo: Natural Girls United! / Karen Byrd|
Prettie Girls! by the One World Doll Project
|Photo: Prettie Girls! via A Day in the Life of My Dolls|
The Mia Doll
|Photo: The Mia Doll|
We hope that more toy companies will begin making a diverse range of Black dolls in the near future. There is immense power in seeing oneself represented, and our children deserve this experience.
Do you know of other black doll lines? Share them in the comments.
Photo: Natural Girls United! by Karen Byrd