Barbie Who?: 5 Black Doll Lines Taking the Toy Industry by Storm

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.

Positively Perfect

Photo: Positively Perfect Dolls / Dr. Lisa Williams

When Positively Perfect debuted in Walmart stores 2012, only two dolls were offered. Once the multicultural dolls’ sales skyrocketed to over 100,000 units sold, the line expanded to 30 dolls in 300 stores over the next two years. Dr. Lisa Williams’ empire now includes a Latina Divah Collection and doll apparel. Her fashion doll line will debut this year.

The Black Panther

Photo: The Black Panther / Marvel

With its release slated for 2018, The Black Panther is set to be the first Black superhero lead to star in a Marvel Studios movie. Luckily, the action figure is available for purchase now. The Black Panther, or T’Challa, is based on the 1966 comic book character who is an Oxford-educated physicist, heir to the throne of a fictional tech-savvy African nation, and fights crime with his razor-sharp talons and smart phone.

Natural Girls United

Photo: Natural Girls United! / Karen Byrd

Natural Girls United launched in 2011 and features Black dolls with an assortment of natural hairstyles. Artist and natural hair blogger, Karen Byrd hand-customizes each doll’s hairstyle, which range from sisterlocks, to big afros, to micro braids, and everything in between. The line nearly sold out in 2013 after the press got wind and Byrd hopes to expand her staff to create even more styles.

Prettie Girls! by the One World Doll Project

Photo: Prettie Girls! via A Day in the Life of My Dolls
Doll designer Stacy McBride-Irby started The One World Doll Project in 2010 after leaving Mattel. Her Prettie Girls! line—which stands for Positive, Respectful, Enthusiastic, Talented, Truthful, Inspiring, Excellent—features African, African American, Native American, Southeast Asian, and Latina dolls in a range of hues. Dolls are available for purchase online at Sears, Wayfair, Walmart, Toys R Us, and Doll Genie. The doll collection is also now on Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer.

The Mia Doll

Photo: The Mia Doll

The 18-inch Mia Doll is based on actress and designer Betty Bynum’s I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl book series. In I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl, we meet Mia, who is initially displeased with her hair, but learns to love herself with the help of her dynamic friends of all shades. Bynum partnered with doll titan Madam Alexander to release the Mia Doll at the New York Toy Fair this February.

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

Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie currently works as Assistant Director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kenyon College. She lives for all discussions about gender, education, race, and coming of age. You can visit her website at