It’s Deeper Than That

I spent a very frustrating day going from store to store looking for one simple object. It should have been available at the first store. It was not. I was set to talk to the manager but the store had an emergency of some sort and evaluated the place. Rather than wait, I joined the throngs of folk who took the evacuation as a sign to leave. I went to three other stores and was equally frustrated; I did talk to one manager.

So, what is this simple item that I should have been able to find easily? A black baby doll!  In store after store I looked at rows of White baby dolls that jumped, crawled, cried, did nothing but look beautiful or some other baby-type antic. I saw one or two Black baby dolls but most of them were of a lighter complexion than I am. To make matters worse, I wanted a BOY baby doll. There were NO Black boy dolls.  Just what do manufacturers think African American children are supposed to play with? And why aren’t the buyers concerned that there are so few Black dolls? I talked to one of the sales people at Toys R U (surely THEY should have had Black baby dolls, right? Wrong!). She apologized profusely saying she had been similarly frustrated. The floor manager was sympathetic but unable to help me. She promised that she would ‘bring the issue up.’

My frustration is multifaceted. To be honest, there were plenty of multicolored Barbie-type dolls but I didn’t want an ADULT doll. I wanted BABY DOLLS. When my daughter was little, we didn’t allow her to play with adult dolls. Little children shouldn’t have dolls with boobs etc – my opinion! I’m not about to change my mind now about believing children ought to play with children dolls – at least until they are old enough for some meaningful conversation about the anatomy. As well, I want dolls that look like Black people. I started to say dolls that look like me but I suspect some people would argue with that since I happen to be a biracial, lighter complexioned African American who had long, wavy hair for most of my life. Actually, I DO want dolls who look like me because I represent an aspect of diversity that exists in America!

How are we supposed to teach our children to be comfortable with their Blackness if every image they see, every doll they look at has slighter dark(er) skin but the same features as the White dolls AND long straight hair? There is something very wrong if I am having the same issues in 2010 that I had 20+ years ago when I was looking for dolls for my children!  And as a parallel sidebar, every year I go into stores looking for Black angels and Santas and have the exact same problem! And every year I am forced to spend extra time looking for a manager so I can make my concerns known only to be told that they a) they had one or two,  b) they buy what sells, c) they will express my concerns to somebody or d) I should feel free to call the home office and talk to them – once again I have the onus to make change and that can get very tiring.

There is a lot I could talk about in this commentary but I’ll leave it with this major concern for now. We live in an era where everyone is talking about diversity and inclusion at every possible level. But why aren’t manufacturers, store buyers, merchants etc. on the page? Why aren’t they concerned about inclusion, gender equity, diversity?  I don’t mind my children and grandchildren having White dolls but why is that my only choice unless I go find the ‘Black’ neighborhood stores? Isn’t that a type of racial profiling?

And what about all of the darling White children who never get a chance to play with Black dolls because their parents don’t see them in the stores?  I teach at a PWI (predominantly White institution) and the case for diversity is market driven. Consistently, employers are telling PWIs they must teach their students to work and live in a global society. They must learn to live, work and play with people of all colors. PWIs struggle with not having enough Black faculty or Black students – a critical mass – to force broader conversations and experiences for all of its students.  My experiences in the stores are uncomfortably close to the ones we often experience on campuses. Where are the faces that look like our students – not just in the classrooms but in the brochures or on the websites?

I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent but I’m deeply concerned. I’m also angry and hurt. It’s not just about a toy. It’s about life, respect. It’s about children who should be able to play with age-appropriate toys that look like them – dark skin, textured hair, different shapes of noses and both genders! It makes a difference the kinds of toys our children play with. Parents of all colors should have the option of providing their children with a diversity of age-appropriate dolls with which to play – without running all over town! Otherwise, they run the risk of raising children who, like a former student – an EDUCATION MAJOR, was genuinely SHOCKED to see Black dolls in my home – even though he had recently graduated from college. It had never occurred to him that Black children might play with something other than White dolls. His shock was a failure of his neighborhood and his education! And, without bragging, he benefited greatly from marrying a young woman who was one of my best friends when she was a student and who stayed in my home and traveled with me on a regular basis.

Okay, enough for now. I’m interested in hearing from you.


One Response

  1. There has been a robust exchange on this topic on Facebook. Visit!/notes/donna-cox/its-deeper-than-that/10150357375615615?notif_t=note_comment if you’d like to contribute to that strand or reply here.


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