Barbie Girl In A White-Washed World

Remember the Barbie Doll phase? There was nutcracker Barbie, the dog-owner Barbie, the pop star Barbie, the princess Barbie, the beach Barbie, and even the Barbie that came with a Ken doll. During my Barbie phase, Barbie was diverse in her career, her clothes, and her talents, but not her complexion. Majority, if not all of the Barbie Dolls aligning the Toys-R-Us shelves were White. While Black Barbie dolls did exist, they were not nearly as prominent as the White ones.

Of course, at that age, a girl’s Barbie preference and how it reflected her self-esteem or internal perspective never crossed my mind. I just wanted to play with dolls like everyone else. However, with age and maturity, I’ve become more inquisitive.

Why was there such a lack of diversity in Barbie dolls’ skin tones? Why did Barbie have to be extremely fair or extremely dark, as if every complexion in between was non-existent?  Most importantly, what was Barbie’s appearance teaching Black children about their own appearances and skin tones?

In 1940, Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted “The Doll Test”; a series of analyses regarding the self-perceptions of African American children using two dolls. According to NPS.gov, the Clarks provided African American children a Black doll and a White one, asking them questions like “Which doll is nice?” and “Which doll is bad?” Through questioning and examination, the Clarks proved that African American children had developed a sense of self-hatred. They favored the White dolls because they thought they looked better than the Black ones, and they associated Black skin complexions with negative connotations.

The findings of “The Doll Test” were so significant in proving that self-hatred, segregation, and self-discrimination existed among Black children that the study was used to enforce desegregation following the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case.

“The Doll Test” has been re-enacted several times. In one re-enactment published on YouTube in 2012, a Black boy is asked which of the two dolls—one White and one Black—is the ugly one. The boy points to the Black doll, and when asked why that doll is the ugly one, he proceeds to say “Because he’s Black.”

Representation in society is crucial to how children view themselves. It is a continuous, toxic cycle: society portrays Black children as ugly and bad, Black children internalize this concept, and the concept is regurgitated through the markets and media until the next generation of Black children has been brainwashed to believe they are ugly and bad, too.

In USA Today, Debbie Garrett, author of Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting and Experiencing the Passion speaks in regards to her daughter, saying, “she wanted to ‘make sure that as an African-American child, she saw herself in the dolls that she played with in order to reinforce her significance, her self-worth, and self-esteem.’” She continues on to say that “all children need to see themselves in a positive light,” because if they don’t, they tend to question themselves.

With that being said, it is imperative for African American families to show their children positive representations of Black people. Speak of Black people with the utmost respect, so your son or daughter adopts the same mentality. Do not allow your child to be watered down by colorism, especially as portrayed in the media. Instead, teach your children that it is perfectly fine to be unapologetically Black.