BLACK BARBIE: A lost treasure
OVER THE years, black dolls have become increasingly scarce in Britain; black Barbies, Pippa dolls, Action Men, Sasha dolls, Hambels; I liked Sasha from the Bratz Dolls. Why have they steadily whittled away?
Let’s make no bones about this; when it comes to business, it’s all about the coin. Toy companies have claimed that the absence of black dolls is down to an overall lack of demand for them.
A spokeswoman from preschool toy manufacturer Zapf Creation spoke to the BBC about its decision to discontinue the black versions of the Baby Born and Baby Annabell dolls:
"As a public limited company, we are forced to make decisions if business figures do not justify to keep a product in the range".
Supply and Demand
With that said, who’s lobbying for these dolls, again? One would expect it to be the black community but this doesn't appear to be high on the list of priorities.
If it was, then there’d be noise about its lack of accessibility and lack of manufacturing. If the black community feel strongly about a particular cause, it is made known and plain; from black Twitter to petitions, peaceful protests and letters of complaint.
According to the 2011 Census data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) black African/Caribbean/British individuals account for approximately 1,904,684 in the UK.
Now, assuming all of these households would be in favour of purchasing black dolls for their children, then there’s a potential market. Not to mention prospective purchases from non-black households. We are talking about a lack of demand for black dolls from black consumers, here.
The truth is that many of us only see the superficial purpose of toys and child’s play - a pleasant pastime designed to entertain and keep the yout’ dem quiet for a bit. It is not taken seriously. We are rather content to let our children exclusively play with white dolls though the odd black one in the mix would be 'nice'. As such, black dolls aren't actively sought out anymore; we make do and keep quiet. After all, no harm done, right? This is a mistake. Playtime is pivotal to a child’s development and dolls are an actual representation of people, which have been proven to influence children's perceptions of beauty, themselves and the world.
Race-equality expert at Nottingham Trent University Dr Sheine Peart feels that the apparent lack of black dolls is detrimental to the lives of black children. She believes that their lack of access to these dolls has psychological ramifications.
Though black dolls aren’t necessarily a staple for the black child’s emotional development per se, Peart’s theory makes sense. It actually calls to mind the work of sociologists Kenneth & Mamie Clark; namely their 1940s doll experiments which highlighted children’s attitudes about race at the time.
The Clarks asked black children about two dolls - one white and one black. 63% of them said they'd rather play with the white doll. Most said the white doll was 'nicer' than the black doll. A more recent doll test carried out in Nottingham by Journalist Khia Lewis-Todd was said to reflect similar findings.
Alicia Francis told The Voice about on occasion when she gifted her niece with a black doll. The child’s reaction, according to the South Londoner, was ‘disheartening’: “She screamed, cried and said she didn’t want to play with it because she wanted a ‘beautiful’ white doll”.
Associating traditional white aesthetic, as opposed to black, with beauty is something that many black women who wear weaves and/or bleach their skin have been accused of.
If there’s any truth in these allegations…might those issues of low self esteem have stemmed from ‘innocent’ child’s play and the perceptions created during formative years? In isolation, this is unlikely.
When combined with other ills which plague our society such as the mass marginalisation of black presence in the mainstream sphere from TV and mass media to the boardroom and radio? The erasure of the black woman, in these contexts? The whitewashing of the history books and curriculum, for example, rendering the black experience as nonexistent at worst or unimportant at best? Quite possibly.
The high street is a reflection of the kind of society we live in and once again, black people are at the back of the bus. What are we going to do about it?
United Kingdom-based teacher Saffron Jackson is tackling the issue head-on with the launch of her Jamaican Patois-speaking doll line – ‘Zuree’.