It may be something you’ve never really thought too much about: You walk into the store to buy your white child a doll and you reach for the palest version (which is often also the only version). In fact, there’s a good chance that if your child is white, the vast majority of their toys resemble them in skin tone.
But one woman, who is a foster and adoptive parent to children of different races and skin colours, would you like to stop before you buy your white child (or another white child) yet another fair-skinned doll. Maralee Bradley writes on her blog, A Musing Maralee:
Please buy your white kids some diverse dolls. Buy them the Captain America action figure AND the Black Panther one. Buy them a white Barbie, a black Ken and little brown-skinned, curly-haired Chelsea doll to go with it. White dolls aren’t just for white kids and black dolls aren’t just for black kids. Let your kids see you tell them how beautiful that black Barbie is, how precious that black baby looks and affirm what a good job your child does in caring for them.
Bradley wrote her plea after witnessing a conversation between two women who were shopping for a child’s birthday gift, debating whether a certain baby doll represented a child of colour and whether the parents of the (presumably white) birthday kid might object. As Bradley wanted to suggest to them, “If someone is going to be upset about receiving a black doll, that is not a home I want my child (white or brown or black) spending time in. Instead of avoiding that interaction, let’s just go all in and see what we’re dealing with.”
I like her style, but when it comes down to it, you don’t have control over the choices of another family. You do, however, have control over what toys come into your own home and how diverse—or not—they are.
Children of colour often play with white dolls simply because they are the most widely available. Debbie Garrett, author of Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion, told USA Today that she grew up in the South playing exclusively with white dolls. Store owners were either unwilling to carry black dolls or they were depicted in stereotypically racist ways.
In light of the paucity of black dolls, it’s “of the utmost importance for black children” to have dolls that look like them, Garrett said. Conversely, she argues because “white standards are promoted as the norm,” it’s important for white children to have dolls that represent different ethnicities, “to promote cultural diversity and an awareness that we are all one race: human.”
Toy options are starting to become more diverse, but children of colour still need to see themselves represented more. Meanwhile, white children have long been surrounded by an abundance of white role models and white characters in books, movies and TV shows. But one easy way to make their world a little more diverse is by increasing the diversity of their toys.