In the past century, research has been made around the lack of racial representation in Children’s dolls and how that affects their self-esteem. Results from experiments such as “The Doll Test” have shown that it is very important for black children to have access to attractive black dolls so their self-esteem can be boosted and there is a positive reflection of their own race seen in the objects they play with.
“Our children gain a sense of self importance through toys. So we make them look like them.” – Yla Eason, founder of Olmec’s
In the 1950s, the toy industry then initiated a movement towards the production of a line of dolls that were seen as “ethnically correct”. This movement was seen as a progression towards a solution to the lack of racial representation in children’s dolls. Thus giving birth to the Sara Lee Doll; the most noble and biggest failed attempt at creating something black children could play with and develop a sense of pride in their race from.
Despite the honor and pride that Sara Lee offered to the African American race, despite the symbol of equality that it was, despite its honorable intentions; the Sara Lee doll still failed, but why? Why have the African American
people rejected this doll when, for the first time, its intentions as a doll was not to mock them or to form part of the Caucasian imagination, but to honor them?
The Sara Lee Doll failed not because it was not good enough, but rather because, in the words of Gordon Patterson (Supporter of the “ethnically correct” doll):
“The Sara Lee Doll not only was assigned the role of healing racial wounds between White and Black citizens but also was expected to do the work of challenging the derogatory features of traditional Negro dolls and brokering racial acceptance from White citizens.”
The Sara Lee Doll had failed to change the racial prejudice that is already so deeply ingrained in society. The problem with the doll was not that it was disrespectful, it was that people were unwilling and couldn’t change what society had created: white beauty standards that could never be meet by a black doll simply because it is black.
The Sara Lee doll had indeed failed, yet it seems like it would be possible for more than fifty years later to have designed and manufactured a toy that for once was not the image of a black person in a white person’s mind: A caricature with horrifying big pouty lips, with obscenely sized body areas such as thighs and rear-end, and eyes that will steal your soul like voodoo dolls. Or a doll that for once was not Barbie simply painted black. Yet these dolls are still being made. What is going on? People don’t want to change. People don’t want to let go of symbolic racial norms.
Now, fifty years later, scholars such as Sabrina Lynette Thomas continue to argue that the creation of another Sara Lee doll, another “ethnically correct” doll is required to solve the bad self-esteem black children have and the lack of a positive sense of racial identity they have.
“She was a messenger of race pride for little colored children. She was an “ambassador of peace” to little White children whose lives she would influence by promoting an acceptance and respect for Negro people that would be present throughout their adult lives. The Sara Lee Doll was a symbolic lobby-ist against the racial status quo. – Thomas”
But the problem is that she holds on to the single belief that black children are more alike to each other than white children are. That there exists a doll that can possible represent a whole race and that this solution is not something that was already tried fifty years ago, and for some reason she expects it to work fifty years later
She fails to recognize that these dolls have not changed anything. Instead, they continue to force to develop a black beauty standard through this “ethnically” correct dolls that attempt to represent a whole race ideally, a one and only way to look like in order to be seen beautiful in a beauty standard that is still below white people. If any doubt still remains or for those who still don’t find this problematic, then ask yourselves why the line of African American Barbies: Asha, Nichelle and Shani and the other black Barbies out there look exactly like a white doll but with a black skin tone. In the end, can one truly say these Barbies represent African American women? Those are not their bodies, their life, or their culture. This is what an Eurocentric white beauty standard looks like.
Acknowledging this is important because it points out these beauty standards/stereotypes that attempt to sanitize and categorize America and bury the effects that years of racial prosecution has had on black children’s psyche, especially through children’s toys. It could also potentially present a step towards brokering racial acceptance and challenging the roles individuals take in society through their race.
Furthermore, acknowledging this is important because these dolls are carriers of ideality, of white beauty standards. Scholars such as Thomas are wrong to say that a single, “ethnically correct” doll can fix years of racial injustice and racial identity destruction because it has been more than fifty years since the first “ethnically correct” doll and it has not changed. These Barbies are symbolic of internalized oppression; of standards that continue to compare two clearly incomparable, different races.
Finally, and most importantly, acknowledging this IS important because these Barbies are murderers. These dolls are murderers. Murderers of identity, of self-esteem, of pride. It has been more than a century since these white beauty standards have spread through these dolls (both white, demeaning black dolls, and “ethnically correct” dolls) like a societal disease across the world and it is truly ignorant of people in society to not notice this or to simply deny recognizing the years of racial injustice that America carries with stick and blindfolded ignorance. Years that have only taught children to hide from this silent assailant, to hate their race and to feel insufficient.