Kids & Parenting · Musings

I Want That One (Not the Black One)

 

Yes, this is a post about how I feel when I see a Black child with a white doll and why I think it is extremely problematic.  Yes, this is a post about why I believe that Black and dual-heritage Black/white children should be given Black dolls to play with.

No, this isn’t a post about Lou and Andy from Little Britain.

So, the other day, I saw a mixed heritage (is that the right terminology?) family (white mother, Black father, 2 dual-heritage daughters). Nothing strange there.  In fact, we see this type of family represented almost every day in some form or another. However, the older daughter was clutching a doll. It was clearly a favourite. It wasn’t a Disney princess or film character. It was a generic doll. The child was about 5.  Again, no big deal. The doll was white with long, straight, blonde hair. So, let’s think about this. Child with afro hair and brown skin. Mother with long, straight, brown hair and white skin. Doll with long, straight, blonde hair and white skin. Maybe I was super-hormonal at the time, but it really upset me. I wondered who had bought the doll and whether the child had requested it.

Now, you might be thinking “For God’s sake! Chill out, Cee!  That child has every right to a white doll!  That child is half-white!”  Now, I would respectfully say to you, all things being equal, you would be correct.  But, as we all know, things are not equal, so…what now?

Unless you have been trapped under a rock for your entire life, you will have been exposed in some way, shape or form to the doll test.  Back in the ’40s, US psychologist husband and wife team, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, who were Black PhD doctors btw, the first African-Americans to earn a doctorate degree in Psychology from Ivy league Columbia University, designed and conducted a series of experiments known as “the doll tests” to study the forming of identity and the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children.

Mamie and Kenneth Clark, source unknown.

The Clarks used four identical dolls, identical, that is, except for their colour, to help to understand the racial perceptions of Black children. They asked a number of children, between the ages of three and seven, to identify the race of the dolls and which doll they preferred. The majority of the children preferred the white doll and spoke positively about it’s characteristics e.g. it was the nice doll rather than the bad doll.  As a result, the Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children, promoting self-hatred and internalised racism.  Their study led to the finding that segregation in schools was unconstitutional in the seminal case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  

The Doll Tests. Photographer: Gordon Parks,1947

The doll test has been replicated a number of times over the years and the outcome remains the same: majority of the children see the white doll as the “nice” or the “good” or the “pretty” doll and the Black doll as the antithesis of those things.  Then they realise that they look like the Black doll… *heavy sigh*

The Doll Tests. Photographer: Gordon Parks,1947

So, back to this child and her white doll.  Maybe she has a ton of Black dolls at home but decided on her white doll on that particular day.  Who knows?  What I do know, however, is that a child playing with a doll can be way more than simply a child playing with a doll.  During those formative years, children learn so much about life through play and through observing those closest to them.  They learn about societal norms and social hierarchies and relationships and everything.  As a Black child, I would put a tea towel on my head and whip my “hair” back and forth because of what I saw outside of my house and on the television.  The subliminal and not-so-subliminal messaging was clear – long, straight, ideally blonde, hair was the ultimate goal.  Short, Afro hair and brown skin was not.  I can only imagine what it must be like for a child who has different hair and skin to her own mother, and when I say “different”, I mean perceived as “harder to manage”, “untidy”, unprofessional”, “messy”, “wild”.  I know many little, dual-heritage girls with white mothers who, quite naturally, want their hair to look like their mother’s hair.  They cannot wait for the first time they are able to get their curls blow-dried straight so that they can truly look like the princesses they are told that they are.

Dual-heritage child with dual-heritage doll
Now this is a mini-me!

And it’s not reverse racism.  It really isn’t.  Of course a dual-heritage child can play with a white doll.  Of course a Black child can play with a white doll.  Of course a South or an East-Asian child can play with a white doll.  Of course a white child can play with a white doll.  But this cannot be the only type of doll a child is exposed to.  What message is that sending, especially to the dual-heritage child of a white mother?, “It’s ok dear, I know that you don’t look like me, but this doll does!  Here, go play with it!”  What about building the child’s sense of self and demonstrating that they and those who look like them are important enough to have dolls made in their image.  In the UK, we are shown every day that we should aspire to a certain type of beauty.  TV shows, adverts, billboards, magazines, newspapers are screaming their spirit-destroying messages at us.  It’s relentless!  I mean, we need only look at the very recently ended Love Island *sheds a tear* to see this.  I know it’s trash TV at it’s finest, but bear with me.  It took 3 seasons for a Black female to enter The Villa, and then, when she finally did, she was with excessively long weave (imho and maybe I’ll leave that discussion for another time *insert side eyes*) and only made the initial top three of one of the male islanders, eventually leaving the show for a guy who, upon her first showing interest in him, told her that he preferred the blonde.  You just couldn’t make it up!  Black and non-white girls have so much stacked against them in the first instance, we owe it to them, as our daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, friends, to at least give them the most solid grounding we can by helping them to believe in their own beauty and worth.

There is really no excuse when we have such easy access to Black dolls.  And I’m not just talking about a Barbie, Bratz or Monster High doll that has been sprayed a different colour, but still has the standard straight/slightly wavy synthetic hair that could be black, could be brown, could be blonde, and maybe even blue-green eyes, because finessing those details would take further time and investment *rolls eyes out of head*.  I’m talking about a doll that someone has taken the time to really put together with the child in mind.  I’m talking about a doll with textured hair that can be styled, and possibly even washed, without becoming a matted mess.

Black Girl Playing With Black Doll
Try washing that doll’s hair…I dare you.

I’m talking about a doll with African features.  I’m talking about a doll that comes in different shades, because, contrary to popular opinion, we don’t all look the same.  Dolls like these can be accessed online through stores such as Clarke’s Closet and Ice Cream Toys and Books.  They may be slightly more expensive than your standard new born (read white) baby doll, but, I can guarantee you, they are priceless if they help to build a child’s self-esteem.

Black Girl Holding Black Doll
The Clarke’s Closet “Nkechi” Upendo doll

If you know of any other stockists of Black and dual-heritage dolls that don’t look like they will haunt your nightmares (cos that’s another thing these dolls tend to have in common *rolls eyes*) please share in the comments.  I would love to know about them and I’m sure others would too!

And by no means am I suggesting that a child’s self-worth is determined by a doll.  I know that this issue is far more complex than a plastic doll with curly hair.   But, we must do what we can for our kids, and if showing them that the colour of their skin and the texture of their hair is no excuse for them to feel any less of a human being, then that’s the least we can do, right?

Cee x

9 thoughts on “I Want That One (Not the Black One)

  1. You are such a negative nancy. One of the negative black women trying to be relevant on Instagram but brands avoid you because of your negativity and dislike for white people. Only you has a problem with white dolls (no kid plays with dolls in search of representation) they just play with dolls cuz they are kids and kids like dolls-simple! Also what’s your business if a black woman wears wigs? Why so jealous? Every woman has free will to wear whatever they want so stop judging black women eg Samira for her weave and wigs. You are from Nigeria so I’m sure you know Nigerians wear wigs and look beautiful and graceful. It doesn’t matter who wears wigs or who wears short Afro-mind your business. The Samira you mentioned likes white guys with green eyes and blonde hair so are you now against black women who fancy white people? Gosh! Your just too negative for my liking. True Africans are proud of who they are and don’t go about moaning about white culture. You really need to surround yourself around lovely people and things, you lack it.

    1. I think you’re missing the point completely. I follow Cee on Instagram and ‘negative’ she is not. She is light hearted with a great sense of humour, inclusive and intelligent to start a debate such as this.
      I agree wholeheartedly with Cee about the dolls. My daughter is now 15. When she wanted dolls she had both white and black dolls and this also went with books. They weren’t quite as realistic as some are today. My daughter wasn’t represented in stories and I wanted her and the children I taught in primary school, to know that they do matter and this is also their space and they are not ‘other’. Little Red Riding Hood was one of the books I bought. It had a black protagonist which all the kids loved. My daughter is ‘mixed’ and loves her dual heritage and I would say she doesn’t value one over the other. Being represented helps enormously. And I feel my daughter being exposed to me promoting this viewpoint did give her and continues to give her confidence. This is needed when living in very white rural Devon. Psychologists have long agreed that children need to see positive images of themselves and if black children ONLY see that of the white doll they will falsely believe this is the image of beauty, good and deserved power etc and for themselves only that of self loathing.
      Books and dolls with accurate images of black children give the child a positive view of his/her self and therefore a strong sense of self-esteem.
      Plenty of research out there and it’s good to have the debate.

      1. Oh shut up! You elf. Of what use are you? Of course you will not see the bad points in Cee because you support every crap she spits from her hatred filled heart. She’s obviously against black people who fancy anything remotely white. I can’t stand her posts and I have unfollowed her due to her negativity. I’m pretty sure her mama never gave her black dolls to play with as a kid that’s why she moans so much about dolls validating one’s identity. What she needs to do is go on a journey in search of her true identity instead of using dolls as a case in point. Cee go and love yourself a bit more, or wear a wig whilst at it.

      2. Thank you for your comments and your experience-based insight. Grateful for educators like you. I, and so many others, appreciate you xxx

      3. One more point to you madam Elf, of all the black men in the world why did you settle for a white man? Did you feel represented in a white person? You and Cee are just talking from two sides of your mouth. I 100% agree with diversity and inclusion but my dear your house is diverse and will confuse your child let alone a lifeless doll. If you want your dual heritage child (what a ridiculous long name you guys come up with for mixed kids) to be well represented, then freaking show them a lot about their culture. Let them visit and be actively involved with people of their kind- their family. Let them learn the culture and tribe or whatever it is of both parents. Stop using crappy dolls as a bait to teach kids representation. If Devon is too stereotype for you, freaking move out to a black neighbourhood if that rocks your boat better. Y’all just need to chill with this hate of white things cuz it will choke you. You live in a highly populated white country or continent so you gone have to accept some shit and be more involved in positive things not irrelevant and intrusive things like a person’s child’s doll. If you don’t like a child’s doll, enter a supermarket and buy a better more representative doll for the child since you can’t mind your own motherhood. It’s such a shame that black mums like you guys think any opposing view is from a fellow black mum or a troll. You guys are not the spokespersons for black people.

        1. ‘None of Your Business’ – There’s absolutely no need to be so angry about debate, opinion and research and terms such ‘Mixed’, ‘dual heritage’. Once again, you miss the point re this blog. Did you read how this come about? Maybe not! You seem so deranged, full of bile spitting anger, malice and self-hatred it appears, even if you wanted, you are just incapable of discussing anything rationally and sticking to the point. I have no idea if you’re a troll or bonafide – either way, perhaps, I mean this kindly, you should seek professional counselling help, if you haven’t already as your behaviour is quite concerning. And if Cee, myself and others wind you up as you’ve displayed in your responses, maybe TRULY stop following her or dipping in to see what she has to say in her blogs & instagram account. It will be interesting to see if you come back again with your malice and not referring to the blog issue or if you are able to use skills to calm yourself down (meditation may help too). Anyway, whoever you are, I wish you well in controlling & reducing your anger and hate because that must be stressful for you. You could always make yourself a stress relief doll…in the image of you.

  2. Love and respect your view, NOT just on this blog post but many. I feel its very important for children to have access and information that represents them, and where they come from. With young girls its so important to have a variety of toys that can educate, inspire and make you love the skin (whatever pigmentation it comes in) you are born with. You have an amazing talent to put things across in such a light hearted and down to earth way. It makes people drawn to you Cee, and I can’t wait to see what’s up your sleeve. If only you could write tech, and financial stuff, I would have you working with me!

    1. Oh how I wish everyone realised the importance of representation 😔 Thank you, Marie-Claire. Means alot! xxx

  3. I saw your trolling post and I unfollowed your dry ass immediately. Like you are so irrelevant only a foolish troll would troll you. I’m not a troll and you hate my opposing views that’s why you think it’s safe to call me a troll. Haha! I laugh at your stupidity. Whether I’m black or not is none of your business. The fact still remains that you need to be diverse and inclusive in your thoughts and actions. We live in a diverse world and dolls are diverse but if u see a kid holding a diverse doll (whether black or white) mind your damn business. If it haunts you so bad, buy the kid a doll that represents the kid. You are so jobless that of all things to aggravate your innate anger – it’s a freaking doll, a toy! Gosh!! Go get a day job so you can stop being haunted by white dolls. Madam low self esteem. As I said earlier, Go love yourself then love others and maybe buy a wig and love white dolls too. Also advice your fellow black doll sellers to visit China and invent some stunning black dolls cuz that piece of cloth they use in making black dolls are just so ugly. White people think. They go to China and create stunning dolls eg Elsa and the likes, and black people go cutting corners and creating crap, scary looking dolls. Girl bye! With your gang of negative nancies who never tell you the truth but deep down they gossip about you. You all are fake, sly and too negative. My honest opinion. If I was a troll I would have thrown you into Mercury so the sun can melt you away, haha! your kind can be far away from the earth. We need more positive, black role models not dimwits like you always chatting shit. It’s your mate like Oprah that are doing big things for the black community, you are here crying over white dolls. Mscheww!

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