Saw a video on Facebook this morning by a young woman I don’t know, but somehow it still managed to catch my eye. The video was made back in December 2013, and you can watch it HERE. If for some reason, you don’t watch the video, basically it is the young woman, Zenobia (love the name), pointing out the differences between a line of dolls. Zenobia points out that all the dolls are priced the same, and each comes with a book and a bunch of accessories—all except the black doll. The black doll comes with no book and no accessories. Some people don’t see the problem with this, so I will explain it on two levels.
First, we have the financial level. If all the dolls cost the same amount, but you get less merchandise with the black doll, chances are it won’t sell well. Most parents—including many black parents—are likely to look at the black doll, and see that they are getting less product for their consumer dollar, so they’ll pass it up for another one. This will result in low sales of the black doll, which will then make it seem like no one wants the black doll, which the sales figures will back up. Then this company (and other companies, I assure you), will use this as an argument for not making or selling black dolls. In turn, this creates a scenario where kids are then left to only play with white dolls. Now, I’m not saying kids shouldn’t play with white dolls, or that black kids should only play with black dolls. What I’m saying is that kids should be playing with dolls that offer a realistic representation of the world, and not a hegemonic enforcement of white power structure. Which leads me to my second point…
This line of dolls is called Our Generation Dolls. With the exception of the black doll, and one that may be Latino, the rest are all white. No Asian, Native American, disabled, or any other types of representations are to be found in this line of toys, which I might add is clearly made and marketed towards girls (and which raises a whole bunch of gender identity issues I’m not even going to touch). When you look at all these Our Generation Dolls (which I admit, creep me out), and you see that all the white dolls come with accessories and books, but the black doll comes with nothing, it sends a message. This message is firmly rooted in racial ideology that endows white people with a richer history and greater sense of importance than it does people of color. By now some of you are saying, “But it is just a doll!!!!” And to that, I say with as much love and affection as I can muster, “The hell it is.”
What we are talking about is a form of oppression through omission—both financial and ideological. It may not seem like it is that big of a deal, because it is a bunch of creepy looking dolls that I would never want, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a big deal. Oppression through omission is insidious and devastating, and often difficult to spot, because it comes in the form of something as simple as a doll, or a movie with an all-white cast, and not a single person of color anywhere to be seen. This form of omission renders people of color invisible, or it devalues their worth in comparison to white people, and thereby dehumanizes them.
It’s great that Our Generation Dolls has a black doll, but give her some accessories and a book, just like the white dolls, or at least lower the price so that parents won’t feel like they’re getting ripped off. And while you’re at it, Our Generation Dolls, do something to bring a greater sense of diversity in representation to your products, and consider the role that you’re playing in enforcing old school gender roles that do little more than capitulate to existing patriarchal paradigm.