The Great Doll Debate…Black vs. White

A few weeks ago I had a discussion with a good friend regarding the fact that she had seen a white woman in a very affluent part of Atlanta with her two girls who each happened to be carrying along black baby dolls.

In the conversation we mentioned how refreshing that was and how it shouldn’t have seemed odd to us in this day and age but unfortunately it does.

I’m sure you have heard about the Black Doll vs. White Doll experiment. If you’re not familiar here is a clip  on the project.

I never gave much thought to it, because I didn’t grow up dealing with these types of issues. My mother always told me although I was dark I was still beautiful and that ALL people are beautiful and not to let what others say about me, my hair, or my skin color bother me.

Fast forward to last week as I finished up getting a few things for the baby and found myself digging past many white dolls to find a black one while sucking my teeth when there were none to be found. I thought back to thoughts I’ve had in the past that black or white dolls don’t mold children’s attitudes about their heritage but being taught by their parents does. However, I am now in limbo about that. I can teach my children all I want that they are equal to others but if they don’t see that in action am I doing them an injustice? Now as I raise a little black girl, I am starting to think it does matter. I’m just not sure in what capacity, but at this moment I think it is important for Lil Mama to play with dolls that look like her. There will be a mix but the majority will be black.

What’s your take? If you are reading and are of another race, do you purchase black dolls for your children? Or does it even matter? Just curious on your thoughts.

About the author
Mom, wife and friend. I moonlight as a cooker, baker, laundry folder and organizer. I like to think I do it in style. Unlikely Martha is my contribution to the internet in helping women "Keep House and Stay Fly!"

35 Comments

  1. Moo has a mixture of black, white & hispanic dolls. I think that as long as you teach kids to love who they including their skin color then playing with dolls of different ethnic backgrounds will not be a problem. We also need to teach our young black kids to not make fun of each other based on the darkness or lightness of our skin. We have to teach them that there are many shades of brown & all of them are beautiful!
    YUMMommy recently posted..Interior Decorating

    1. Exactly! The light skin/dark skin teasing amongst ourselves must end! We have 7 children of various shades and my husband and I will not tolerate our kids thinking one shade is better than the other. We don’t care what society says.

      As far as the dolls, I would like the kids to have a fair and balanced choice. If no brown skin doll is in the shelf, it’s not fair or balanced.

      Hugs and Mocha,
      Stesha
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  2. Great post! I have not had to deal with this topic yet in my house because baby is only 5 mos. But I guess if my child wanted a doll or action figure he could pick out which ever figure/doll he wanted. It wouldn’t matter to me if it was white/black. I just want to teach him to love everyone, and that skin color does not matter
    Alicia recently posted..What’s For Dinner?

  3. I decided early on that I would only bring black dolls into the house. In my opinion, appreciation for other races will be learned, they are all over their favorite shows and cartoons. But it was most important to me that they learn to love themselves and unfortunately, we dont have as many resources to use to get that across. So they have to learn that at home. Our house will be filled with people that look like us. I think that helps to even it out a little bit.
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  4. I think it’s important that “minority” children are exposed to like images throughout their lives. Mainsteam media does an excellent job of portraying Anglo images as the standard of beauty therefore I think parents should clarify on what beauty authentically is.

    With the rage of the American Girl doll, I’ve seen a lot of while girls with minority dolls. It’s what they see as beauty and is self selected therefore I think the parents should left them roll with it. However, I as an black woman, would have qualms about my children seeing mainstream Anglo as the standard of beauty. It’s beauty but not the variable of meaurement.
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  5. Great topic! My children are mixed, black and hispanic. My 2 year old daughter has mostly black dolls but also has a hispanic and a white doll. I think it’s important for her to understand her heritage and I will do my best to teach her the beauty of her race(s) as well as others. My Dad and his wife actually picked an asian looking doll for her this Xmas which I think is adorable. She loves all her dolls but mostly plays with her black dolls. Most dolls in toy stores are white but I have seen a larger amount of ethnic dolls become available over the years.
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  6. I was just thinking about this as we get ready to get some toys for Christmas. We have variety of dolls from different backgrounds for Zee, but I would okay if we get more black dolls.

    Guess its more for my satisfaction than hers since black or white dolls don’t really represent her (not 100%), heck, we can’t even find a biracial family anywhere (as expected).

    Going to see if I can order a mixed family (by requesting the dolls to be mixed–one from each nationality or something like that).
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  7. When I was a little girl, my parents didn’t have much variety to choose from so my dolls were always white dolls. Every once in awhile, I might get a black one. Thing is due to my complexion sometimes the dolls that were considered “white” dolls with dark hair looked more like me. I don’t have a daughter, but have a few nieces and other little girls that I buy for, so I generally try to buy the doll that is closest to the child’s complexion.
    Would I buy a white doll for a black child? Yes.
    Would I buy a black doll for a white child? I don’t know. I have done this for bi-racial children.
    Great post, you got me thinking……….
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  8. I only have black dolls because I want my daughter to appreciate herself and I want her to know that black is beautiful. I am with K.Rock on this one. Not enough positive images of our own race.
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  9. My daughter is only 12 weeks, but I intend to ONLY (I wish I could BOLD the word ONLY)purchase black dolls for her (while I would never deter her from picking out dolls that are other races – I just know that any special “just because” gift in the form of a doll from mom will be black).

    Mainstream media will give her enough exposure to outside races.

    While I want her to love all, I’m instlilling heavy heeps of self love first.
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  10. Jasmine has MOSTLY black dolls. She has one white doll that she is terrified of ( go figure) and she won’t play with it. I think it’s important for her to have dolls that look like her. I think she’ll appreciate her curly hair having a doll who also has curly hair. I know my niece Deja use to want bone straight hair “like the girl at school” and I always hated her envy of suck a thing but that’s what she learned. She had white dolls and white friends.

  11. Great topic. I had a mix of dolls growing up and never gave it much thought. I have seen that video many times and it breaks my heart. I see the same problem all the time in adults though. People tend to doubt people of color all the time whether it be a political candidate or doctor. Sometimes you can have the same title and the same degree but people assume your white counterpart is more qualified simply because they’re white. The thinking behind this experiment sticks with some people well beyond childhood. I say all that to say, I think that telling our kids they are beautiful coupled with showing them their beauty and the beauty of others like them is the way to go. Throwing chocolate dolls in the mix is a part of that.
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  12. My girls have only had dolls close to their complextion so they are mostly the hispanic dolls because the “black” dolls are usually very dark. I just decided it was best to buy them dolls that look like them. I never thought about the issue until just recently I order 2 of the same dolls for my girls and one came black while the other was white with blonde hair. I took it to exchange it because it wasn’t what I ordered and I didn’t know how to separate the dolls because I didn’t want them to fight over who gets which one. I ended up not getting the one I originally ordered because it wasn’t in stock but a white doll with black hair that maybe can pass for hispanic. I now realized how bias I was in picking dolls but it really shouldn’t be that serious and the girls probably wouldn’t even care.
    Kim recently posted..Candy Cane Cheesecake

    1. Exactly. That’s how it was when I was looking for the black baby. It was almost subconscious. In my head I didn’t have the idea to look for a black baby it was just an action. You are right. While we as parents are over thinking the process they probably could care less. I’m inclined to think that is a good thing.

  13. So glad to hear this discussion. It is nice to see different races playing with dolls/toys of different races than their own, but I always question it in the back of my mind. As a white mom to a multiracial family, I feel it’s very important to surround our daughters with dolls that represent them. That means most dolls are black in our home, the media is so white washed as it is, along with the standard of beauty as well. I think it’s our job to surround our children with anything we can get our hands on to show how beautiful their skin and features are, if it’s books, art work, toys etc. The more you have in your home the better. The problem I have lately is not being able to find Barbies with natural hair, not only does my daughter want a Barbie that looks like her she also wants one with hair like hers. I’m also frustrated by the fact that a black Barbie as a doctor, vet, puppy sitter, or horse trainer is virtually nonexistent! My daughter wants those sets too and she doesn’t want the blonde with blue eyes. Ok, I sound like I’m ranting. 😉

    1. I know that Barbie doesn’t make them with natural hair but I came across a site where they made dolls that look similar to Barbie that had natural hair. When I find it I will send you the link via Twitter.

  14. This is an ongoing battle! Marketing makes sure you know that the white doll seems superior. This is especially challenging for me because I live in middle America that is prodomiently white, and when I go to the stores to purchase a black doll, there are none, maybe barbies but no Cabbage patches or big babies. Once I took my 5 yo to the store to let her pick out some toys, literally we spent 2hrs in the store while she decided. I told her if she was getting a doll she “had” to get a black one in addition to whatever else she choose. All her friends are white.
    MangoChutney recently posted..Do You Wear A Uniform?

    1. You can say that again. I think the market is doing better, but there is still a long way to go. I’m just not even sure to complain to. I thought Walmart would have had a large selection but they didn’t.

  15. I always had mostly white dolls growing up. I loved me some Barbie! I remember when suddenly she had a Hawaiian friend, and loved playing with that doll! And then Barbie suddenly had a Spanish friend and it was so nice to play with a doll that wasn’t blonde. Heck, I even had the MJ doll he rolled with all the dolls. But I didn’t give much thought to it growing up, but I do remember being excited by a doll with hair another color besides blonde. For Christmas this year we are getting T a baby doll and I actually picked one with tan skin, like my own.
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  16. Oooh, good question. I have a seven-year-old and for me it’s important to have a doll that looks like her. I think it reinforces self-love and that she is beautiful. Whe she complains about her hair not being “yellow and straight” like some of her friends, and I have to remind her that she is different in a special way.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white girl with a brown baby doll but I hope to see that some day soon!
    Justice Jonesie recently posted..Comment on Giuliana Rancic Shows Strength of a Woman by marcela

    1. I went to a school in Alexandria, VA where I was one of only 7 black girls in the whole school. I remember asking my mom to cut my hair in a bob like theirs. I don’t know if it ever clicked to me that I wasn’t white. My world wasn’t opened to that yet. Like you my mother had a talk to let me know that I was different and that was fine, but that I had limitations to things that I could do with my hair etc. I hate that these talks still have to be had in this day but it is still so necessary as the media surely hasn’t done a great job at showing beauty in the most diverse manner. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. My daughter always had both black and white dolls. I never made a big deal out of it . Her Cabbage Patch was the only thing I was adamant about, and that was hispanic because my daughter is has a light complexion. She’s soon to be 13 now and my main focus has always been on letting her know that she’s beautiful from the inside out, and hopefully not allowing outside forces to tell her otherwise.
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    1. That’s the important thing. While society is getting better at showing a diverse range of beauty there are still miles to travel. As mothers and parents it is our duty to make them understand this at an early age.

  18. Even i would like to have my kid play with both of them! I had never really bothered about it as it thought it is pretty natural and a doll of a different color wouldnt make any difference.. because these colors dont really matter to me, i prefer humans rather than colors of skins

    Just now discussed it with my wife, today i realized what special efforts she has been taking to get exposure of it to my kid.. I think i am in love with her again :)!!!
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  19. WOW! This is a difficult topic! When I grew up, I had black and white dolls and dont knwo if it did anything to me one way or the other! I just know that my facorite doll, Big Moma, was an old fat face white with blond yarn hair! I had black dolls too! It could be a reason that I give all people a chance and not base it on their ancestors actions. I think exposure is best along with conversation and making sure they understand. This is a realy tough topic! Great post MiMi!
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  20. This is a great topic of discussion. I think overall children should have a mixture because it probably doesn’t bother them as much as it does adults, so why not? Some children may naturally gravitate towards the dolls that look most familiar to them and some may gravitate towards what they view as beautiful. It does all start in the home and Mimi you’re right about showing your daughter, in actions, what you teach her. Children only repeat what they see and hear over and over. But no matter what race of dolls they play with , they should always know that they are beautiful just the way they are. As a child I always had a mix, but I was exposed to a mix of people at school, my parents friends and my friends, so a mix of dolls was natural for me. Well, growing up in the 80″s the mix was really only black and white dolls. Those were really the only options.
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  21. i love this..i was thinking about this the other day. i think little girls gravitate towards what they think looks pretty and or resembles them..i would probably leave it up to my child ot pick their own toys if we went to the store together however if i was purchasing something for her…i would choose the black dolls just because they resemble me. i wanted a black Barbie when i was younger…it wasn’t until i was older that i realized Barbie is actually white but she has black, hispanic and other white friends. This was very insightful for me as an older child because at the end of the day it’s true and it’s ok for me to want the white Barbie and her friends that looked like me too.
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  22. Hunni I sucribe to the old school of thought and I advocate for like images being displayed or purchased in the home. We are a strong people and it pains me to realize that some of our children are not taught this and informed about our heritage and culture. It may sound fartfetched but it starts with the small things like a doll or a picture of beauty and it’s not reflected by our race. We need to begin to promote pride in ourselves and appreciate our ethnicity.
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  23. Most of my daughter’s dolls are black. And that is because she inherited my black doll collection. I used to scoop them up way before I had her or was even married. Thing is? She’s not even into dolls.

    She does have a few white dolls – mostly given as birthday gifts from her white classmates and I don’t have any problem with her having them.

    My goal: raise a child who is aware of her own beauty without negating the beauty of others.
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  24. This conversation is very interesting. I live in Mexico, and many people in the States don’t know but there is a rampant racism going on down here. And is not about black and white, is about brown and white, the majority, I would say 95% of the dolls sold in this country are white with light hair and light eyes, while close to 80% of the mexican population has brown skin. There are literally no brown dolls available. In order to get one for my niece i had to go to the states and get an American Girl doll. I just wanted to share this so you guys know that sadly is a far more racist country than the US. At least over there the conversation is open, but here we deny it fiercely.

  25. Growing up I loved Barbie and had lots of them. However, I only wanted white ones because as Mrs pancakes stated Barbie is white. I had a few of her multi-racial friends, but I wanted my Barbies to be white. I was a kid, but I remember family members stating in a “joking” way that I didn’t “like” the black Barbie, she wasn’t good enough for me, but that wasn’t the space I was coming from. I wanted the doll to be what she was made to be plus they never got the make-up right on the black Barbie. I had other black dolls Cabbage Patch, Baby Alive, etc.
    Going forward and with my son I will just buy anything when it comes to dolls and action figures. He and any future children will have Black, Puerto Rican and Italian/Irish roots. I figure I buy just about any doll and be covered. However, if my husband was Black I’m sure the majority of the dolls I’d buy would be black, but Barbie would still be white.
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