In a world where ignorance is at an all time high, it is time to bring things back in to perspective.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Open Letter to Disney and Mattel

I can recall as a child my mother was very deliberate in making sure I had black dolls to play with.  There are many stories in my family where we joke about my mother ready to fight another woman in the store for the last black Cabbage Patch doll in the store.  I even recall when I moved on to Barbie dolls my mother searched high and low to make sure she found me a black Barbie doll.  She was extremely upset that she could not find a black Ken doll and that was the only white doll she ever purchased for me.  My mother understood the importance of a child seeing images that resemble them.  She also knew that kids learn a lot from the dolls they play with.  

When Princess and The Frog debuted in 2009 I was extremely excited.  I was pregnant with my daughter at the time and I can remember thinking my daughter will have an opportunity I never had in my childhood.  She would have chance to see a princess who looks like her.  You see we had a few black dolls, but never a black princess.  I also thought that it would now be much easier for me to find black dolls than it was for my mother, unfortunately I was wrong.

When the movie debuted there were quite a few items you could find with Princess Tiana on them.  The next year when the next Disney movie came out Princess Tiana items began to quickly disappear.  Then she became one of the Disney Princesses on various items.  However, even that was misleading many times.  Either Princess Tiana was not on the item at all or sometimes on the packaging but not on the actual item.  I could not understand why you could not find Princess Tiana items?  Why did she have to be grouped with the other Princesses?  Princess and the Frog had only been out for about a year whereas Snow White debuted in 1937 and Cinderella in 1950.  Why could she not have more time alone?  It was extremely upsetting for me and it just did not seem right.  I then found myself on these same search missions for Princess Tiana items similar to my mother’s.

In my anguish I initially did what my mother taught me - write.  I wrote a letter to Disney and submitted it on their website.  I never received a response.  Then I decided to write Target.  I spend so much money there that I feel they should know the concerns of their customers.  I did receive a response from Target stating to try online or other stores.  While I appreciate the response the young lady did not seem to understand that I had already done this.  


On my search for Princess Tiana and other black dolls I go to several stores in various areas and I search online.  However, the results are all the same.  Either there is little to no Princess Tiana items and black dolls or they are very questionable.  For example, on one of my trips to Target as usual I strolled down through the toys aisles.  As I made it to the Barbie aisle I was utterly disgusted.  First, there are very few black Barbie dolls, which is a problem in and of itself.  Then I could not help but notice the So in Style black Barbie next to another white Barbie.  


This enraged me.  With so few black Barbie dolls why must the couple in the store look like a video vixen?  Then right next to what I call suburban Barbie.  What messages are you giving our children who come and see these two Barbie dolls next to each other?  As I shared this story with a friend she told me that Kimora Lee Simmons was actually the designer of this doll.   

I am not against a little girl being a fashionista however; this doll says it is for ages 3 and up.  My daughter just turned 3 and I cannot in good conscious give her this doll.  But more importantly while we have the black So in Style Barbie can we also have the black I Can Be dolls in the store?  In the stores you see white I Can be a doctor, astronaut, president and much more.  Apparently, the only thing black Barbie can be is a fashionista (or video vixen you decide).  You search online and there is an African-American I Can Be a Doctor and Teacher that is supposedly available in stores only.  Problem is that they are not available in any stores I have seen.  All I could do at the time was shake my head and sigh.  

I shook my head because I fully understand how much children learn from toys.  I can recall overhearing a little black girl in the store with her mother.  She was excited as she walked down the Barbie aisle trying to convince her mother to purchase several Barbie accessories.  Then she began to explain to her mother that this is Barbie pointing to the white doll and this is her husband pointing to the white doll.  She did not have the opportunity to point to a black husband and wife because there was not one available.   

Some think that I may go to far in continuously speaking about the lack of black dolls, but I assure you that this is a very real problem.  In  A Girl Like Me teen filmmaker Kiri Davis re-conducts the “doll test” that Dr. Kenneth Clark conducted in 1947.  The results were heartbreaking.  Fifteen out of twenty-one children preferred the white doll.  They referred to the white doll as the nice one or the pretty one.  I am suggesting, that we can no longer allow it to be acceptable for only the white doll to be pretty or nice.  Our children must learn that the black doll is also beautiful and nice.  However, we cannot teach our children this if we do not have the black doll available to us.  

According to 2012 Nielsen Report on African-American Consumers, by 2015 African-American spending is projected to reach $1.1 trillion.  That is trillion with a ‘T’.  Clearly, African-Americans purchase goods and services when items are made available to them.  Let me be clear, like my mother I will not purchase any doll or item that does not have a positive black image.  There are many more like me.  I believe it is important that my child sees positive black images and that she understands that black is beautiful as well.  I do not want my child to submit to the self-hatred in believing that only things that are white are beautiful.  

Our world is changing and the faces of the people are changing.  It is no longer adequate for only white faces to be on everything offered to people of many colors.  I applaud the efforts of those like Sheri Crawley who created Pretty Brown Girl dolls because of these issues.  I immediately supported her and purchased one.  I also believe that it should not only be on the Sheri’s of the world to offer us beautiful dolls in various colors.  Disney, Mattel, and Kimora Lee Simmons should offer us these beautiful dolls as well.  Further, all the other brands who use Barbie and the Disney characters should offer this as well.  When I walk into Stride Rite there should be Princess Tiana shoes next to the Cinderella and Snow White shoes.  When I walk in the party store there should be a Princess Tiana section like the Cinderella and Snow White.  Lastly, when I walk down the Barbie aisle there should be more than two black dolls and some of the bags and accessories should have a black face.   I should not feel like I am on a nation wide manhunt just to find a black doll.

I know that I am not alone.  I have so many friends and relative who have these same complaints.  At what point will you recognize that there is a need for these toys?  How long will you continue to ignore the African American population and the $1.1 trillion they are spending? When will you finally make the toy aisle look more like the world?