08 December 2015


I was at Target today picking up a few odds and ends: a gingerbread man cookie cutter, wrapping paper, the two boxes of larabars and a bunch + single banana that LB tossed into the cart. I was hoping to grab a couple of the little kid Barbie dolls while I was there, so I headed over to the toy department. I planned on getting the Tamika and Madison dolls, as they most resembled my girls.

Also, I did not know their names until I just now looked them up.

I walked through the aisle twice, but only found the blonde version of Barbie's little sister in four different outfits, along with one additional White friend. I did find I asked an employee in the aisle if I could talk to him about the products they have in stock. He told me he wasn't typically in that department, but left and returned with a White man, perhaps in his fifties, who was, presumably, in charge of the toy department.

Man, with a smile: Can I help you?

Me, gesturing to the shelf: Yes. I'm wondering if you can you order more of the smaller Black dolls? I've seen them in stock before.

Man, smile quickly fading: Oh. No, I can't do that.

Me: Why not?

Man: Well... (leaning in, voice lowered) Do you want to know the truth?

Me: Okay.

Man: They come in an assorted pack. Some have White dolls and some have Black. We only have two options and that's what we get.

Me: So, can you order the set with the Black dolls?

Man: I can't do that. But we do have a Black baby doll in the next aisle.

Me: I don't want that doll. I want this one.

Man: I get it. I understand, but I can't do anything. You're going to have to take that up with Mattel.

Me: I need to talk to Mattel about what you choose to stock?

Man: Yes. My hands are tied.

Me: Hmm. Okay, I'll put a word in to Mattel.

Man, walking away: And ask if they can give us more than two options.

I've successfully gotten a grocery store to carry a vegan cheese that maybe two other customers beside myself buy, and I did not have to petition the cheese company. But what do I know, maybe Mattel really is restricting the sales of Black Barbies.

At this point, I noticed LB at my side on a scooter made for an 18-inch doll. I would say I had her put it back right away, but then I'd be lying. She rode with a serious look on her face, as though it were the most normal thing in the world, as I thought about what I should say to Mattel. You know, because this totally falls on them. (Eye roll.)

Hey Mattel,

The Ava DuVernay and Zendaya dolls? Awesome.

For real.

What a start to a much needed step toward realistic dolls of Color. I hope you take the positive feedback you're getting and run with it. Give the one mold fits all the old heave-ho. I mean, you can dye Barbie's blonde hair black, but it's still the same hair. You can use a darker shade of plastic, but the features are still the same all the way across the toy shelf.

This is a chance to revamp and shine- really get it right.

I would love to talk about how your Black Holiday Barbie looks like a tan White Barbie at best.

I would love to talk about curly hair. I would love to talk about dark, beautiful skin. Melanin, Mattel. Melanin.

I would love to, but that's not why I'm writing this.

There's a bigger issue.

See, you can make all these changes- I hope you do make these changes!- but then what?

Where are the little girls who deserve to have a Barbie that looks like them, gorgeous kinky curls and all, going to see these dolls? Will they have to go online and do a thorough search until they find what they're looking for?

Because Mattel? These little girls aren't online. They aren't on Amazon.

They're in toy stores. They're in Target. They are riding around on doll scooters while their mamas kindly ask the toy department manager to restock the dolls that come closest to looking like them. You know, the manager that doesn't see why it's important to have a racially diverse toy department and tries to pass the blame.

That's where the real problem is. You can make these dolls and toys, you already do make some, but if stores are choosing to not carry them, we're kind of at a standstill.

So I guess what I'm getting at is, instead of focusing your efforts on the positive direction you seem to be moving, could you take a moment and come up with a way to get through to the toy departments that seem to turn a blind eye to how discouraging their shelves can be.

Can you think of a way to help them see that by stocking dolls and toys of Color, they are sending a message to the the kids that run through their aisles- a message that says, loud and clear, "You're important. We see you. We hear you." 

Can you figure out how to get them to display the dolls and toys of Color that they do have prominently, alongside their White counterparts, rather than behind them- way, way behind them?

Can you maybe, somehow get the managers and employees of stores that carry your products to realize the racial prejudices and feelings they might harbor privately are being manifest in a very public way, and an incredibly harmful one at that?

Can you do this? I mean, after all,  the toy manager did say it's on you.


A mama who wholeheartedly supports your efforts and direction

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