I’m a Barbie girl living in a White world

blonde barbie doll with red headed barbie doll child

Take a moment and think back to what dolls you played with as a child. Most of you probably mentioned companies such as Barbie or American Girl. What did these dolls look like? Unfortunately, the majority of you probably said they were White, blonde, and had blue eyes. Most people think why does this matter? It is just a toy. However, it does matter. Although children are young, they are very observant. As they grow up they are absorbing and storing large amounts of information. With most of their time being occupied with toys like those mentioned above, they are being reinforced that those are the kind of people they should be like and look up to. This has consequential results on a child’s development of themselves and their world perception.

Through play children are primed with who they should look up to and what kind of people they should look like as adults. In Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components by Patricia G. Devine, a quote that is important to this concept is “there is strong evidence that stereotypes are well established in children’s memories before children develop cognitive ability and flexibility to question or critically evaluate the stereotype’s validity or acceptability.” The exposure a child has shapes the way they think and those associations become permanent already at a very young age. These toys should be considered as learning tools. They are not just for play, but are providing information about the world and society. However, if the majority of dolls are white what does that teach children?

There is strong evidence that stereotypes are well established in children’s memories before children develop cognitive ability and flexibility to question or critically evaluate the stereotype’s validity or acceptability.

Devine (1989)

In the 1940s a doll experiment was conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark. Their research found that both black and white children preferred white dolls. Only in 1979 did Barbie release the first black Barbie’s. However, those dolls do not just say Barbie. They have to emphasize that it is “Black Barbie”. These dolls are portrayed to be side rather than standard. This teaches children an attitude that white skin is superior to black skin. Educators and parents must be more conscious of the exposure their children have. There is a clear lack of representation in the appearance of children’s toys. This in an indirect way is perpetuating white supremacy. We only have a limited window of opportunity to protect children from learning stereotypes and prejudice. How should we diversify children’s toys to eliminate white supremacist attitudes?

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