Dear Target: All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Black Doll

Girl (3-5) kissing doll on floor, close-up
Girl (3-5) kissing doll on floor, close-up

Dear Target,

I could start this by saying thank you for producing a doll similar enough to American Girl that my American girls can actually afford, but that would be simple, and you're Target, the middle-class American's mecca. I know that you can do better than just affordable, so I'm asking you to step up your game.

People who know me, know that I hate shopping. Like literally the mall is something I brave once or twice a year at best. I don't really enjoy the crowds and so I'm happy to handle the groceries and essentials and let my husband take our girls shopping for the fun stuff. You know, the joy of taking that birthday or Christmas money to the store, searching the aisles for what seems like forever to pick just the right item and feel like a total grown up when the cashier hands you your change and receipt. This Christmas was a little different, since daddy had to work. I had to take the girls armed with petite purses full of crumpled cash and brave the after Christmas crowds and head to the bullseye. Knowing that my daughters wanted to expand the little world they were creating with the Our Generation line of dolls, we headed to Target. My inner frugalista was pleased with this since peaking at that awesome Target clearance is a bonus for me. But as we came to the understandably picked over doll aisle, I was disappointed to say the least. Not because the aisle was sparse. I can understand a limited selection in the store, but here's my complaint.

Why is there only one Black doll?

Not on the shelves, but period.

While this is a slight exaggeration, it's really only a slight one. On the website, there are approximately 64 Our Generation dolls, of those, maybe 3 might be considered Black, or non-white. Some of the dolls come with at least some accessories, some don't. The spectrum of hair styles is reflective of what you might see walking through the aisles of Target. Some have longer or shorter hair and colors across the rainbow. Sandy blonde, redheads, platinum blondes, brunettes, curly and straight. Choices, variety, just what one would expect, especially from Target.

But let's say you're looking for a brown doll. One that resembles your own child's skin tone as well as hair color.

You then drop from around 60 choices to 3.

Yes, 3.

On a day when there is a more limited selection in stores, you get one. To be honest, when I've been to Target on other days, there's still only one.

Some of you may think, "What's the big deal?" or "It's just a doll, who cares?"

But here's why this matters. The way children play, teaches them about life. When they only see one black doll with some bracelets and earrings, and the white ones have a ski slope ensemble or a full ballet scene with accompanying story book, they naturally want the white doll and subconsciously they can decide that the white doll is better. Removing the word doll from this sentence and thinking that, white is better is not as big of a jump as you might think.

Have you ever heard of the doll test? Don't feel bad if you don't, many people have never heard of it or don't know exactly what it means. But the quick synopsis is that in the 1940's, psychologists, Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, designed and implemented an experiment that tested the perceptions of Black children as it related to the dolls that they play with. Time after time the children picked the white dolls as "better" or "nice," while acknowledging that the brown doll looked more like them. The concern is, children can internalize these perceptions of dolls to include how they view themselves. So if only the white doll skis, then only white people ski. If only the white doll does ballet, then only white people do ballet. Some may call this a leap, but those of us who value play as both therapeutic and educational understand that something as simple as a doll can be a powerful toll when used effectively.

It would be easy to discount the study saying, "Things were different then, that wouldn't happen now." But then you might look at a similar experiment conducted in 2007. That one, conducted by a student, showed the same results. In our "post-racial" society, when the majority of our country voted for a Biracial president, it would be easy to believe that we're over these types of issues, but take a look at this video and you'll see that the results of the original still ring true.

As a mother of four Black daughters, I am keenly aware of how my daughters perceive themselves in terms of self-esteem and values. I don't let them watch the "real" housewives of anything and there's no hypersexual music videos in their lives, because, while I believe in confidence, I don't want theirs to be at all linked to the ratio between their breasts, waist and thighs. I believe in children being children and I love the creative expressions that come from their imaginations when they play. The topic of limited access to Black Barbies is even one that came up during the filming of the Roots and Wings documentary and it's something that comes up often in family conversations. It's not new, but I'm tired of it.

That's why I need you, Target. I need you to give my daughters a chance to have a full spectrum of dolls in their room that is more reflective of their reality, so that they can also springboard their imagination. No, I've never been skiing, but if my daughter wants to have a doll with those accessories, I don't want it to have to be a platinum blonde version. I know that Target listens to consumers, remember that whole gender neutral toy section thing?

But, I'm not letting everyone else off the hook.

We've had this same complaint of many other retailers or major manufacturers. Often times, we have to order dolls online to have the best selection. There are times when the in store display is only a fraction of the full line. I understand business principles, and fully stocking the entire line is not necessarily the most cost effective method of keeping shipping costs reasonable. But if you're going to ship 500 Barbies to the store, why can't say 40 percent be Black, instead of the 5-10 percent that's more common? That brings us to a deeper underlying truth that we've all silently accepted, and I'm calling on Target to rise to the occasion.

We expect Black people to buy White dolls, but we don't expect White people to buy the Black ones.

Yes, I said it.

There is an expectation that is widely accepted, by Black and White America alike, that says White dolls have more appeal, they are more marketable and should be more readily available. Black dolls having a more limited market don't represent a big enough chunk of the demand to warrant more space on the shelves.

So while my request for Target is to produce more African American dolls with a variety of accessories that will keep my children from having to pick from only one or two, or me having to deny my inner militant momma and let them buy the white one, I have a challenge for every non-African American reading this article.

Buy a Black doll.

Going to a party for your White friend? Pick up a Black Barbie. Looking to add to your child's at home library? Pick up a little Princess Cupcake Jones instead of the usual Junie B. Yes, you've got Black or Hispanic friends, so I know you're not a racist. Yes, your child may want the blonde ski queen too, so you might have to buy the black doll then add some accessories. And yes, your child may want a doll that looks like them, too. And that's not wrong. But, money is power and this is an easy way for you to get a chance to walk in my shoes for a minute and prove the retail excuse for limited ethnic selection wrong.

As a side note, yes, I am aware of independent specialty outlets that pride themselves on carrying larger selections of books, gifts and toy items for African Americans or companies that allow you to "customize" your purchase for your needs, but this is about my belief that I, as a consumer, should be able to have the same experience that my next door neighbor has without needing to make significant investment of time or effort. I love to support specialty shops, but I also know that access to these options can be limited.

For those of you with no real reason to buy a doll, here's how I want you to get in on the action. Hit me up on Twitter @IndyParentCoach with a pic from the doll section of your local store. If they've got a good selection great, and if not let's bring it to their attention that we've noticed. Every little girl deserves a doll that looks like her, and whether it's Target or some other store, I know we can do better.