"Black Barbie" focuses on the history of Black female representation, through an exploration of Mattel's Black Barbies

Originally published at: "Black Barbie" focuses on the history of Black female representation, through an exploration of Mattel's Black Barbies | Boing Boing


kids in America could rarely find Black dolls to play with, and when they did, the dolls were either far from humanoid or endowed with unflattering, stereotypical features

I had a Black baby doll in the early 1950s … probably the Amosandra doll from the widely popular social commentary radio sitcom Amos and Andy. My aunt from California gave it to me. Alas, he was played with so much he fell apart.

And I remember seeing a Black 8" doll of the “Ginny” variety, but not when I saw it. They were made as early as 1953 (the oldest I could find online).


I had a black Big Jim (called Big Jeff), unfortunately one of my “friends” stole it.

I didn’t realize that my favorite grandmother was a racist until I picked out a Black Barbie as a gift.

I had many Barbies with long blonde hair, but Dee Dee (from Barbie and the Rockers) had sweet guitar, awesome leggings, and fun curly hair. I was shocked by my grandmother’s visceral reaction when I presented my choice to her. The concept of racism was completely beyond me at that age - I just knew that I couldn’t get Dee Dee, and that I had made some kind of mistake in even asking for her.

As I got older, I noticed the racism in some my grandmother’s actions/comments. It still breaks my heart that my favorite grandmother was 99% perfect and 1% hate.


In 1970 I received a Nurse Julia Barbie, based on the TV character Julia played by Diahann Carroll. I was 4 years old, and recall watching the show. She saw as much play as all my other Barbies.

I went to a well-integrated elementary school in New Jersey, and it wasn’t until we moved from there to Vermont that I slowly realized how racist (and classist) my mother was. But I’m pretty sure she bought me that doll, and it was the ONLY Barbie in my collection that had a career. I suppose the subtle message was that white girls didn’t have to work back then (my mother didn’t), but I chose career myself.


I buy black and hispanic dolls for my granddaughter, reflecting her heritage, and it is hard to find them in general. Yes, there are a few widely available, but after you’ve bought those…then what?

At least for the past few years it seems that Mattel puts out a white and a black version of most “package” dolls - the ones that have a job or whatever - as she happily found a veterinary Barbie that looked like her right along side a white one, with the race of the doll being the only difference.

I always thought I was inclusive, but the first time she got a black doll and said “it looks like me!”, I felt like I had been the most racist person on the planet for my entire life.


Mad props to my mom, who is White, who went out of her way to find dolls for me that had any physical representation of the way I look; that was a much bigger challenge in the 70’s & 80’s than it is now. ( I absolutely had the 1980 Black Barbie that is pictured above.)

For all its’ other issues as a corporate evil, Mattel has been on the forefront of getting every consumer dollar they can by increasing the diversity of its toy lines.


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