One of the privileges I had as a little white girl was always having had toys that look like me. In fact, American Girl‘s brown-haired, brown-eyed Samantha Parkington doll looked almost exactly like me. Like little girls all around the world, I used to hold her, brush her hair, pretend she was my daughter and enjoy how beautiful she looked. That’s why I think The Black Baby Doll Project, which is in its 13th year, is so important. Sponsored by the Ida B. Wells Living Learning Community, a gateway program for first-year African-American students at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, BBDP collects black baby dolls each year to gift to little girls so they have a toy who looks like them … So far they have gifted over 300! But it saddens me that the biggest obstacle the project faces is finding dolls with authentic black features — not “dolls that look like white dolls that have been painted black,” said organizer Rev. Andrea Cornett-Scott. Other “automatic dis-qualifiers,” according to USA Today, are skimpy clothes, a ton of makeup, piercings and tattoos — which I take to mean “No Bratz Dolls Allowed.”
Interestingly, though, the BBDP does collect Barbie dolls — although in my opinion, the Caucasian-like features of black Barbies are the very definition of dolls that look like white women painted black. (Not to mention the fact that no woman of any racial background has the physical proportions of Barbie, period.) I wonder if the group makes concessions for Barbie (but not, allegedly, for Bratz) because she is “popular” as well as relatively inexpensive.
Compare Barbies, for instance, with American Girl dolls. American Girl’s doll offerings are more diverse than most companies — Addy is African, Josefina is New Mexican, Kaya is Native American, Rebecca is Jewish, etc. — but each doll-and-book set costs $95. The prices only jaunt upwards as you add more doll accessories and books. In retrospect, I was super-lucky that the friends at my birthday party one year could afford to chip in and buy her for me and that my parents bought me Samantha’s doll clothes (about $30 a pop) for Christmas. But especially in this economy, American Girl dolls are substantially out of parents’ price range.
To hear that the volunteer gift-givers of the BBDP have a hard time finding black baby dolls is heartbreaking. One freshman told USA Today, “I didn’t realize how hard it is to find black baby dolls until I did this project.” But hopefully, as the volunteers search toy stores for black baby dolls, vendors will realize there’s a market.