Race Relations and Toys

Race Relations and Toys

Sarah Shawver , Writer

As the holidays are coming up, the hottest toys are surely on the minds of both young children and parents alike. From Barbie to WWE Action Figures, children love figures to play with, whether they are a representation of themselves in a way, or celebrities and figures they happen to look up to. For years there has been a discussion on how Barbie and other dolls could potentially manipulate one’s self-image regarding one’s body, but what about race? 


While ethnic diversity and representation sounds like something that should not be joined with children’s playthings, its inclusion shines light on a bigger issue with children, and the toy market. Barbie has almost always been depicted with bleach-blonde hair and big blue eyes, along with sidekick, Ken. Changes did not really come along until 1968, where the first African American Barbie was released under the name Christie. It would take a little over a decade for a Latina doll to be released and able to join the Barbie cast, while there is still no major Barbie of East or South Asian descent.

It would appear as if toy maker Mattel did their part in creating more diverse dolls, but the truth is, Barbie with her blonde hair and blue eyes was always seen as the “standard.” As imaginative as children’s play can get, nobody of a differing race or even a different eye color wants to be seen as a sidekick to their blonde hair blue-eyed counterparts. Mattel has improvised with their “Dolls of the World” collection, which always included depictions of women from different countries embracing their own culture, yet these are more or so for adult collectors, and not really something children would really play with.

Still other dolls who were of different races seem to be just as cookie cutter as Barbie herself: the same hair styles, same skin color, and outfits. It wouldn’t be until 2016 when Mattel started leaving their common boundaries and boosted more diversity in their Barbie toy line, albeit if it was just the Fashionista dolls. Curvy Barbies were added, alongside dolls of varying heights, races, hair types, skin tones, and of course, outfits. Still, I think there is a long way when it comes to race relations and toys, as nobody should feel as if they should conform to a certain standard. There is still no “main” character addition of an Asian Barbie, and there are still other toy lines that revolve around a primary white character. 

Bratz Dolls were released in 2001, and would go on to be one of the hottest toys and trends of the early 2000’s. They were truly the opposite of Barbie, and seemed to crush the “standards” she set. They were released as a group of friends based around equality, as in there was not just one main character who was the most popular, talented, and fashionable. Not only did the Bratz line help recognize equality in friendship groups, but it also expanded by including dolls of various backgrounds and ethnic origins. Luckily, this would go on to create a trend of dolls with more of a backstory and personality.


So, why is race so important? Looking from the outside, it seems to be trivial and easy. Just add an ethnic character to represent all girls of that ethnicity, or on the other hand, expect them to play with the same Caucasian dolls for years and not feel excluded, or ignored. Racial preference is important because even though it would be good to live in a world where people didn’t “see color,” our different ethnic makeups and cultures are what makes us, us. So why leave out entire groups of people, or make them feel unimportant, with a concept as simple as dolls or toys?