Biracial Girls Will Be Fine If Their Dolls Don’t Look Like Them

Race Manners: A rainbow of toys is great, but how kids live is much more important than how they play. 

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So while it would be nice for every child to have the same privilege that blonde, blue-eyed little girls have (a choice of toys that are practically clones), there are other ways for kids who check more than one box to see reflections of themselves. This applies, of course, to all of their activities, from toys to television. As Mara Brock Akil said about the underrepresentation of black women in the media, "We walk around in our home called America and we don’t see our picture hanging on the wall."

There are plenty of other ways to hang pictures for your nieces.

That occurred to me when I asked around about experiences with dolls of various colors. One friend who's black told me she strongly preferred white Barbie as a child because "she was the one shown on the commercial," but she in no way wanted to be like the doll or be white in general.

"Everything I knew about myself and my family was weaved around the concept of blackness, Caribbean, Latino and Southern culture. We took a lot of pride in being black. So the fact that I had white dolls was pretty secondary in how I formed my identity and image and self love," she explained, adding, "I had greater influences than dolls and they were black."

So toys can be one part of a lifelong and multifaceted effort to provide those influences for your nieces, which will include education, cultural experiences and frank answers to inevitable questions about race and culture. If manufacturers haven't caught up with your nieces’ more complicated identities and accurate look-alikes aren't available, keep it moving. A "melting pot" family and relatives who care about their experiences when it comes to race and inclusion will do more for them than any one doll could.

I'd probably advise you to purchase the dolls that are the closest, roughest approximation of their features (or the ones that are on sale, which would get you the black ones—but that's another story), understanding that how these girls live is ultimately going to outweigh how they play.

The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

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