Maybe White Girls Should Play With Black Dolls

My Thing Is: When Barbie and Christie went joyriding, it was all fun and games, but it also laid an early foundation for my belief in equality among women of all colors. I want more kids to get this message early on.

Tamara Horn
Tamara Horn Courtesy of Tamara Horn

When we hear about the importance of multicultural toys, it’s often in the context of giving black girls dolls that look like them to support their healthy self-image. While this is no doubt important, I wonder why we don’t do more to encourage white girls to play with diverse dolls, too.

Let me explain.

As a little girl, I was the ultimate Barbie fanatic. I had at least 20 dolls; a big pink, plastic home for them; several cars; multiple Kens; and all the family members and special editions. But my favorite playtime adventures involved Barbie and her friend Christie, who, like me, was black.

It’s not just that there weren’t any race-related issues in their dollhouse friendship. (Why would there be? The two of them, with the help of my active imagination, were much more concerned with trips, days spent at the beach, fashion shows, concerts and even careers than with cultural conflicts.) It’s that they were teammates, co-conspirators, and enjoyed a deep bond. They were equals. And I had no reason to expect to see anything other than that reflected in the world.

But as I left behind Barbie and Christie playtime for real life—college, work, and awareness of politics and social inequality—I didn’t often see such a harmonious or productive version of cross-racial friendships, especially among women.

Think about it: In real life, the grown-up Barbies and Christies are constantly being compared with and pinned against each other, and it’s the Barbies who wield more power.

This leads to complaints that some white feminists don’t allow room for the perspectives of women of color, the view among some black women that Sheryl Sandberg’s career advice doesn’t resonate, and the countless stories of black girls who are made to feel ugly in elementary school and black women who are subjected to things like unwanted hair touching in the workplace.

And there’s more. Black women have to fight to see images of themselves in a beauty industry dominated by people who don’t share their skin color. Just recently, the military implemented restrictions on appearance that cripple black women’s ability to be considered presentable.

Of course, many factors, and the actions of people of all colors, contribute to these situations. But maybe if white women had an early basis for seeing black women as equals, they’d be more inclined to stand with us as sisters and support us. 

To remedy this, just as black girls are encouraged to play with diverse dolls so that they can see black as fun, beautiful and worthy, maybe white girls should be, too.