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.
If it works, we could all win. After all, black and white women alike make up the spectrum of experiences in this country—from everyday homemaker mothers to renowned and highly respected celebrities and businesswomen. From the background to the forefront, we're all included in the sorority of women who are constantly working on our image, our esteem, our standards, and our balance of leadership and independence.
I believe that cross-cultural friendships and partnerships among women can be genuine and productive and help us solve some of the nation's most compelling issues, such as poverty, education, equal pay, living wages and decent health care. But if this is to happen, all women—regardless of politics, sexual orientation, race, class or culture—need to consider womanhood more of a sisterhood, a universal sorority in which everyone's membership is equally valid.
When Barbie and Christie went joyriding, it was all fun and games, but it also laid an early foundation for a vision of partnership and a level playing field for women, regardless of color. That's why I encourage young girls, and especially white girls, to collect multicultural dolls. I believe that we can all embrace one another's ideas, experiences and potential to make connections. But first we have to see one another as sisters. What starts in play could lead to real and important work.
Tamara Horn graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science from Delaware State University and is currently pursuing her master's in social work at Rutgers University. As a community facilitator, she is passionate about sparking conversations that affect the black community. She is in love with her two children and engaged to writing essays, poems and songs. Follow her on Twitter.