How Children Relate Barbie To People

2015-07-11 22:47

I recently came across a video clip that left me feeling very disheartened over the racial perceptions that children are being exposed to at home and at school. The video I watched, entitled the 'Doll Test' is basically a psychological experiment conducted on a sample size of about 35 children from different ethnic groups. What happens is that - each of these children are seated in a room with a researcher who places Black, White and Hispanic dolls in front of them, followed by a series of questions.

The questions asked included:

Which doll is Black? Which doll is White? Which doll is the prettiest? Which doll is the ugliest? Which doll is good? Which doll is bad? Which doll is liked by adults? Which doll is not liked by adults? Which doll looks like you?

Depending on the question, each time, the answers to the more unfavourable questions were associated with the dark-skinned doll, and the answers to the favourable questions were associated with the light-skinned doll. When asked "Why", most of the children responded by saying, "Because she's Black/the darkest" or "Because she's White/light-skinned".

Photo Credit -

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No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

After concluding that the negative doll is the Black doll, the Black children were asked "Which doll looks like you?" In that moment, you could just see the confusion, and in some instances, the sadness that struck their faces. 'Confusion' because suddenly, these Black girls were now forced to make a link between their preferences for White dolls and the conflicting reality that they're Black. 'Sadness', because neither the children nor the adults they know, like dark-skinned "dolls". Which means that at their tender age, they've already been taught racial discrimination and developed a skewed perception of themselves.

In the same light, it became very apparent that the White girls, White boys and Black boys who participated in this study, had also developed skewed perceptions of what beauty looks like. What then does that teach each of these children about self-image, self-love, beauty and equality?

After watching the video, I went onto the internet and entered 'Barbie' into my search bar. I'll tell you now - I've never seen so many White barbies in my life! Maybe it's because Black Barbie was introduced fairly recently compared to the initial Barbie but it bothered me that I still had to type in 'Black Barbie' to actually find one.

When I clicked on an image, I went through some of the comments. A comment that got me feeling conflicted, was one where a lady expressed how she doesn't see the significance in buying Black Barbies for kids, because she thinks the sentiment is a minor detail that children overlook.  Previously, I would've said the same thing, but by observation, it would seem that kids interpret life according to the things and people they're exposed to.

They watch a lot of animated Disney movies that inform the extension of the Barbie line. Movies that push the narrative of a beautiful princess, who's White, finding her prince charming and living happily ever after with him and their cute kid in a giant mansion on a hill. And there's nothing wrong with that formula except that the characters are always White. So naturally, Black children start to associate that fairy tale lifestyle with people who are White, and they start to think that good things don't happen for people who look like them.

To be fair, Disney made an effort when they introduced Pocahontas (Native American), Jasmine (Middle Eastern) and Tiana - who made animation history as the first African princess in Disney. But that only makes them exceptions to the norm in their respective ethnic groups. I mean, it's 2015 for crying out loud! You'd think we'd get a little more variety to accommodate the "target market".

I can't even impose blame on production houses alone because it's the parents' job to educate their children as well. Children at an impressionable age learn by imitation - they learn behaviours that are most overt in the characters of adults around them, and they pick up on the more subliminal mannerisms as well.

So, Black (and adoptive) parents

... teach your kids that Black Barbie is just as beautiful as White Barbie, so they don't grow up believing that they're inadequate because their skin is different. It's a crippling perception to develop during childhood. It  changes their whole outlook on what it means to be yourself and to be happy about it. It alters their thinking and their actions - how they're likely to treat White people in relation to Black people. It informs the level of superiority they're likely to attribute to their White peers in relation to their Black peers - and in effect, the value they'll likely assign to their individual worth.

So instead of enjoying what's supposed to be the easiest and most cheerful time in their lives, your inability to teach them better, leaves them resenting their skin colour and trying to recreate their learned ideals by drawing their family portraits with yellow crayons (the colour used, as a representation of 'White' people).

In a piece I wrote about skin-lightening and 'Being Black - as an identity', I mention that:

... the stigma of being dark-skinned will continue to thrive as long as we continue entertaining remarks like, “I just hope my baby doesn’t come out looking as dark as her father” and “You’re so pretty… for a dark girl.” [Essentially] every little girl wants to believe she’s beautiful, but how the world defines beauty dramatically impacts what she sees in the mirror.

The problem with most Black communities is that although we live in a democratic age, our minds are still chained to the past and our children are inheriting the tragic mentality that comes with it.

What's more, the inferiority complex we've developed over the years, has gravely interfered with our capacity to be better. By that, I don't mean 'better than others'... I just mean 'better' in terms of personal development. We need to learn to perceive our value differently. We need to learn to associate our ethnicity with success as well. We need to prioritise our own ideologies over those of other ethnic groups - understanding at the same time that there's a purpose to it...

We need to learn all these things so we can teach our children that "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent". Because as a child, the idea needs to come from somewhere. Especially if they're at an age where their cognitive functions render them unable to  develop their own thoughts, or make their own decisions, without guidance from a parent, guardian or other. It's the principle of understanding that children learn racial discrimination, self-image, self-love, beauty and equality from the day they get their first Barbie to the day they want to become and live just like one.

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