Why Black Dolls Matter

Collectors Weekly has a pretty comprehensive article on the evolution of black dolls, from homemade dolls to racist caricatures to darker versions of white doll molds to specialty doll companies to what's available today. Because children should have dolls that reflect who they are -and that reflect the people around them. One of the people who contributed to the article is Debbie Behan Garrett, author of the book Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion.  

"Because of the false belief that anything white was better than anything black, some early dolls that black parents and children made from household items were often in the image of white people,” Garrett says. “I didn’t personally make any dolls as a child, but I have heard of those who used a Coke bottle as the doll’s body and undyed rope as hair. The undyed rope represented blonde hair.

“In the early movies and television, there were not very many positive images of black people,” she continues. “White characters always had positive roles: There was Shirley Temple, ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ and Opie on ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ to name a few. Black people had Buckwheat in ‘The Little Rascals’ and other characters that were not positive images for young children. The negative characterization of black people not only affected black children. It was a way to embed in the minds of young white children that all black people were like the ones seen in the media.”

The end of World War II in 1945 brought about a boom in U.S. manufacturing featuring new plastics developed during the war. Suddenly, vinyl and hard plastic dolls were cheap and easy to churn out of the factory. These manufactured dolls were so affordable that middle and lower class people didn’t have to hand-make their dolls anymore.

The mass-production of plastic dolls was so streamlined that, for manufacturers, making special molds of dolls with African American features seemed like an unnecessary cost. That’s why most of the vinyl and hard plastic dolls were white. The black dolls that were sold by companies like Horsman or Terri Lee were most often white dolls painted brown or dipped in brown dye, Garrett explains. “You couldn’t look at the doll and classify it as a true representation of a black person,” she says. “Because it was just a brown counterpart of the white doll.”

You'll also read about Samantha Knowles and her new documentary Why Do You Have Black Dolls? and the many companies that sprung up over the years to fill the need for authentic black dolls. Link

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