Long ago, in the deep mists of time before electronics invaded children’s play, I had a vast collection of dolls. I held tea parties for them, I created designer clothes, styled their hair, enacted soap operas with and to them. They were a fairly diverse bunch: baby dolls, toddlers, teenagers, miniatures, trolls with green hair, dolls whose hair ‘grew’ and even two dolls ‘of colour’.
One was literally as black as licorice, a skin tone no real human actually has. I found it puzzling then and still do. The other, Kimi, was a beautiful warm reddish brown that bore a slightly better resemblance to reality – although I don’t think people living in the arctic circle are really that brown, and she was dressed as an eskimo, with a faux-fur trimmed parka to die for.
These two dolls may have been the only dark skinned people in my entire social network. Looking back, I’m impressed that in the 1960s a little girl living on a farm in an almost entirely white anglo-celtic rural area, could own and love a black doll and a brown one. Especially because I’m realising that in the 21st century, in Australia’s biggest city, you’d be hard pressed to find even one in any little girl’s collection.
I’m reflecting on this because I’ve decided to give Treasure a doll for Christmas. I could picture it – a little girl doll with gorgeous hair, a sweet face and pretty clothes, with whom Treasure would instantly fall in love. And because Treasure doesn’t currently have any dolls (I think the one she had got left in Ghana, & it was more of a soft toy anyway), it would of course be a ‘Black’ doll. If she loves dolls and develops a collection, I’m all for diversity, but for a first doll, I think it should fit into her Black family.
I’ve rarely had reason to venture into the ‘pink aisles’ at Target and K-Mart before so I didn’t realise what a big ask this would be. Having a family of boys means I’m much more familiar with the ‘camouflage’ war, death and destruction aisles. I’d really prefer to always buy educational construction & exploration toys and try & steer clear of gender-stereotyped toys, but I’ve found that the children just don’t appreciate my political correctness. And now after so many boys I’m enjoying the opportunity to indulge in buying girlie things. Treasure is surrounded by people who feel the same way. I wonder if she will grow up with a passionate hatred of pink.
But back to dolls. Three big chainstores were my first stops. Did I find the doll of my dreams? No. Apart from a small doll in a cup cake (did she even have legs??), the best they could offer was an olive skinned Bratz doll or Taylor, a black teenage character from High School Musical with, I’m sorry to be so judgemental but these things are important, a very daggy dress. If Treasure still likes dolls when she’s seven or eight I might buy her a teen doll but for now, I want to get her a doll she can cuddle, a doll that looks like her.
I sought advice from friends with mixed race daughters and even from work colleagues. No-one could help:
“I think I saw one at … umm …. I’ll tell you if I remember”. Gee, thanks.
“Well, we do have quite a lot of black dolls but they were hard to get and you’ll probably have to compromise and get a Bratz.” Thanks – how about we start a ‘black doll buyers’ support group?
“Have you tried Oxfam?” No, because I’ve given her one in the past and she wasn’t that impressed, and although some of them are cute, they’re rag dolls and thus don’t fit my criteria.
I realised I was on my own with this.
My next stop was a local independent, educational and politically correct toy shop. Not a Bratz or teenage doll in sight. They had a couple of brown baby dolls. But they didn’t have real hair, just moulded plastic curls. Sorry, this doll has to have gorgeous hair. It probably won’t stay gorgeous, but it has to start out that way. I’m a bit dubious about baby dolls anyway – I mean the ones that are supposed to look realistic, i.e. like wrinkled prunes. Do little kids really like them? Those baby dolls didn’t have sweet faces either, and they were really expensive, so I added them to my list of “only if desperate”.
The same shop did, however have a doll that would have totally fit the bill had Treasure been of Asian heritage and I was strongly tempted to buy her. She was what I call a “little girl” doll and she fit all the criteria of gorgeous hair (sweeping black pigtails) sweet face (easily identifiable as Asian) and pretty clothes (a colourful dress). I think she may be the only Asian doll I’ve ever seen, and I almost bought her for the same reason I buy picture books about children of colour: they’re so rare you have to snap them up in case you never see them again. It’s outrageous really. In my adventures so far I’ve found it’s easier to buy a black doll, or a book featuring black children – but there are many more Asians in Australia than Black people. (BTW I just found some adorable Asian dolls online)
In fact, I had decided that if I couldn’t find my dream doll then I would buy her for Treasure, even tho she wasn’t black, for the simple reason that she wasn’t white. With only 4 sleeps to Christmas I was starting to feel a bit tense about it all. But I had three more shops on my list. The first was another educational (over-priced, middle class) toystore, and I almost didn’t go. But I had to buy vacuum cleaner bags and they’re right next door, so off I went, immersed in pessimism.
But I found her! I found her! Gorgeous, curly long black hair just like Treasure’s. A sweet face with brown eyes that open and shut. An attractive outfit: chiffon top, lacy knitted wrap, jeans and very cute moccasins. Brown skin. The brand, in case you too are looking for a brown doll, is Les Cheries Corolle. And if I’d known how cheap she was on Amazon I would have bought her there. It’s too late for that now, but who cares, I found my dream doll. I hope Treasure agrees with me.
I am going to check out the other shops on my list. I’d like to know what else is out there. I may even go back and buy that Asian doll. Like I said, ethnically diverse dolls and books are difficult to find. I’m annoyed that you can’t get a black doll in K-Mart unless perhaps one year the Buyer spots one they like and decides to get it. Perhaps it’s different in the US, where there’s a big Black population, but why should it be so different in Australia?
In the capital cities and increasingly in rural areas, our communities are very ethnically diverse, yet if you look in toy shops or the children’s section in bookshops you’d think we are a white monoculture. I think this is a problem for everyone because it reflects no-one’s reality. Asian, black , Aboriginal, Arabic children can’t get toys that resemble them and their families; white children don’t have toys that resemble their friends and communities. I believe that toys and books must reflect the diversity and reality of children’s lives. They don’t have to be didactic, they should be fun and inclusive – but they must be available and accessible, or we are all perpetuating lies about our society.