The Importance of Having Black Dolls in the Playroom

Posted by on Mar 29, 2013 in Playtime Live |

Loving her baby doll!
The Playtime Project requests that all dolls donated both for use in our playrooms and as gifts for individual children reflect the fact that we primarily serve African-American youth. The growing popularity of a short documentary film by 22-year-old Samantha Knowles entitled Why Do You Have Black Dolls? (watch the trailer here) is a great opportunity to reflect on why it is so important that we have black dolls in our playrooms.

In describing why, with so many seemingly more substantial issues facing the African-American community – poverty, violence, etc. – she chose to focus on dolls, Knowles stated, “the conversation always reverts back to image and what is a more powerful and formative image for a young black child than her dolls?”

Many people are familiar with the “Doll Study” done in 1939 by psychologists Kenneth & Mamie Clark, which examined black children’s preferences for white and black dolls and found that the children tended to find the white doll to be “nicer” and more enjoyable to play with. Perhaps fewer people, though, are aware that this study was repeated (on a small scale) in 2005 by the then 17-year-old Kiri Davis – who found similar results to the original study. While Dr. Thelma Dye of the Northside Center for Child Development cautions that these results should not lead to the assumption that all black children suffer from low self-esteem, she encourages continued exploration of the meaning of these studies.

Author Debbie Behan Garrett explains, “When a young child is playing with a doll, she is mimicking being a mother, and in her young, impressionable years, I want that child to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being black. If black children are force-fed that white is better, or if that’s all that they are exposed to, then they might start to think, ‘What is wrong with me?'” By providing children with African-American dolls that reflect their beauty, we can help to instill in them a positive self-image.

One child interviewed by Knowles said of her black doll, “She had curly hair just like me, so I picked this doll. I have black dolls because they are pretty and everyone likes black dolls.” This is the message we want our Playtime kids to carry with them!

For more information on the history of black dolls, read this fascinating article: Black is Beautiful: Why Black Dolls Matter by Lisa Hix

Purchase dolls for our Playrooms by visiting our Amazon wishlist!