Brown is Not Enough

by Melanie Edwards on August 5, 2009 · 22 comments

in Parenting

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I’ve been thinking about something for the past few weeks that has just been eating me up inside. And after attending BlogHer 09 and sitting in on the Women of Color session PLUS having lunch with a group of lovely women of color, it’s been on my mind even more.

Why is it so hard to find dolls that my daughter can identify with? Dolls that she can look at and recognize that they look something like her?

And why is it that when you do find a doll that is “brown” that’s all she is? It irks me to no end that the same freaking doll is just painted a different color and BAM! We suddenly offer “multicultural” dolls! Yay for us!

No. That’s not enough.

Where are the rest of the defining features? The hair? Facial features? It’s more than just the skin color that’s different.

Right as I’m thinking about all this, I come across a link to this post: Her Name Is Orange Blossom, Dammit.

And, well, I left the longest comment I think I’ve ever left on a blog post. It’s worth repeating.

A few things, in no specific order other than the randomness in which they come out of my brain:

– Not just African American moms deal with this. Anyone whose image is not portrayed. ;)

– “…trying to assure our daughters that their chocolate skin and kinky hair and wide noses and thick lips and curvy bodies are beautiful and relevant too…” And yet even THIS we cannot achieve because the “brown” dolls out there are just that. Brown. They just overlay the color over the same model doll they use for the white-skin dolls and there is no representation of other defining features. The brown dolls have the same hair and same look as the other dolls, and really…don’t our girls deserve more?

– I cannot believe the rep didn’t know her name.

– Did you get the bag at BlogHer ‘09? The one with the DVD in it? We just watched it the other night. Guess what? The Orange Blossom character in that movie looks NOTHING like the picture you have in your post. She also looks A LOT LIGHTER than the doll itself. (I got the much coveted Orange Blossom doll at BlogHer.) But, yea, the cartoon version in that DVD…she’s barely got a tan on her. They didn’t.even.try.

Sorry. I guess I had a lot to say and just came across your post at the right time cause I’ve been thinking about all this for the past few weeks.

I know that most dolls out there aren’t exactly made in the image of any little girl. Their bodies are disproportionate and don’t look anything like our girls. I get that. But, imagine having another layer on top of that.

Raising multicultural children is hard enough. Do I really have to fight every step of the way?

Fine. So be it. My daughter’s worth it.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Denene@MyBrownBaby August 5, 2009 at 11:33 pm

YOU. BETTER. TELL. IT!!!!!!!! My gosh, I love this blog—there are so many different things I identify with you as a mom, and I appreciate learning so much more about your culture. THANK YOU for reminding me that this is a problem for ALL OF US, and that it’s on us to agitate/go to battle/fight the good fight for our babies.

(Oh, and my bag didn’t have Orange Blossom in it. Neither did any of the other bags surrounding me. A couple of my mom bloggers of color were searching for them, too. Ironically, we found them after everyone left… I bet my girls that the bags that had been left behind had the Orange Blossoms in them. Sure enough, the first two bags I picked up? Orange Blossom. Um, yeah. Whole ‘nother blog post.)


Lynn August 6, 2009 at 2:06 am

So true and amen to that! My daughter is at the age where she is becoming very away of what color her dollies are. She is more drawn to Dora and Jasmine because they have the light skin as she does. She is mixed about 3 different ways so she is like a light cup of coffee. Beauty abounds from her. I don’t just show her the darker skinned dolls because she will never just always be around people like herself. But being able to have the option would be nice. Do you hear us Mattel?!? Thanks for this post.

My best, Lynn


Lynn August 6, 2009 at 2:08 am

I mean being able to have the option of letting her have dolls that look like her and not just tan white girls would be great.


Faiqa August 6, 2009 at 5:22 am

All I have to say is, “Mmmm-hmmm.”


Miss Lori August 6, 2009 at 8:06 am

You took the words right out of my mouth. I actually had this discussion with the Strawberry Shortcake people on site at Blogher. But it’s not just them, it’s most every doll maker. Brown is not even half of the story of our multi-cultural children’s lives. The hair is th part that really gets me. Seeing the Moxie Girls at Bowlher, with hair longer than their bodies for example, and all of the young stars on tv with their hair extensions, enough already! Be who you are and love it! And to all of the toy and media makers out there-shame on you. We should be further than this! But alas the vestiges of Jim Crow and the genesis of Brown vs The Board of Education still permeate society today. Since the dolls of today are only white dolls with painted brown skin, for all intents and purposes our children are still picking the white dolls. They aren’t seeing the beauty in their own features because we consumers aren’t demanding that they have access to toys that celebrate all of them. Parents of every color should rise up for this because our children learn through play. They don’t just learn their ABC’s and 123’s either. Through their play they also begin to formulate their foundation for socio-emotional communication and relationships. Every child needs to be exposed to diverse representations of people so that they can begin to understand and appreciate our beautifully colorful society.

All our children are worth it!




Mami2Mommy August 6, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Every time I read one of your posts I just nod my head. I am so glad I found your blog! And by the way you inspired me to leave a comment regarding that same post. I do think we all need to stop talking and starting DOING. The changes start here ladies. Things will remain the same if we are not vocal and active. Let’s stay on top of this and help change this for our children! BTW – please see my comment on the other post and let me know your thoughts.
Keep on blogging Mami!


Erin August 7, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Wow. That is something I never really thought about. I really hope companies take this into consideration and do something about it! You are so totally right! Your daughter deserves better.


Miss Britt August 9, 2009 at 8:30 pm


And not just for your daughter.

For mine.

I’d like her to see a white doll who looks like a real white girl. And I’d also like her toy box to reflect what she sees in her classrooms. Or better yet – what she WON’T see in her classrooms – so that she knows that there is SO. MUCH. MORE. out there.


Michele from Moon Fairy Glass August 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Oh you made me laugh so hard! Not that it’s a funny topic! But, I’m white and my best friend is a black diva! I love her like family! What’s so funny is that you are SO DEAD ON! We do everything together from stamping, beading, shopping, business and scrapbooking. While her kids are now off to college, we joke constantly that she doesn’t want a white anything. Hope nobody reads that and takes it the wrong way. If you love anyone from ANY other culture, you’d understand that no culture wants to fill up there families lives with another culture’s standards! Would you see a black santa at my house – no. So, why should she have a white santa, angel, doll, artist painting and so on in her house. That’s where we laugh a lot! She looks at me and says – Now why would I want a white . . .
I truly believe manufacturers and designers for these products have fallen well short of demand. I know that left over inventory is huge on their minds and therefore they follow mainstream. When buying stamps for my Best friend, she doesn’t want skinny pale girls with stick-straight hair. I also wonder if the makers are not in touch with other cultures and their product’s portrayal of said cultures. Would anybody agree, the manufacturers are fearful to take a leap and stand out in this multicultural world?


Maruxa Murphy August 9, 2009 at 10:48 pm

I love this post Melanie! So many more moms need to read this – because we all benefit by the power of our diversity in our communities and in the toys we give our children. EVERY child needs to have diversity in their toy box because this is the power of our country – if we let it be a blessing as a country. I believe as a multiracial woman raising a multiracial daughter, I want her to know she is perfectly and wonderfully made just as she is and so are her classmates who will inevitably look different from her. I would lover her toys to reflect it and get with the times, don’t ya think?? 🙂

I miss this conversation!!! I was Director of Multicultural Affairs for Rollins College until last year, when I chose to leave to continue my own business when I had my daughter. I really miss connecting with diverse mamis and for that, I love your blog! 🙂


Megan August 9, 2009 at 11:01 pm

I come from a family of white parents with 2 white biological daughters and 8 adopted kids of every color. Growing up (in the 80’s) there were no black dolls. My grandmother went to Walmart and complained to the manager and they ordered her 1 black doll (of course, not with correct features). Now, I find it sad that it’s still hard to find dolls of varying cultures especially at some well-known places (Toys-R-Us is the worst). My son’s are white, but I make sure (even though they’re boys) that when they are little they have dolls of several races. Their first doll, traditionally at 1st Christmas, is a black or brown boy Cabbage Patch. I think it’s extremely important that all kids, red and yellow, black and white, have dolls of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Kudos to ‘American Girl’ who has many different colors AND features that can be custom ordered to exactly match a child! Thanks for the post!


Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) August 10, 2009 at 2:19 am

WHY is it sooooooooo hard for toy companies to get DOLLS right?!?! I mean COME ON!!! How hard is this???

After talking to the reps about the Moxie Girls, I was excited to see the dolls, I thought maybe I would let my daughter play with them. (There are no Bratz dolls in THIS house! I don’t need my children to play with toys dressed like prostitutes!) I was SO disappointed when I saw the Moxie Girls. They were STILL dressed trashy – they just were “winter wear” prostitutes! I gave mine to a friend of mine with an older daughter who wanted them. Thanks but NO thanks. I was totally disappointed. They got it wrong AGAIN!

BUT I know it isn’t all the companies’ fault. They are responding to what sells. I just wish they didn’t sell and they didn’t make them. I wish it was a collective decision to make appropriate toys.

Having said that, I did play with Barbie and I will let my daughter play with Barbie, Hannah Montana, etc. I am not expecting all of the dolls out there to be perfect. They are ridiculous proportions and don’t look like any of us. BUT I draw the line at dressing like Bratz — and even Moxie Girlz – clothes.

If only companies could slip into the mind of a mom when they design their dolls.


Robin August 20, 2009 at 12:55 am

“SW is scrubbing and cleaning and cooking for a bunch of grumpy old midgets while she waits for some guy to save her—presumably to scrub and clean and cook for him)”

Woah there. What is this? First off, midget is an offensive term for little people. Second, she snuck into their house and cleaned up of her own volition, and then they agreed to give her free room and board. It’s not like they kidnapped her and made her do chores. Sure, she’s not the most heroic of characters, but don’t make her out to be a martyr of hellish domesticity.


Annie September 1, 2009 at 6:16 am

I had never considered the point you make about things like hair, etc. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the time, the ‘black doll’ in a line is just that – “THE black doll”. You’ll have a dolly who can jump! A dolly with pigtails! A dolly that comes with a glow-in-the-dark turtle! A dolly in rollerblading gear! A black dolly! The physical characteristics of characters on a TV show: One has purple hair! One has freckles! One has orange hair and green eyes! One has black hair and blue eyes! One has brown hair and blue eyes! One has really long black hair and blue eyes! One is… black … because, you know, only white people have variation among themselves.


Lisann September 7, 2009 at 6:18 pm

When I got Hawaiian Barbie, I thought, wow, she looks like me! That was the closest I came to identifying myself w/a doll as a child. But that was all I had (I’m Puerto Rican). And for a long time I didn’t see myself as beautiful because I wasn’t fair skinned or blonde (like the dolls) – I was jealous of my Puerto Rican cousins who were.

On TV I always sought to find someone like me. Felicia Rashaad’s character Mrs. Huxtible, although not Latin, opened up a world of possibilities for me: an attorney, a mom, who was dark, stunning & spoke Spanish. I was amazed & thought, that could be me!

I think that’s why my parents always pointed out the Hispanics/Latinos/as in the media that were successful (As a kid, I was thrilled to learn that Linda Carter was part Mexican, Christy Turlington part Salvadorian, Rita Moreno, Puerto Rican! Geraldo Rivera, Raquel Welch, Rita Hayworth… Etc). I grew up embracing every part of my culture (and eventually of myself), looking for it in every facet of my little world.

Its always been hard to find positive & accurate representations of ones culture in the dolls children play with, the portrayals in pop culture and in the media in general (). To this day I am excited to meet someone who embraces their own culture, their roots, and shares it with everyone! Although we’ve come a long way, we haven’t come far enough. It’s up to us, to voice these opinions in the hopes that we will be HEARD. Kudos to you!


Tonni November 14, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Here we sit with American workers, families even, sitting in tent cities, and you all, very smart woman really, have so over thought the problem that you have forgotten what we all came here to do. Discuss the creation of a toy a child could enjoy,perhaps even love,and create the toy, using with any hope American labor and American stockholders using American people as customers. When I was a child Barbie was the icon that was there to remind us that we could be anything we wanted when we grew up she represented to me a stong woman that could change her cloths and go from a woman dressed for the office and running her company to a cowgirl. Don’t laugh to much I sort of became that and I never cared that or even noticed that I didn’t have her dimentions it was a fact that was part of the adult world I was fortunate to not have to deal with and I’m only even now only 5’3″. We woman of the nation can surly overcome this man made problem and save the country just by working together. Currently by working apart we are only making every country other than our own very profitable and at the cost of destroying the earth and our childrens health as other countries do not have to abide by health codes or enviormental codes so they don’t. Nor do they pay their people enough to live so we get cheap goods that destroy the plant with the waste from factories polluting water and air,all the while being made by people being under paid, who have no rights. Our children end up with lead and choaking hazards and recalls. We can just say enough is enough, I have been so impressed with how many of you that have called companies and told them what you want to see. now just call American companies and tell them what you will and won’t stand for, let them add up your numbers and apply it to stock numbers and while you are at it think about if you make this difference and purchase stock in a current American company and then make the difference how it could help your family and the families you network with. Buy your kids American toys,make it a family project not just within your immidiate family get everyone you would send a joke to and the people you will exchange $10-$20. dillar gifts with, make it American and lets all see if this Christams we can make a difference. If we can’t find what we want you all know how to make the calls. This Moxie doll is from what I can find so far made in Croicia.The toys that have endured are the toys that the babyboomers played with, slinky, puzzzels, board games and yes…Barbie. Help us all out by building the best of american toy company lists and sending to all you know.The Bratz group is in every garage sale and still some how every little girl, grows up and passes the best of their Barbies down to their children. Legacy toys is what people should be looking for this Christmas and it just may be what we leave behind in changing our shopping habits and telling others to do the same, a national legacy even if her name is Barbie. Tonni/ Oklahoma


Melanie (Modern Mami) November 15, 2009 at 7:20 am

@Tonni, Thanks for your passionate comment. I believe you were addressing some of the other comments rather than the post itself, if I’m correct. The post was about how hard it is to find dolls/toys in the image of other cultures. If those dolls are made in the USA, then even better! But, the fact is that they’re hard to find…period.


Tonni November 15, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Perhaps I was not as forward as I should have been. American woman are being lost in the culture diversity war. What should be the focus of our discussion and even the toys for our daughters our toys that make the playing field level. The fact that it is 2009 and woman still make 60 percent less and in todays hard economy you will still hear that a job any job may have been given to a man because an employer believes that the man has more of a financial responsibility to care for his family than the woman he does not hire or worse replaces her.This says to me that we are not pushing perception from our toys to our young womans clothing to a professional level. We are so worried about making sure people know about our personal lives and our family history that we allow that to be so loud they cannot hear the professioanl American woamn speaking. Barbie wasthe strong healthy well dressed Vet, Dr. Pilot, race car driver and attorney. You could get a Barbie brief case with the Barbie sports car and young woman wrote about that as goals or feeling like they had finally made it when they had the real thing the “whole Barbie life”. So perhaps pushing for more color in Barbie is what you are saying and I have to agree Barbie needs to apply to all but just in cloor not changing shape and as the colors need to be broad and vary the style needs to be very American woman and her goals, the best of the PTA moms or the board room need to speak loudly about high education and pride in our nation.


Glenn Robinson July 20, 2011 at 8:00 am

How do you feel about the American Girls dolls?


Susanneil May 7, 2012 at 12:45 am

I am a grandmother with white skin but a heart for babies and children of color.  Last Christmas, my grandchildren and I helped at a community party where the children received presents which had been donated thru a local organization.  We noticed that most of the children were children of color and that all of the dolls were white. We talked alot about the self worth and self esteem issues mentioned in this blog.  The three of us committed to having lots of dolls of color for next Christmas.  It is now early May and we have 52 dolls of varying colors and sizes…some more ethnic than others. We will continue to collect all the dolls we can and educate store managers and owners at the same time. This project is as much fun for us as it will be for the little girls and boys who will receive them.


modernmami May 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm

What a wonderful way to help! Very thoughtful of you guys to actively collect diverse dolls for a good supply come donation time around the holidays. Great lesson for your grandchildren!


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