Friday Round-up: Race and ethnicity in children's toys

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I remember her well. She had creamy white skin. Blond hair. A sweet painted face. And the best part--she could drink real water and then go pee!

It was the 1970's and Baby Tender Love was all the rage.

So I was ecstatic when my grandfather, who was visiting from California, brought two baby dolls for my sister and I. My sister opened hers first, and as I was tearing through the wrapping, I could hardly wait to see my dollie's face.

And then I was shocked. While my sister's was the doll had peach-colored skin, mine had dark brown.

Grandpa had brought a white one and a black one so we could tell them apart.

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I'm ashamed to say that I was quite disappointed when I received the dark skinned doll. I had never seen an African American person, much less an African American doll. How could I "mother" a baby who didn't look like me at all? I burned with envy that my sister got the white one.

(Now, part of that desire for a white dolly could be attributed to the dumb-ass my mom was married to at the time, who was a prejudiced A-hole and called my doll racist names. The dumb-ass's opinions in no way reflected my mother's opinions at all and I'm happy to say that the dumb-ass wasn't around for much longer after that. But I digress.....)

But likely, the bigger reason I wanted that white doll was because I didn't really understand that people came in a variety of colors, much less that dolls did too. I grew up in a very small town where pretty much everyone was white. I had never seen an African American, Asian. The only other racial group I had ever seen was Hispanics.

All the faces in my books were white. The faces on TV were mostly white. People on billboards were white. White was what I was used to seeing.

Of course, part of this was the time period I was raised in (the 70s)--a time before the word diversity was used on a daily basis. In fact, I'm quite surprised they even had any dolls of color at all, and somewhat impressed that my grandfather would buy one.

This incident highlights to me why it's important for children--all children--to see more than one race depicted in the things they play, watch, and read. It also illustrates that children love to see their faces reflected in their play toys. One day, my son probably will too.

Forty years later, things have changed a little. The majority of images/toys/books you will see depict Caucasians. As a white woman, I never had a reason to notice these things before we became an interracial family.

Here's the facts: according to the 2008 Census data, our country is predominately white. Six main races are recognized in the U.S.: White, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Those categorized as white comprise 75-80% of our population (via American Community Survey (ACS) and Population Estimates Program respectively.)

Advertisers market to the biggest portion of the population. That's the white portion. So, production for children's goods follows suit. I get that. But even if I were parenting a white child, I'd still be adamant about showing a wider range of diversity in their toy box. The real world is not one color.

So here's what it looks like from my new perspective. In the Midwest, the white population is between 83-85%. We don't see a ton of diversity in the toys/books offered in our area, and we aren't seeing it in our population either. Little Man is surrounded by white, much like I was as a child. White families in story books. White faces on play toys. White faces in advertisement. White faces on billboards. White faces on TV.

What to do? We have to be diligent about ensuring our beautiful Asian boy sees his beautiful features & culture reflected back in some of his toys, movies we watch, and books. We've sought out music, books, toys, and games that have more racial diversity.

It will take more than books and artwork, we know. But right now, those things will help him begin to understand inclusion, and that there are many shades of people we share the world with. It's about tolerance for things that are different. It's about pride in himself and his culture. It's about him not being shocked when he gets a doll that isn't white.

As I said, the real world is not one color. Even though sometimes, it can seem that way.

Here's some sources for Asian-related toys and dolls that we have found helpful.

Bedtime Dolls for Asian Children
Live and Learn's Asian Dolls

San Francisco Kid's Public Library Asian Heritage Reading List
National Education Association's Asian American Booklist
Favorite Asian Children's Books

Asian Play Food
Wok and Roll
Plan Toy Doll House: Asian Family
Stir Fry Slicing Set
Pretend Play Family
Just Kidz Beauty Makeover Styling Head


  1. I know, hey? While we were waiting for a proposal I spent a lot of time looking at kids books. I wanted ones that had a variety of races and managed to find quite a few thankfully but it took diligence! Thanks for all the links!

  2. Great post! I've been thinking about a blog post about adoption & Cabbage Patch Kids, which I'm going to go write now that you've inspired me. I have no recollection of this AT ALL, but the year that Cabbage Patch Kids were the must-have Christmas present, I really wanted a black one. I have no idea what even gave me that idea... I lived in a nearly all-white town too.

  3. Awesome post - filled with great links (thank you!) and a great point - that all kids need to understand that people come in different colors. I had focused on having books/dolls with people that looked like our kids, but the broader point is a great one too.


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