Now, let’s talk about real systemic racism. The systemic racism that exists in your toy box. I am writing from a position of privilege, so bear with me while I tell you what I see.
When I was a child, the lead character in any given cartoon was always blonde-and she still often is today. Let me give you a few examples from my era: Rainbow Brite, She-Ra, Jem (You KNOW she’s blonde under that pink dye!), Barbie and Skipper, Sailor Moon…need I go on? It was easy for me to find a doll that looked like me. You see, I was a blonde. The trouble is, I don’t think I had a lot of dolls that looked like my friends. That, to me, was troubling.
You see, I grew up in Southern California, among a group of friends that did not look like each other at all – and that was life. People looked different, people acted different, people even spoke different languages! But then and there, it was all acceptable, because it was life. I actually miss that part of Southern California. It’s the part I miss most, the diversity. I like learning about different things, and different people. Fascination and curiosity are great things.
Trouble is, there was not a lot of diversity in the toy box. If you were a brunette or a redhead, for example, you were relegated to sidekick. I had to specifically ask for redhead dolls to include my redhead friend. I even got blowback and freakish looks from my parents for asking for diversity in my doll kingdom. I mean, all my real friends are different, so why not have all my imaginary friends be different too?
What really hit me hard, though, was going into a store with Spanish-speaking owners, in my twenties, and seeing blonde dolls in Spanish-language boxes. At the time, I had just learned about various kinds of Eurocentric beauty standards, including Asian eyelid surgeries made to look more Western-which seems to be an Asian code word for European. Coming from my position, it still baffles me that they want to look like me, and not their beautiful selves. Anyway, back to the dolls. They looked nothing like the dark-haired beauties I normally came across with Hispanics. Blonde Hispanics do exist, even in natural states, but they are literally praised for “passing” as white somehow. I find all of this disturbing, that a person could hate their genetics so much. Of course, I am currently a size 18 in my clothing when the average model is a size…what is it now? Zero? So I can relate somewhat. Don’t even get me started on dolls in wheelchairs. Maybe they ought to exist, too?
Maybe celebrating differences would be better than making a uniform case that the leader is one uniform look, which could possibly be unnatural to the group of people supposedly represented. (I’m looking at you, Sailor Moon.) Perhaps make the brunette the leader, or the dark-skinned girl every once in a while?