Thursday, February 5, 2009

That Sasha and Malia Doll

Malia and Sasha walk out onto the inauguration platform in J. Crew clothing and soon thereafter the Web site crashes; after his inaugural speech, President Obama bends over to Sasha looking for approval and she gives him the thumbs-up – a picture that can now be juxtaposed to that of little Caroline Kennedy’s; at the pre-inaugural concert on the mall, President-elect Obama concludes his remarks and walks back to his sitting family where he asks Malia “How did I do?” “Good!” she responds with certainty and a bright smile. All of these moments and many more represent unforgettable and iconic positive images.

The Obama Family is America’s new First Family. They represent a new image of the Black family that is now being seared into the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world; images that speak to the demonstrative love of a Black man for his wife and for his daughters and ultimately, their love for him. These are images that are counteractive to the ones that we as a nation are accustomed to digesting and accepting as our collective reality. These images give us a very different view of Black men, Black women and Black children.

Without doubt, the Obamas have become American icons. And with iconoclasm comes love, adulation and yes, in some cases, exploitation. DollsLikeMe is not exploitative.

With the exception of the Huxtables who helped to change the negative perception of the Black family, Black people have never enjoyed this kind of imagery; however, the Huxtables impact in no way equals that of the first African American First Family. To many African Americans, the Obama family is the same family that they grew up in. For others, they represent something that they never knew existed.

We at DollsLikeMe fully understand the importance of imagery and images – especially to the psyche of Black children. We also understand that for far too long Black children and children of color have not had enough tangible images that encourage and sustain self-esteem and self-love. This is why we support any positive images of these little girls.

In the 1940’s, noted psychologists Kenneth Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark were challenged with a salient fact: Black children felt inferior to their white counterparts. For the Clarks, finding ways to instill racial pride in these children became paramount, but first they needed to conduct a study that would support their premise that the psychological effects of racism and segregation negatively impacts on black children, their self-esteem and how they viewed the world from the vantage point of an inferior status.

To do this they used Black and White dolls and asked Black children to choose between the good and pretty dolls. A majority of the choices were always for the White dolls. The outcome of their 1950 study would become the basis for psychologists and social scientists to study the impact of racism and segregation

on Black children for decades to come. Their findings would also play a pivotal role in the Brown vs. Board of Education’s Supreme Court’s legal ruling.

The Clark’s findings were as profound as they were prescient. Much has happened in the world since that time – the end of Jim Crow, the explosion of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and of course, the second wave of the Women’s Movement. And throughout all of these historic events, institutionalized racism has waged on and its tentacles have loomed unflinchingly in the shadows of America’s halls of justice, in our educational systems, in our social arenas, and in our doll choices.

For decades doll manufacturers have tended to produce mostly scantily-clad dolls, most often with long wavy hair, as their main line of dolls for young Black girls. Very few of these dolls have ever represented the beauty, brilliance and positivity of Black girls. And never has there been any doll that has been named for a real living Black girl who was a contemporary icon.

The CEO and Founder of DollsLikeMe is abundantly aware of the systemic impact of racism on generation after generation of Black children. For her, Shirley Temple and Caroline Kennedy were the iconic dolls when she was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s; dolls that time and time again, told her that her skin, her color and her race was inferior to others and that she did not matter.

DollsLikeMe was created to address this anomaly. It is a company that has consistently met the needs of parents of Black and Latino children as well as a growing number of parents that do not share the biology or nationality of their adoptive children, but are intuitive and savvy enough to understand that their daughters and sons require strong self-images that are crucial to their overall well-being.

DollsLikeMe, in addition to receiving an overwhelming positive response from parents wanting to purchase the Sasha and Malia dolls, has also received an extremely vitriolic and unwarranted backlash for deciding to carry the dolls in our store.

We are proud to say that we stand by our decision to sell the Ty Company’s dolls named Sasha and Malia. Not because it’s a good business decision that fits squarely into our mission, but because like Obama’s presidency, naming modestly dressed dolls after two sweet young Black girls, will have a psychological affect that is bigger than all of us. Our world now sits on the precipice of change. We are presently living in a time that we can now see the possibility that little Black girls are just as important as little White girls, and that they too can and deserve to be held in adulation, admiration and more importantly as 21st Century icons.

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