Black kids don’t need black dolls

Martin Luther King dreamt that his children would ‘one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character’. King’s famous speech was a call to the world to stop promoting racial thinking, and to stop dividing people along racial lines. Fifty-three years later, King’s positive, universalist philosophy is being steadily undermined, not by racists, but by anti-racists – in the name of racial equality and diversity.

Just witness the current obsession with the lack of black dolls on the shelves of British high street shops. According to Dr Sheine Peart, a race-equality expert at Nottingham Trent University, the apparent lack of black dolls is detrimental to the lives of black children. Peart argues that it ‘almost creates a colonial environment’. She told the BBC that it ‘positions the black child as an outsider and not integral to society’. From Peart’s perspective, not having access to black dolls ‘marginalises’ black children. She added that, psychologically, this ‘will have some impact’.

The view that black children are being marginalised, all because they haven’t got any black dolls, is wrongheaded, and belittling of the capabilities, potential and imagination of black children. Speaking as someone who was brought up in London in the 1970s, when black dolls were non-existent, I can confirm that never having a black doll had no psychological impact on me. Indeed, black people of my generation may have been marginalised, but that wasn’t because we didn’t have any black toys to play with, it was because racism as an idea had a very real purchase in Britain back then – it was a principle that organised and shaped British society.

The idea that we shouldn’t judge people by the colour of their skin, or that we shouldn’t promote racial thinking, is now rejected by anti-racists. Apparently skin colour has become central to the fight against racism. According to Jane Lane of the Race Equality Foundation, the skin colour of dolls is a ‘key’ issue. Lane argues that in order to challenge racism in Britain today, we need dolls that are ‘accurate because our society is… racist and [black] dolls need to counter this’.

The truth is, black dolls can’t fight racism. And this narrow focus and preoccupation with racial identity actually has more in common with the political culture that King and the civil-rights movement of the 1960s fought against. Just like King, I have a dream, that toys will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by their ability to spark children’s imagination.

Courtney Hamilton is a writer based in London.

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