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Stereotyping In Toys- ‘Slave’ Toys And Elderly Men In Wheelchairs

October 9, 2015

Yesterday, an American five-year old’s toy made the news.

Mother Ida Lockett, from Sacramento, California, said her son was recently given a PlayMobil Pirate Ship. The toy includes a figurine that strongly resembles an African-American slave.

The Washington Post described the doll as “a dark-skinned doll wearing no shoes, ripped pants and a tattered yellow shirt.” The toy reportedly includes a “silver piece” which the instruction manual asks children to place around the dark doll’s neck- a neck shackle. The ship apparently includes a dungeon.

Ms Lockett claims the toy is “definitely racist.”

Playmobil said in a statement: ““The figure was meant to represent a pirate who was a former slave in a historical context. It was not our intention to offend anyone in anyway.”

Readers, I’m all for representation of difference in toys. I am a British Asian woman with a physical disability. As a child, I wondered  two things: Why all my dolls had straight legs and why all my dolls had white skin. Years later I was given a black porcelain doll- she still decorates my room.

Today I would love the children in my life to play with black dolls. I warmly welcome the fact that there are now many more available.

However, I wish the big toy companies knew that representation of difference is not just about giving a doll black skin, or including a wheelchair in a hospital set for an elderly toy patient to sit in, as Lego did earlier this year.

At the time, Rebecca Atkinson, founder of the very popular Toy Like Me campaign, which calls for positive representation of disability in the toyshop, told the Huffington Post:” it’s so disappointing that the only wheelchair using figure across all Lego products is an elderly person being pushed along by a younger figure. What does this say to children about disability?”

It says that disability only happens to older people. Something that definitely isn’t true. Definitely not what I want the children in my life to learn or think.

Even if children who play with the PlayMobil Pirate Ship are too young at the time to know the full history of slavery, this toy will still teach them from a young age that people with black skin don’t have the money to buy shoes or nice clothes. A very negative stereotype that, thankfully, is no longer true in America, or the UK. Definitely not what I want the children in my life to learn or think.

Where are the black Hollywood Barbies? Where is Bollywood Barbie? Where are the brightly coloured Lego or Duplo or PlayMobil wheelchairs carrying children in school uniforms? Where are the wheelchair accessible dolls’ houses?

Why can’t a toy company create a wheelchair accessible school bus so that a child toy in a wheelchair can travel to school on the same bus as their friends who can walk?

Why must the black figurine teach children about a negative period in black history? Surely slavery as a result of skin colour is something the adults of today want their children to forget? Or at the very least, to learn about when they are old enough to understand what a very negative idea it ever was, and that it should never happen again?

Why was the toy that taught young girls that disability can happen to pretty girls who brush their hair discontinued? It was called Share A Smile Becky and was warmly welcomed by my teenage self!

So PlayMobil, Mattel, Lego: Please create as many black toys, brown toys and toy wheelchairs as you like. But please don’t teach our children that difference is negative.

Because difference is not negative. Different is not wrong- different is different.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2015 1:23 pm

    Reblogged this on perfectlyfadeddelusions.

  2. October 9, 2015 6:14 pm

    i had a black doll and a white one as a child. in fact my big white doll, was exactly the same as my sisters big black one. my black one wasn’t so big.(the latter was from a different Xmas) we also all had golliwogs as kids. in those days we rarely saw a dark skinned person. where i lived was a village community. but my road had a big mill at the end of it. (still dont remember if there were any mill people with different coloured skin. if their were we never noticed it.the road itself only had 1 detached cottage(the night watchman’s cottage) and 2 sets of semi detached houses.(later another set was built as offices). we loved those dolls. Black or white. made no difference to us. i don’t ever remember thinking there was a difference. mind you the picture in the Sunday school hall on the back wall depicted Jesus with brown skin. again we thought nothing of it. he came from a hot country and somehow, somewhere along the line, we must have been told that dark skinned people came from another country but there was no discrimination that i knew of.even now i have sat here,on my lounge window sill, a black skinned doll dressed as a nun, given to me by my step mother. plus a golliwog i found on a boot sale some years ago. to me they are dolls. it don’t mean they are different. and no matter what colour skin someone has they are still people. humans. what makes them different if anything is how they behave to their fellow man, but that goes for any colour skinned person.its whats inside counts.

  3. October 9, 2015 11:13 pm

    Reblogged this on campertess.

  4. October 9, 2015 11:46 pm

    Reblogged this on lawrencerowntree.

  5. October 10, 2015 4:54 am

    Just to point out there are many black, asian and a wide variety of Barbie dolls based on different nationalities. However it all depends on the shops to stock them. They are easily available online however. I’m now going to look for a Share a Smile Becky doll, I need a wheelchair and elbow crutches for my dolls!

    • October 10, 2015 11:08 am

      As I said in the post above, I know and am very glad that there are now many more black and ethnic minority dolls available.

      But as you say they should be widely stocked and widely publicised.

      Share a Smile Becky has been discontinued, though a used one may be available online.

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