UW Madison students collect black dolls to instill confidence in local youth

UW Madison students collect black dolls to instill confidence in local youth

For many young black girls, it is hard to find dolls that look like them, and studies show, it’s even harder for them to identify with dolls when they do find them.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student organization is working to make sure local youth obtain self-esteem and confidence by collecting black dolls to be given as Christmas presents.

“I didn’t see people who looked like me that I thought were pretty, so in turn I didn’t think I was beautiful,” said Jasmine Kiah, 21. “I always thought the white dolls were more beautiful, and I would always pick them when my mom tried to give me a doll that looked like me.”

The Black Barbie Drive organizer said she knows how black girls feel. Growing up, she didn’t see positive images of black women in the media.

“From the time you’re young, on TV, the representations are of white people who are smart, who are beautiful – even people in the beauty commercials,” said Kiah.

A 1940 study done by sociologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark showed 63 percent of black girls would rather play with white dolls because they looked nicer, assigning negative connotations to the darker-skinned dolls.

That study was used in the Brown v. Board of Education court case in 1954 as an argument for desegregating schools.

In 2010, an updated study done by renowned child psychologist and University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer still showed what it called “white bias.” Black children had bias toward the white dolls, but white children showed more bias.

The study was evidence that dark-skinned dolls are still devalued.

Recently, companies like American Girl have launched diversity campaigns, making dolls of multiple races and disabilities.

But Kiah said there is still work to be done.

“Because Madison is a majority white community, I don’t think they understand how hard it is to go out and find a black doll or a black action figure,” said Kiah.

She hopes the toys donated to Freedom Inc. will help children in low-income families in Dane County, and also bring awareness to the community.

Toys can be dropped off at the Black Cultural Center at 716 Langdon Street or the Campus Women’s Center at 333 E Campus Mall. The drive ends on Dec. 16.