Karen Braithwaite has had enough of the lack of diversity in the Barbie brand and is now pushing for Mattel to create party goods with Barbies of color.
Karen has always been aware of the lack of diversity when it came to Barbies but she didn’t expect the issues she faced as a child to still be so prevalent today.
It all started when her 5-year-old daughter asked for a Barbie themed birthday party and made it clear that she wanted it to feature black Barbies.
“They look like princesses and fairies,” she said of the few black Barbie dolls she owned. “They look like me.”
Well when the New York mom hit the stores looking for Barbie party goods that looked like her daughter, the search gave some disappointing results.
She searched high and low for plates, banners, napkins, and other party accessories that had Barbies of color and while she was finally able to find a few there was no entire set of black Barbie goods available.
“When I was growing up, black Barbies were hard to find,” Karen said. “Here we are 40 years later and still dealing with the same thing.”
Instead of just complaining about the lack of color in the Barbie brand, she decided to do something about it.
Braithwaite, along with 14 other moms in the Harlem area, have created a petition urging Mattel to make changes and make them now.
She explained to the mega-corporation that there is a negative message behind only featuring Barbies of a certain race or look.
“Featuring white Barbie so prominently on the banners, cups, napkins, plates, party favors and invitations, while relegating the ‘ethnic’ Barbies to near-invisible cameos send a clear – and troubling – message to young girls,” the petition explained.
She then talked to DNA Info about what exactly that “troubling” message is.
“The message [Mattel is] sending when they exclude black Barbies is that blonde hair and blue eyes are the ideal,” said the concerned mother.
When little girls are growing up they are looking at the things around them in order to figure out social norms and seeing such an astonishing absence of beautiful princesses, fairies, doctors, and other Barbies that look like them can be a serious problem.
Mattel has certainly made progress when it comes to introducing more ethnic diversity into the Barbie brand, but the group of New York moms just wants to remind them that there is still more work to be done.
Mattel spokesperson, Alan Hilowitz, agrees with the moms and claims that they are doing their best to make strides in the right direction.
“Barbie was represented more than 45 different nationalities and is sold in 150 countries,” Hilowitz responded. “In fact, Mattel’s first African American doll was introduced in 1968 – as Barbie doll’s friend Christie – and since then there have been numerous additional African American dolls.”
To make one thing clear, women who grew up during that era don’t recall the same branding of Christie. Most women, my mother included, remember the first African American Barbie being introduced simply as “Black Barbie,” not Christie.
Either way, the New York moms insist that isn’t enough to just throw out a few black Barbies here and there. Women of color need to be reflected in the brand just as much as white women with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Also, they need to realize that a diverse collection of dolls doesn’t change the fact that when it’s party time, parents can’t give their daughters a black Barbie party even if they wanted to.
Karen even admitted that when she was young her mother would have to purchase the tanned Barbies and color in Barbie’s face with a brown marker to create customized diverse party goods.
Hilowitz claims that Mattel will fix this issue as well.
“We work closely with various partners to develop and distribute Barbie-themed products, such as party supplies, and we will be sharing this valuable feedback with them to start conversations and evaluate the business,” he added. “We listen carefully to our consumers and take all feedback seriously.”
How seriously they take Karen, the Harlem moms, and other women of color will be revealed soon enough.
For now, we are on watch to see when ethnic Barbie party goods are widely available wherever Barbie party goods are being sold.