I often watch ABC’s black-ish, a show that regularly addresses racial issues within America and its past while following the lives of the Johnson’s, an African American family. One episode aligned nearly perfectly with class readings and discussions. It begins with Diane, an elementary school girl who recieves a white “Girl Story” doll who is characterized as a doctor. Immediately, the mother, Rainbow (who is a doctor herself), insists on exchanging the doll for a black one. Once at the store, she realizes that among the hundreds of white and “differently abled” dolls, there are only two black dolls: a slave and “Selma”, a civil rights protester. Rightfully so, this infuriates Rainbow, and she protests against the store, demanding that her daughter and other young girls of color have a more vast representation of who they are and who they can be in the world. Throughout the episode, she states “just because that doll store thinks we are only one thing, doesn’t mean that is all we are” and “The message is so clear. We’re not as good. I just didn’t want Diane internalizing that message” while talking through her frustrations with her husband and young daughter.

Rainbow demonstrated a clear understanding of how “identity”, as discussed and defined in Karen Coats’ keyword essay, can be developed for her child through racial representation within a doll character, just as the girls in The Bluest Eye did not feel represented properly within their society. This keyword essay focused on how a child’s perceptions of themselves in relation to society is rapidly changing as they grow. The piece stated that  “adults have long believed that it is crucial for children ‘to see themselves in the book’ so that their particular identity structures are validated and affirmed”(111). This thought is held by Rainbow, and is most likely what causes her to be so determined to show her daughter that while the Girl Story dolls only show black women as slaves or protestors, their story goes deeper, and just because what Diane wants to be may not be fairly represented by a black doll does not mean she cannot do it. In contrast, the young girls in the novel did not have the greatest adult role models who did not clearly work to build up the girls’ value as society tried to rip it down.

In the essay, Locke’s theories on child identity were also discussed. “He concluded that the development and educational process of children must be carefully controlled and scrutinized, because lessons absorbed in childhood remain forever imprinted on the self unless scrupulously interrogated” (110), and this concept drives Rainbow to scrutinize a company that has a lacking representation of black girlhood, fearing that it would have a lasting negative impact on black girls like her daughter. As we have discussed in multiple lectures, especially regarding this keyword essay and The Bluest Eye, black childhood has historically been poorly represented in literature, toys, and media. We talked a lot about how Shirley Temple was loved, yet the girl in Toni Morrison’s novel does not prefer her, and this could be attributed to how she does not see herself represented in her. Often times, black children are seen as less than, if not absent from a narrative completely. This has had an impact on children’s’ perceptions of themselves compared to white children, who are often glorified and more widely represented. As our guest lecturer mentioned, it is hard to value yourself when the world does not see you as valuable. Rainbow’s mission was to allow her daughter to build up her value, and fight against things that stop that, like a lack of representation in a toy store.  

If you’re interested in watching the episode, try this link. It may have expired.

4 thoughts on “TOYS-RNT-US”

  1. Great post! I have never watched this show but I think that the premise of the show is very interesting. I agree that there should be more diverse representations of identity in media; this show opens up conversations about race and gender that media doesn’t always do a good job of. These issues are especially important to discuss as we evolve as a society.

  2. You make a lot of great points and I agree with what you said about the underrepresentation of African American culture and the diversity within it in society. Although just to play devil’s advocate, in one of my previous classes, we critiqued the way Black-ish represents the modern African American family. Since the family this show follows is a well-educated, upper-middle class family, it often fails to show the struggle of marginalized people in America. Given this, I wonder if the show itself is also perpetuating false and limited representations of the African American community. This episode does a nice job of converying this important message, although the show as a whole is worth thinking about.

  3. Being of the white ethnic majority, I am privileged in the fact that I never had to experience a lack of representation in the dolls that I played and interacted with. Prior to my exposure this semester through this class as well as my Racial and Ethnic Minorities class, it would have been unlikely that I would’ve thought about the consequences of this under representation. Immediately after reading the initial paragraph of the above post, I couldn’t help but think of the video we watched in lecture, as black girls picked the “good” baby doll, who also happened to be white more times than not. It hurt my heart to see that girls so young were recognizing race in such a big way, one that was clearly not in favor of their race. I do think that a better representation of all minorities, specifically blacks in this case, would be beneficial for black girls growing up because it gives them something to identify with, but it also normalizes, rather than ostracizes, their race.

  4. This reminds of the videos we watched in class about the experiment with the dolls. The African American children were shown two dolls, a white doll and a black doll. They were then told to pic the doll they would like to play with and the “nice” doll. Majority of the children picked the white doll. They thought that the black doll was the “lesser” doll. This is again shown in this episode as there are very few options in black dolls, reinforcing the idea of them being “lesser”.

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