Note from BW of Brazil: In reality is should come as no surprise. As much as we’ve documented this for the past few years, the more one digs and does research, the worse it gets! It’s no exaggeration, but in almost EVERY area of Brazilian society, black Brazilians are vastly under-represented, which is why we’ve seen such a rising demand for black representation, particularly over the past few years. Of course we know there will always be those who will scream and shout, “you’re blowing this out of proportion”, “vitimismo” (playing the victim) or “why are you always talking about race?”, because “we are all equal”! Well, we keep talking about it because no matter where we search, we find these drastic inequalities which show that we are NOT all equal! At this very moment, as this article is being posted, the 2016 Miss Brasil contest is happening in São Paulo with a record number of black contestants, six (out of 27)! This in a contest in which a black woman hasn’t won in 30 years and in that winner was the only one in the pageant’s 62 year history!
Today, we turn our attention to yet another topic that’s been touched upon in a few past posts: black dolls, or better, the lack of black dolls in Brazil’s toy market. Go to any of the popular toy stores in Brazil and you will be bombarded with this reality. Besides all of the superhero action figures being dominated by dolls that look like the white actors they were modeled after, it’s nearly impossible to find a doll that isn’t cut from the Barbie mold. And in a country like Brazil where non-whites are taught to appreciate and conform to European features, reject a black identity and eventually produce offspring that look closer to this aesthetic, what does this mean for black children?
These were some of the issues that the creators of a project that seeks to encourage retailers to carry more black dolls had in mind. The vast majority of Brazilians (black or white) don’t represent the blue-eyed, (natural) blond haired look that the media is so infamous in reproducing, so why shouldn’t children who will never fit this ‘ideal’ must be forced to play with dolls that look nothing like them? Even worse are the cases in which the black children themselves reject images that are more similar to their own due to the indoctrination process of white supremacy. These are a few of the issues to consider as you read through the article below.
Only 3% of dolls for sale on online stores in Brazil are black, study finds
By Amauri Terto and Estela Marques; all photos taken from the Entenda o projeto Cadê nossa boneca? video
The issue of black representation in the media has been debated in Brazil and in the world. If digital activism has made great cosmetic and beauty brands rethink their position for the celebration of aesthetic diversity, the same doesn’t occur in the toy market.
On the eve of Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day), the NGO Avante, of Salvador, Bahia, which promotes the campaign Cadê nossa boneca? (Where’s our doll?), released a study on the offer of dark skinned dolls available to buy in Brazil. Between April and July, the organization did a survey on the websites of the largest toys manufacturers in Brazil.
A total of 1,945 models found dolls, only 131 are black.
According to Ana Marcilio, coordinator of the campaign and of Avante projects, the study was done in two stages.
From a list made by Fundação Abrinq (Abrinq Foundation), 31 major industry manufacturers were initially consulted. Of these, only 16 have black dolls in their portfolio, and of those that manufacture black dolls, the proportion in relation to white dolls is greatly reduced.
The manufacturer with the largest number of black dolls was Milk, which features 72 models among the 475 it manufactures on its site. But those who report higher percentages were Miele, 25% of the models being black dolls, followed by Sidereal, 23%, and Milk, with 15%.
The second stage of the study was in raising, among the leading online retailers of toys, the amount of black dolls available for purchase. We analyzed three e-commerce sites: Americanas.com, Walmart.com and Ri Happy; and the ratio was even lower.
On average, no more than 3% of the dolls available for purchase are dark-skinned.
The worst situation was identified on the site of Americanas.com, where of the total of 3,030 dolls for sale only 18 were black, representing only 0.6%. On the website of Ri Happy, of 632 dolls marketed online, only 17 models were black, while on the Walmart’s e-commerce the proportion was only 20 of 835 total.
“We live in a country where, according to IBGE data, negros e pardos (blacks and browns) account for 53.6% of the population. Still, there is a high prevalence of bonecas brancas (white dolls) in the portfolios of manufacturers. On average, the proportion of those in relation to black dolls is 95%,” says Ana.
This difficulty in finding the dolls with a greater diversity of characteristics is justified by the industry as a lack of interest of big business in acquiring them, according to Ana. They say that they even produce dolls with features beyond pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes, but big business doesn’t acquire them due to lack of a market. “But the public says that it purchases,” added the activist. “This node is the result of a question of racism. We are talking about construction of image, identity. We’re talking about historic struggle for a series of possibilities of insertion of blacks, indigenous and other standards of society. As a toy is one of the things that supports in the symbolic construction, I can’t say that has nothing to do with it,” said Ana.
Cadê nossa boneca? (Where’s our doll?)
Launched in April of this year with the aim of promoting reflection on aesthetic standards and black representation in childhood, the campaign Cadê nossa boneca? currently has about 400,000 people on its Facebook page. The idea of the project is to sensitize society, industry and retail to the need for product diversification.
The coordinator of the campaign, Mylene Alves says that soon the project will launch a collaborative map where parents and guardians can provide and have access to information about the physical toy stores and their products.
“Subtle changes like this are a major step in building a society that respects and accepts their racial differences, thus contributing so that there is reduction of prejudice, and raise self-esteem of children, which will see themselves represented in toys,” says Mylene.
One of the campaign strategies to change this scenario is proposing discussions with civil society to perhaps encourage the market, production and consumption of dolls, as well as a symbolic construction in childhood that is less racist.