Black dolls teach the combat of racism while playing

Ana Júlia dos Santos (center) with her daughter and granddaughter and some of her dolls
Ana Júlia dos Santos (center) with her daughter and granddaughter and some of her dolls

Note from BW of Brazil: As has been shown on this blog, the Brazilian media and school system play important roles in the development of the country’s identity. As such, the near complete whitewashing of history and media representation also play a role in the way black children see themselves, identify themselves and opinions they develop about corresponding qualities of black, white and Indian people. This whitewashing has been shown to play a part in the fragmentation in the identity of non-white children. With the daily invisibility and stereotypical representations of Afro-Brazilians, this fragmentation can begin very early in life. As such, some black Brazilians are coming up with creative ways to address this invisibility (see here and here, for example). With 51% of Brazil’s population defining itself as non-white, it is important that the children that are part of this demographic begin to see themselves as well. 

Black dolls teach the combat of racism while playing

In the large toy store circuits black dolls are rare. And when they are available, generally they present features of white people only changing the color of the skin

By Daniele Silveira

Racism and the desire to see herself represented led Ana Júlia dos Santos to use her art as a way to express the specifics of the black population. For 15 years, the artisan has made black dolls, which subvert the “nega maluca (crazy black woman)” stereotype and provide new weapons to combat prejudice.


Ana Fulô, as she is known, says that there were few toys during her childhood, but remembers “never having had a black doll.” Perhaps even more remarkable than the lack of references when she was little was the story of one of her granddaughters about some homework in which she should make a “doll.”

“The teacher said, ‘Now when you make black doll, you put a piece of Bombril [steel wool scouring pad] (on it) to imitate her hair’. I heard this story from my granddaughter. My daughter got sick, went to the teacher and questioned it. The homework was cancelled. It wasn’t done anymore.”

Cristina, Joyce and Lúcia of Preta Pretinha show off some of their work
Cristina, Joyce and Lúcia of Preta Pretinha show off some of their work

Coincidentally, with the experience of racism experienced by her granddaughter, Fulô explains that she sought a fair to divulge her craft, but there were no more vacancies. So the coordinator of the space suggested that she make black dolls because the artisan who developed this work had died. In this encounter of situations Fulô was found the opportunity to express her identity and combat racism.

“I noticed that black girls play with white dolls, but white girls don’t always play with black dolls. So I wanted to get rid of the way people treat the black doll like ‘nega maluca’. I wanted to make pretty girls. So I started working on this really to raise the self-esteem of our children and show them that their toys could be as or more beautiful than the others.”

Light eyes, dark skin

In the large toy store circuits black dolls are rare. And when they are available, generally they present features of white people, only changing the color of the skin. Thus, toy manufacturers aren’t shy in presenting black dolls with green eyes or even reinforcing prejudices with the reproduction of stereotypes.

The artisan and elementary school teacher, Lúcia Makena had made black dolls for over ten years. She believes that the formal market of toys is not interested in knowing and representing the black population.

Dolls created by Lúcia Makena
Dolls created by Lúcia Makena

“The industry, I believe that when it makes a black doll, it’s not very concerned with the question of identity and culture. I think they just put brown ink on it and that’s it, you know. And the concern I think companies should be thinking about is who is this black people, what is this culture, what is their outlook on life, what is important to them, and they [companies] don’t care about this.”

Lúcia Makena
Lúcia Makena

An art teacher, Lúcia also emphasizes the importance of working for the education of children on the issue of ethnic and racial diversity. “I believe that toys are part of this training process of children. So you have to make dolls contemplating ethnicities. The child cannot spend a lifetime buying blonde, blonde, blonde dolls if often they are not blond and often they will not be identify with that. It will bring an impression that her reference of beauty is something else.”

A serious game

Like Makena, Fulô considers fundamental the educational function of toys. “No child is born prejudiced. This is something that will put in his or her little head. I think from the moment she starts playing, she has an understanding of the diversity of race. Place both for the child to play with, if we realize that the black doll it is not part of the games, then there is a problem. This is where it starts working in the little head of the child.”

For Fulô, more than dolls, her creations are characters that have their own stories. Along with the art of the development of each new template, clothes and other props that accompany her girls, she also thinks about the identification of each doll. Thus she usually gives to those who purchase her work texts about what she imagines for each girl.

Note from BW of Brazil: Below is a video produced by Black Jack Mídia featuring Lúcia Makena who was also interviewed in the above piece. Some of Makena’s work is also featured in the video. It’s in Portuguese but the images speak for themselves. Here is a short info piece posted along with the video on You Tube:

“You may not have played with a black doll, but surely future generations will have the opportunity. Tired of the monopoly of the toy industry, Lúcia Makena decided to break the barriers and invest in craft dolls, specifically black dolls. Twelve years ago, Lúcia undertook a commitment to establish equality through image so the kids could construct identity from childhood. A simple attitude that will make a difference in the path of the country.”

Source: Brasil de Fato

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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