Fed-up Mom: Where Are All the Black Barbies This Holiday Season?

Vanessa Butler-Carter has launched a Change.org petition asking that Mattel make black, Latino, and Asian American figurines more available.

(Photo: Courtesy Mattel)

Dec 9, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Shopping for Barbie dolls on Black Friday ended up being a frustrating experience for Upper Darby, Penn., mother Vanessa Butler-Carter—and it was all due to the toys’ lack of racial diversity. Butler-Carter, who is African American, wanted to buy her two daughters a Barbie set that reflected their racial background, but after searching aisle after aisle, she could only find sets featuring white dolls. Now Butler-Carter has launched a Change.org petition to encourage Mattel, the maker of the iconic figurines, to diversify its offerings.

Prior to Black Friday, Butler-Carter had seen a Barbie and Ken Mini Cooper set that normally sells for $70 advertised by retailer Kohl’s for only $25.

“I contacted Mattel to find out where I could find the set with Barbies of color,” Butler-Carter wrote on the petition page. “After several attempts Mattel finally responded saying that they didn’t make that set in any race but white, however if I really wanted it I could purchase the dolls separately,” she wrote.

Of course, the problem with that solution is that purchasing more diverse dolls individually costs more money—good for Mattel’s bottom line but not for Butler-Carter’s wallet. She wrote that she would have had to pay between 25 percent and 30 percent more for individual dolls than for the set. And as one dad discovered on Sunday, some retailers may be marking up the cost of racially diverse Barbies.

Ohio resident Warren Johnson decided to do a little online shopping on Target.com on Sunday to buy his African American daughter a Barbie Fashion Design Doll. He was shocked to discover that the white doll was on sale for $23.49, but the black doll was going for $49.99.

"When my daughter asked the question, 'Why is the black doll more expensive than the white doll?' I really didn't have an answer for her," Johnson told WCPO. “"It kind of rubbed me the wrong way in light of all the things going on in our society right now," he said.

Johnson called Target’s headquarters and was told the price was an error. It may have been an innocent mistake, but there are probably plenty of parents who simply accepted that a black doll costing more money was the reality.

As for Butler-Carter, she no longer believes that black, Latino, and Asian American parents and kids should have to “make do with a pitiful selection of only the most basic models, find other gifts or simply pay extra for the same toy with a different skin tone.” She wrote on her petition that although Mattel sells more than 240 kinds of dolls on its website, only nine are black.

“I am not asking for Mattel to make an equal amount of dolls in each color, but I do think that it is reasonable to expect that special box sets are offered for each ethnicity at the same price,” wrote Butler-Carter. “Parents should be able to choose Barbies that reflect their children’s image,” the mom continued, particularly because “our country has a long history of marginalizing certain people and defining beauty in a certain way.” Her concern is that impressionable children of color will continue to view Caucasian dolls as the ideal and thus have lower self-esteem.

“I want my daughters to view themselves as equally as beautiful, capable and smart as their Caucasian peers,” wrote Butler-Carter, “and one way to ensure that happens is making sure there are dolls that represent them.” So far nearly 3,000 people have signed on to the petition. Mattel did not respond to a request for comment about Butler-Carter’s petition or the diversity of dolls available for sale online or in traditional retail stores.