Green Army Men Toys Get a Black Pride Makeover

Instead of raising guns, these figurines raise a fist to the sky.
(Photo: Brothas N Sistas/Kickstarter)
Sep 8, 2016· 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.

Green army men have been a toy box staple since the late 1940s—and who can forget the covert mission at the beginning of the film Toy Story, when animated versions of the plastic figurines sneak out to see what Andy’s birthday presents are? But at a time when a hashtag has to serve as a reminder that black lives matter, a redesign of the iconic soldiers is bringing a healthy dose of black pride to the toys.

Black Army Men Collectibles hopes to provide a playful reminder of the strength and resilience of the black community. Inspired by the Black Panther Party of the early 1970s, the five soldiers—two women and three men—in the collection have, depending on the toy, an Afro, a beret, a raised fist, or a flag.

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“I am really trying to make a dent in areas where my culture is really not getting represented properly or not represented at all,” Arielle Wilkins, the Brooklyn, New York–based graphic designer who created the figurines, wrote in an email to TakePart. That made designing toys, a market where some parents wonder why they can’t easily find diverse Barbies on store shelves, a natural fit.

Wilkins is producing the three-inch-tall soldiers through Brothas N Sistas, a start-up she founded after graduating from college in 2011. Her company creates culturally relevant products, ranging from an A Tribe Called Quest pencil case to wall prints of Run-DMC. She’s trying to raise $20,000 on Kickstarter by mid-October to cover the cost of making the silicon molds needed to mass-produce these figurines.

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Along with providing a connection to black history, Wilkins also hopes the soldiers can help counteract current media misrepresentations of black folks, including negative portrayals of protesters of police violence.

(Photo: Brothas N Sistas/Kickstarter)

“I have friends of different racial backgrounds, from different countries, and unfortunately what they know about my culture is from the media,” she wrote. “Myself and my friends had shared so many stories of just ongoing occurrences of racism that happens in our daily lives. And I think these figurines are a good summary of our reaction. We are still staying strong.”

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In recent years, weapon-toting green army men have been banned from some schools and day cares because of zero-tolerance weapons policies. Unlike the traditional green soldiers, Wilkins’ don’t carry tiny rifles.

“While many men and women carry guns into battle, these figurines use their bond and their voice. Today we are in a new kind of battle and there has never been a more delicate time to take the right approach,” Wilkins explained on the Kickstarter page.

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Wilkins wrote that adults, who might want to display the figurines on a bookcase or desk, might be more interested in the soldiers “since they know the history behind these iconic figures.” But she’d also love for kids to have them in their toy collections “so they can also know the history behind them and to see how powerful these icons are to our community.”