As a Women’s Studies Major, I found the article on the Native American Barbie to be rather interesting in terms of discussing the mainstream economy’s commodification of women of color and other minority groups. In the article written by Maureen Schwartz, she discusses how Mattel’s Barbie Doll line in many cases wrongly mocks, falsifies, and appropriates minority culture for economic benefit.
The article discussed various “Native” Barbies or “Ethnic” Barbies that have been released over the years and how poorly they personify the people that they are supposed to represent. In the 1980s and 1990s a number of toy companies began to facilitate the manufacturing of ethnic dolls which include the release of the first Barbie with “African Style hair” and Teresa, a Latina friend of Barbie’s (Schwartz 296-97).
Specifically though, Schwartz focused on the Native American Barbies that have been released over the years beginning with the 1981 release of “Eskimo Barbie” (Schwartz 297) and a number of other Native American Barbie releases beginning in 1991 (Schwartz 297). Aside from the fact that using the term “Eskimo” is offensive in itself, Mattel also continued to objectify Native American culture through the way they chose to dress the Native dolls and the backstories and backdrops they chose to go with them. Rather than using the Barbie line as a way to afford minority children representation of people from their own racial and ethnic groups, they have objectified the people and the culture they share.
While this is obviously a major area of concern for Schwartz, she is not alone with criticizing Mattel and its selfish means of cashing in on minority culture. Dr. Lisa Wade brings to the table discussion from a professor named Ann Ducille who greatly critiques Mattel’s wayward thinking. Wade discuses how the physical image of Barbie is still held to the European standard of Caucasian beauty. While Schwartz also mentions the generic body type for most Barbies (Schwartz 299), Wade brings to light that any Barbies representing women of color are made from the same body molds of the traditional Barbie figures, furthering the ideal of European beauty.
Wade also takes concern with the stereotypical ethnic portrayal of many ethnic Barbies including the Jamaican Barbie whose box boasts:
“How-you-du (Hello) from the land of Jamaica, a tropical paradise known for its exotic fruit, sugar cane, breath-taking beaches, and reggae beat! …most Jamaicans have ancestors from Africa, so even though our official language is English, we speak patois, a kind of ‘Jamaica Talk,’ filled with English and African words. For example, when I’m filled with boonoonoonoos, I’m filled with much happiness!” (Wade).
In another article by Wade, mention of Mattel’s complete lack of racial sensitivity (and quite possibly common sense) regarding the release of an “Oreo Fun Barbie”; although to some it may seem completely innocent, the use of the word “Oreo” coupled with a dark-skinned doll is irreprehensible. The term “Oreo” when in reference to a woman of color refers to a woman who is black on the outside but white on the inside. The release of this doll Wade argues, shows two things: “(1) white privilege and the ease with which white people can be ignorant of non-white cultures and (2) a lack of diversity on the Mattel team” (Wade).
In conclusion Mattel’s attempt to create representation of women of color for their main target audience of young white and heteronormative children has failed the people and cultures that it has tried to represent.
Schwarz, Maureen. “Native American Barbie: The Marketing of Euro-American Desires.” JSTOR. January 1, 2005. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40643901.
Wade, Lisa. “Ann Ducille on “Ethnic Barbies”” The Society Pages. October 27, 2008. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/10/27/ann-ducille-on-ethnic-barbies/.
Wade, Lisa. “White Privilege and the Trouble with Homogeneity: The Black Oreo Barbie.” The Society Pages. June 10, 2009. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2009/06/10/white-privilege-and-the-trouble-with-homogeneity-the-black-oreo-barbie/.