Tag: Native Americans

Barbie: Whitewashing and the Commodification of Native People by Jessie Tomchick

As a Women’s Studies Major, I found the article on the Native American Barbie tofghd 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.

xfghWade 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 gdfgBarbie”; 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.


Works Cited


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/.

Hondo and the 1950s Western Hero by Deja Sloan

hondo-movie-poster-1954-1020258317After watching the 1953 adventure film Hondo, I can safely say it follows the pattern of many American Western films, and heavily reinforces to the idea of the overall icon of the “West.” The movie shows the adventures of a very mysterious, very masculine, cowboy/outlaw/gunman, Hondo Lane (played by John Wayne), who develops an unlikely relationship with a New Mexican housewife (Mrs. Lowe) and her young son. The movie deals with themes such as masculine bravery, territory, ways of life, and surprisingly, love.

All of Hondo’s heroism is accredited to his sheer bravery and unapologetic boss attitude. He travels alone accompanied by his dog Sam (Man’s best friend) and is not afraid to stand up to any man—White or Native. Another sub theme in the movie was death, which comes close to Hondo almost every scene. This, accompanied by his leather-ish shirt, handkerchief, rugged appearance, and extensive knowledge on Apache culture and gun use, makes him the epitome of the stereotypical Cowboy contemporary society that has come to associate with the old west. (That and Hondo’s ability to take shots of straight whiskey and win a saloon fight against three other men without breaking a sweat). The movie also emphasizes how the Apache value bravery as well, so much so that they spare the life of a young boy who shot at one of their own because he was protecting his mother.

The protection of one’s territory is also a huge theme in the movie. In this case, Mrs. Lowe represents the All American family protecting its home with a gun when she first meets Hondo. The Native Americans are trying to protect what is left of their land (reservation) from white people, and Hondo represents the West in general as he is brave, wild, and doesn’t have a territory of his own, but protects whoever he needs to as a “good” cowboy. There are a number of lengthy war scenes in the movie that begin over a dispute of territory and who it belongs to. This tension over ownership of land also feeds into the idea of the “American West” as they depict it being extremely iHondo22mportant, and worth dying for.

Another re-occurring theme that caught my attention over the course of the film was the idea of a “Way of life.” Hondo, who is a loner is very anti-social, and chooses to travel alone and make up his own rules. Mrs. Lowe stays quiet about her husband’s affairs, even when she’s aware of all of his unfaithfulness in order to protect her son in a cloud of oblivion. There is also a scene in the movie where Hondo refuses to let Mrs. Lowe feed his dog because “He’s independent…that’s the way to be.”  Even the Apaches are given a moral standard of how to live bravely, and reward whites for living up to it

Surprisingly, the theme of love also made its way into the film a number of times. In the beginning of the film, Mrs. Lowe is depicted as a loving mother that will do anything to protect her son, and is faithfully awaiting the return of her husband. Later on, the Apaches develop so much love for her son that they almost demand she remarry so he has a father to look up to. And in the end, of course, Honda and Mrs. Lowe end up together, as an unlikely couple with a strong tough man capable of protecting a weak, beautiful, delicate, young woman.

These themes are known across many western films, and perfectly fit the iconic “Western” image so many of us have. Images of “savage” Indians with colorful face paint, dark reddish skin, long hair and “tribal yelling” are some of the stereotypes used to depict the Indians in the film. The image of a strong American family and complete male dominance are also used to depict other iconic images associated with the west. What makes this film American is its sense of pride over “heroes” such as Hondo and the “Perfect” American family. What makes this film western is its open backdrop, shoot-outs, Indian slaughter, and a brave cowboy who gets the girl.