Black is Beautiful: Why Black Dolls Matter

| 2/26/2013 2:24:29 PM

 Jillian Knowles 
Most of us think of dolls as children's playthings, but they have a story to tell about race, culture, heritage, and history. 

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at Collectors Weekly.

As a little girl, Samantha Knowles didn’t stop to consider why most of her dolls—her American Girl dolls, her Cabbage Patch Kids, her Barbie dolls—were black like her. But black dolls were not common in her upstate New York hometown, whose population remains overwhelmingly white. So when Knowles was 8 years old, one of her friends innocently asked “Why do you have black dolls?” And she didn’t know quite what to say.

But that question stuck with her, and in college, she started to consider how she would answer as an adult. Finally, as an undergraduate film student at Dartmouth, she connected with a small but passionate group of black doll enthusiasts who gather at black doll shows around the country, and for her senior honors thesis, Knowles, now 22, completed a documentary called Why Do You Have Black Dolls? to articulate the answer.


What the Brooklyn filmmaker didn’t know was that her mother felt so strongly that her daughters, Samantha and Jillian, have dolls of their own race, that she would stand in line at stores or make special orders to make sure they got one of the few black versions. “My parents made sure to get us a lot of black dolls in a wide variety of hues and shapes,” Samantha Knowles says. “We didn’t have exclusively black dolls, but we had mostly black dolls. After I started working on the film, I had a lot of conversations with my mom, and she would say, ‘Oh, you don’t know what I had to go through to get some of those dolls!’”

Claudia Schumann
8/8/2013 2:25:29 AM

Black dolls are a good idea for children to have. More than just being something interesting, I think white children need to learn to appreciate African-Americans and one way is to cherish a beautiful African-American doll. I had an African-American (not called that when I was a child). My parents took me to the store and said I could have any doll I wanted so I said I wanted the black one. It was black baby doll with curly black hair in a little cotton outfit. I lover her and carried her all of while I was playing. My mother even made her some more clothes. I wish I still had her but as I grew up my parents sent my doll to a donation center for some other little girl could enjoy. So Black dolls add to life especially for me.

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