Are Mattel's New Dolls Black Enough?

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With so few black dolls on toy-store shelves, many black parents had high hopes when toy powerhouse Mattel Inc. released So in Style, its first line of black dolls with wider noses, fuller lips, sharper cheekbones and a variety of skin shades.

Now, despite the company's efforts to solicit input from a group of high-profile black women, including Cookie Johnson, wife of former basketball star Magic Johnson, some parents are saying the dolls aren't black enough. They complain that five of the six dolls feature fine-textured, waist-length hair; half of them have blue or green eyes....

... This isn't Mattel's first foray into creating black dolls. The El Segundo, Calif.-based toy maker first introduced a black doll in 1967, when it painted Barbie's cousin Francie brown. Two years later, Barbie got a black friend named Christie. A black Barbie came along in 1980, but her features were almost identical to those of her white counterpart.

The expensive line of American Girl dolls, also owned by Mattel, features a black doll named Addy Walker, a runaway slave whose story is set during the Civil War. But with a price tag of $95, it is out of reach for a lot of families.

Other toy lines, including the popular Polly Pocket miniatures, also made by Mattel, include only a few black dolls. "Polly Pocket only has one or two brown dolls, and my daughters fight over them," says Mary Broussard-Harmon, a mother of three girls from Corona, Calif...

... J. Lorand Matory, chairman of the Department of African and African American studies at Duke University, says that there is a history of self-hatred in the African diaspora that stems from the value attached to European hair, features and skin color. "Mattel didn't send the message, but they are reinforcing it," he says.

"These dolls are a much better representation than what has been in the marketplace," says Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni. "But we hear the argument."

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