An African-American doll, Doc McStuffins, has risen to the top of the doll market, selling $500 million units last year.
As an observer of race in American culture, I have an exuberance and unbounded joy at the broad success of the young Doc; more so, when I recall the protests against the dolls and video games that pandered and reinforced offensive stereotypes a few years ago—the games awarding points and levels for violence and thuggery. Because dolls are the companions, friends, and playmates of children, this quiet movement by children clearly shows a new generation sees race differently and are willing to have race-enriched experiences. The requests by children to be photographed with a child whose color adds authenticity to the character tells us the acceptance is inclusive, real, and honest—and supported by parents.
Yet (with more caution than cold water), I recall the long legacy of commercial successes in popular culture by African-American products and characters: the dance, the Charleston; another doctor, Cliff Huxtable; many more, and realize these successes have to deepen our understanding and empathy for the history and challenges of others. Many great conversations and play sessions can begin with Doc McStuffins’ back story, including barriers that children recognize she may have overcome, and they can tell how in stories springing from their own hearts and minds.
I hope the young Doc has siblings that branch out into other careers and an extended family that is multi-racial. I would love to be a part of those family dinners; I’ld bring Lexie, my daughter’s Cabbage Patch kid.