Racism is an all too real and present issue within our country. It is not a new issue, but it is definitely one that should be at the forefront of our minds. It is not something that happens in the dark or behind closed doors, but rather something we face every day in our schools, workplaces, grocery stores and even in out places of worship. It can be in the little remarks we make as an assumption of another human based on the color of their skin, their culture or even in their chosen vernacular. So, what is the definition of racism?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the definitions of Racism and Racist are:
Definition of racism
2: the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another
: a political or social system founded on racism and designed to execute its principles
Definition of racist
1: of, relating to, or characterized by racism: such as
a: having, reflecting, or fostering the belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
b: of, relating to, or characterized by the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another
c: a person who is racist: someone who holds the belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
So, you might be saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t see that type of behavior in my daily interactions” or “I’m not racist, I have ethnic friends”. What if you did fit the criteria, but weren’t aware of it? Let’s look at something as simple and unassuming as Barbie and the impact even a child’s toy can have on how we view race.
Barbie was created based off the observation of a mother named, Ruth Handler, and the business savvy of her husband and founder of Mattel, Elliot Handler in 1959. The Barbie was an overnight sensation but came with its own list of issues. Looking at it from the lens of today’s women, it is safe to say this effectively contributed to the struggles that many have with self-esteem and body image. Though adjustments to becoming a more inclusive brands, Barbie still suffered a large gap when it came to understanding what representation meant.
It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that a Barbie representing African American women was introduced and her name was “Christie”. The sad fact is that even with Mattel introducing a doll that was intended to be representative of Black women, “Christie” still maintained a European standard or beauty. She fell short in the attempt to elevate the beauty of Black women. Mattel did not make another attempt at inclusivity until 1980 when they replaced “Christie” with “Nikki”, followed shortly by “Teresa” the Latina Barbie.
This gap in representation was not something new, however. A study was conducted by Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark call “The Doll Test” in the 1940’s. Drs. Clark used four dolls that were all identical with the exception of their color. The majority of children in the study preferred the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it while the African American doll received negative feedback. It was identified by words such as, “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation”. This identification and lack of positive representation was a large factor in the shame and lack of self-esteem in children of this time.
Now, I want you to think on the last time you were in the toy isle. Have you ever paid attention to the number of European standard beauties that are lined up versus that of the diverse and ethnic races? The balance seems to still sway one way over the other, even in a time of cultural and racial inclusivity. Do not get me wrong, brands like Barbie have been groundbreaking for young girls to seek higher career goals like Pilot, Surgeon, Astronaut, Fashion Designers, and more.
When it comes to confronting racism, however, we tend to overlook small and seemingly innocent instances like these. In order to truly confront it, we must pay attention to those little nuance statements, actions, and yes, those personal biases that we hold concerning our fellow humans. We must be open minded when we are called out for sharing an antiquated and racist way of thinking. To check our privilege and understand that people’s lives are as diverse as their skin tone and that we are all humans seeking a better life full of every opportunity afforded to us. Have you checked in with your own preconceived ideas or biases of others lately?