Harlem Moms’ Demand Black Barbie Birthday Themes

by Evette Dionne

Karen BraithwaitheKaren Braithwaite is challenging Mattel to create birthday merchandise that features Barbies of color. She, along with 14 other Harlem moms, is requesting the nationwide distribution of plates, banners, cups and other themed-decorations.

Braithwaite’s battle started when her daughter Georgia requested a Barbie-themed party for her fifth birthday. She was also clear that she wanted black Barbies.

“They look like princesses and fairies,” Georgia told her mother one afternoon. “They look like me.”

Georgia’s mother set out to fulfill her wish, but could only find blue-eyed, blonde Barbie merchandise. She stumbled on a tablecloth, stickers and decorations featuring black Barbie, but not a complete party set. The lack of available representation for her daughter’s birthday party was the final straw for Braithwaithe, who has been battling the norms Barbie purports since her own childhood.

She has lodged a Change petition, urging Mattel to distribute party accessories featuring black Barbies. Though it’s a small request, the implications are huge.

“Featuring the white Barbie so prominently on the banners, cups, napkins, plates, party favors and invitations, while relegating the ‘ethnic’ Barbies to near-invisible cameos sends a clear – and troubling – message to young girls,” Braithwaite writes on the petition.

She further explained her perspective to DNA Info. “The message [Mattel is] sending when they exclude black Barbies is that blonde hair and blue eyes are the ideal.”

The massive popularity and reach of Barbie makes it an influential product that has an impact on the self-esteem of children. Seeing a black Barbie is self-affirming for children.

Mattel has made an effort to be inclusive with Barbie. The brand launched the first black Barbie line in 2009. This makes the exclusion of party accessories even more surreal to Braithwaite.

“They already make tons of black Barbies targeted and marketed to black girls,” Braithwaite told DNA Info. “I can’t imagine there isn’t a market for the party supplies.”

Mattel agrees. Alan Hilowitz, one of the brand’s spokesmen, explained the company’s efforts for diversity in an email to DNA Info.

“Barbie has represented more than 45 different nationalities and is sold in 150 countries. In fact, Mattel’s first African-American doll was introduced in 1968 — as Barbie doll’s friend Christie — and since then there have been numerous additional African-American dolls,” Hilowitz wrote.

He also agreed to investigate Braithwaite’s complaint further.

“We work closely with various partners to develop and distribute Barbie-themed products, such as party supplies, and we will be sharing this valuable feedback with them to start conversations and evaluate the business. We listen carefully to our consumers and take all feedback seriously.”

Though this is a start, Braithwaite hopes efforts are continued. She realizes this is an important issue that will have a lasting impact on her daughter and other girls of color.

“Young girls of color need positive images of themselves reflected back to them in popular culture, the media, and their daily lives,” she writes in the petition.

Georgia’s fifth birthday is this week and she probably won’t get the black Barbie party she wanted, but Braithwaite hopes another child doesn’t face a similar disappointment in the future.

“Maybe some other little girl will get her black Barbie party.”

  • http://gravatar.com/prudishlyfrank prudishlyfrank

    Instead of asking companies to start making a line of black merchandise, we (as the black community) need to start creating our own merchandise or support small black owned businesses that do.

    Pretty Brown Girl is a great organization to turn to and petition.

  • http://gravatar.com/deechagirl IJusWannaSay…

    This is ripe for any black female entrepreneurs that have expertise in party planning.
    Begging and groveling for Mattel or any of these white toy companies to make something for our little black girls is like talking to a wall, until the demand gets huge and they start to notice.

  • Keshia

    I already signed the petition, I remember when I little my mother would search high and low for everything black barbie he refused to get me anything with white one it, it’s important for little girls of color to see their representation too

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    “This is ripe for any black female entrepreneurs that have expertise in party planning.”

    I have no party planning expertise, but party goods is one of the areas I’d like to create for. Working on it!

  • No_chaser

    Mattel’s Barbie has been in business over 50 years. If it takes a petition (in 2013) to get them to diversify their party goods, then is it really worth it? This is the same reason I never bought my child Barbies or any of that Disney stuff. When she did get those brands of toys, it wasn’t off my dime. Same thing with designers who refuse to use models of color in their shows. Why should we fatten their wallets?

  • ChaCha1

    Well, there’s already a website that sells black girl themed party goods already. They have black princess who looks very Barbie-like (I think it’s called Princess Amira, and they also have fairies, even black baby shower decorations). There is a boy theme, too. I only glanced at the website for a few minutes so I can’t tell if the company itself makes the goods, or if they just sell stuff made by other companies, but I think it is both. I think it is black owned. I’d rather give them my money than Mattel.


  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    This site/business was linked to in the comments over on Clutch’s Facebook: http://pjtuttles.com/ One thing I’m happy for is that this article has people listed businesses that I never knew before.

  • politicallyincorrect

    SMH this is a business opportunity instead of petition. She can probably get this stuff made herself

  • http://gravatar.com/pinklipstick227 pinklipstick227

    Thank you for sharing this website. PJ Tuttles is just too cute.

  • http://gravatar.com/deechagirl IJusWannaSay…

    Go Yardie! You have my support!

  • http://gravatar.com/magnegro PamelaPamela

    Did they take them off the market? My daughter had two different black barbie parties and her entire room from curtains to shams on the bed was black barbie, lol I sleep on one of her old pillowcases now. She’s 19/ 1/2 so it’s been awhile since I’ve gone down that aisle, but I thought they had plenty of stuff if you look.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Agreed! As ChaCha1 and Leo the yardie Chick already posted two business who caters to our market so in turn we need to highlight and create buzz around these businesses and brands that already caters and is marketed for us and give them our press, advertisement and dollar not these antiquated companies/brands who refuses to broaden their horizon and caters to all their customers.

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    I kinda don’t care enough about being represented in the Barbie franchise for this to be a “thing” I’d wanna rally behind

  • http://urbanexpressive.wordpress.com urbanexpressive

    I completely agree with the sentiments of others that we shouldn’t have to inform a company thats been around for years to include additional merchandise. The response from Mattel’s spokesperson is obviously well crafted, and its hard to believe they were not aware its hard to find the entire set with the Black Barbies, but…. Lets remember that this is for her daughter who simply is enjoying a brand she likes. Yes, there are Black owned doll companies that she can be (or may have been since I don’t know them personally) but sometimes a childs wants are simply innocent and not a matter of brainwashing.

    I grew up in a very afrocentric household and while I wasn’t all that interested in dolls, I had a few. Kenya doll, Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbie and an array of dolls made from Black buisinesses, my mothers included. If I got a Barbie, or Barbie themed item, it wasn’t a big deal.

    Should we introduce our kids to toys who focus on us? Yes. But doesn’t mean we have to strip big name brands of their obligation to provide a kid with products who may simply just want a Barbie.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    This is what happened at a 5 year old’s birthday party. the parents wanted a barbie character to come and entertain the kids but it was only blonde haired white girls that were available. HONEYYYY i went there and werkeddddd.lol it was fun

  • http://gravatar.com/missinformation7 Ms. Information

    Exactly….exclusion should birth invention for black people….stop looking for constant validation…we are never going to get it.

  • Leo the Yardie Chick

    You’re welcome! Glad a fellow Clutchette brought it to my attention, so I figured why not spread the word.

  • http://www.aopfavors.com/ Edilberto Durano

    Black barbie? Wow! This is a new treatment of an otherwise cliche theme. It makes me want to invite myself on this very occasion.
    Ed of AOPFavors.com</a

  • Wanda

    Talk about ignoring a multi-million dollar opportunity staring us RIGHT in the face…

    Why not just have a rally outside of Mattel headquarters, yelling: “We are black folks demanding to make the owners of Mattel wealthier than they are right now!!!!”?

  • Ms Write


  • http://gravatar.com/sareewearingmama SareeWearingMama

    I agree they should try to vary the bday theme. They have had some great ones of years past. One to look for is “Barbie pink flowers” it has Barbie and a friend with diversity. Also I believe Barbie and the diamond castle is lovely. There are a couple more that I can’t recall as well. Best thing is to search EBay and Amazon.

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    Sigh… I just don’t get Black people sometimes. Why in the world are these women approaching Mattel to make produces for their Black daughters? Why did they not go to a Black doll line and ask for that? Why didn’t they get someone to start up a Black party line to make some Black folks rich instead of Mattel?

    Probably when Mattel comes out with their line they they will complain about the Barbie’s skin colour and hair texture…Why are you begging White folks to include you instead of making things for yourself…

  • tara

    Somehow I find this *demand* sad and pathetic.

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