A Conversation about Racism in Toys

Following the post here by Sharon Chang about racism in children’s toys, there was a whole conversation about that post on Twitter. Jen Jack Gieseking was kind enough to Storify the Tweets in this conversation (Storify is just a say of gathering Tweets and putting them in an easy-to-read order – when you get to the bottom, click where it says ‘read more’). Here’s how that conversation unfolded:


  1. Sharon Chang

    I was VERY interested to read the conversation that unfolded in response to my post. Though hurtful things were written, I’ve reflected deeply on Terri’s challenges. Ultimately I have gained even more perspective and truly, this is the soul of antiracist work. There are a couple clarifications and facts I feel I need to share here. I am slightly concerned about some of the misinformation, myth or misperception.

    I did realize, thanks to Terri, that the image of a Latino person selling oranges is actually UNFAMILIAR to many people in this country, and in Seattle, where I now live. I grew up in Los Angeles where I daily saw poor Mexican immigrants selling oranges on the freeway. It is very common in CA. Profits from the work are tax free and significant for this group of people (who may be illegal, unemployed and/or working hard low-paying jobs on the side). The image has unfortunately some stigma attached to it, and is frequently used as a negative stereotype http://i.gadling.com/2006/02/26/ask-a-mexican/. I’ve seen it parodied in stand-up comedy, movies, tv, etc. It is a sad twist of events that such folk should be mocked for their need to survive.

    There was also an inquiry about what Asian Lego people should look like (if they aren’t satisfactory the way they are). Certainly, I wrote only a critique and not an action plan. This is a valid point. I strongly adhere to the Anti-Bias Curriculum guidelines pioneered by Louise Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force in 1989. Their work and the work of other activists paved the way for anti-bias learning across the nation. In this vein, there is a wonderful online article about evaluating children’s books for bias http://www.intime.uni.edu/multiculture/curriculum/children.htm. The guidelines easily apply to toys as well. The author writes, “In illustrations, do people of color look just like Whites except for being tinted or colored in? Do all people from parallel cultures look stereotypically alike or are they depicted as genuine individuals with distinctive features?” This is very important when we consider how essential it is for children of color to see themselves reflected in their environment. I have been very vigilant about surrounding my son with accurate images of Asian peoples (multiracial is another story). That means they must include the features that others would use to identify HIM as Asian. The almond-shaped (usu dark) eyes, dark hair (often straight), gold skin, etc.

    I wish I could offer tons of examples of great, anti-bias Asian figures/dolls. The truth is, there aren’t many out there yet. Try to find multiracial, and you will likely end up beating your head against a brick wall. But I will finish with this. I searched long and hard to find an anatomically correct Asian boy baby doll for my son. I was offended by much of what I found, but at last happily discovered http://www.windmill.net.au/new-products-and-specials/specials/food-sets-sale/Miniland-Doll-Asian-Boy-32cm-without-Hair. The doll is beautiful. Clearly Asian without needing to exaggerate or exotify any features. My son has loved it since he was practically a baby himself. He often carries it around, feeds it, covers it with a blanket, or kisses and rocks it, sings it lullabies. It warms my heart to see him learning to love himself.

  2. Joe

    Sharon, thanks for the exceptionally insightful and powerful reply and elaboration. Those links are great. I know doing work as, and living multiracial, in this society is very painful often, and it is way beyond time for the issues you are raising to be dealt with fairly in a country whose whites often just fake commitments to “liberty and justice for all.” Thanks again.

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