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Can You Name America’s First Black Doll? (Hint: It Wasn’t Barbie)

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Tres Primitas

CREDIT: Flickr/Natalia Love

We can all name our first black president and our first black secretary of state, but can you name America’s first black doll?

After becoming fed up with black dolls and cartoon characters portraying black children as racist stereotypes, Jackie Ormes, the first black female cartoonist, decided to make a change. She turned her cute, spunky girl character Patty-Jo into the first stylish African-American doll. Manufactured in late 1947, Patty-Jo dolls had style-able hair and a chic wardrobe.

The dolls would open the door to Christy, the first black Barbie doll in 1968. To ensure that girls who already had Barbies could reuse outfits and accessories for Christy, Mattel used the same hair, head and body mold as Christy’s white counterpart.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that little girls were treated to a doll who was actually intentionally designed to look like an African-American woman. Created to instill self-esteem in black children, Kenya dolls debuted in 1992 and became an instant overnight success, consistently selling out in stores across the country. The dolls were meant to reflect black girls appearances in skin tone, features and hair texture. Kenya even came with “magic lotion” to straighten her curly hair if desired. “Curly hair is great, magic lotion makes it straight,” the iconic commercials reminded consumers.

“I think it's important for little girls of color to have have all kinds of dolls — especially ones that look like them, but not to the exclusion of ones that don't. Diversity is important, and by buying our daughters dolls that resemble all the dynamic women in the world they'll navigate as adults, we're preparing them for real life,” Stacia Brown told Campus Progress. Brown is a writer, professor and single mother who founded Beyond Babies Mamas, a support and advocacy group for single mothers of color

Kenya Inc. relaunched Kenya dolls in the fall of 2012. From the Kenya website: “Classic Kenya is back with the beautiful features and fashions that first endeared the doll to girls everywhere. Moms who fondly remember Kenya can now share this special doll with their own daughters and granddaughters."

Bridget Todd is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetMarie.

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