All over the world, in all cultures and all races, among the first toys bought for girls are dolls. Watch a two-year-old toddler with a doll. What does that toddler do? When a child has a doll, that child usually practice things like taking clothes off and putting them back on, brushing and fixing hair and manipulating the doll’s moving parts to help the doll sit, stand or move. For a child a doll can as well be a wonderful reminder of their beauty.
Jessica Ulrich, a life skills teacher and a psychologist by profession says that dolls generally form an integral part of children’s play time. She explains that both boys as well as girls engage in role playing through the use of dolls or action figures.
Role-playing and make belief helps children work through everyday challenges as well as trauma, but it also helps them to make sense of their surroundings. An alternative to dolls are teddy bears and other toys that represent living things, although inanimate objects can in child play also be given human features.
“Dolls can become the silent counsellors and help kids re-enact daily experiences and events. They can use dolls to represent and externalize their feelings and emotions,” says Jessica.
Why the black doll?
In a society that often devalues darker skin colours and natural hair textures, dolls that mirror the children affirm that they exist. When parents give a child a doll that looks like her, they’re simply saying there are people like them in the world and they matter just as much as anyone else.
It is very emphatic for a black child to have a doll that reflects who she is. Mostly when a young child plays with a doll, she mimics being a mother, and in her young, impressionable years that child may understand that there’s nothing wrong with being black.
Jessica says that in the past, black dolls have been a representation of bad, or evil, and oftentimes, regardless of the children’s cultures, they would still make the black doll the antagonist, while the white or Americanised dolls take the role of the hero. “I think black dolls in our society create cultural balance and with more availability of black dolls, children, especially girls can grow up with a sense of beauty in blackness/ethnicity, rather than the antiquated beauty standard of Europeanism,” she adds.
Jessica enlightened that playing with black dolls can give children a sense of identity in a world where toys are west-dominated. Children of colour identify better with dolls that look like them, while it gives kids in general the opportunity to add diversity into their role plays. In Namibia, dolls of different colour can help children work through culture conflicts they may encounter in real life, as well as expand their playtime toward ethical diversity and open-mindedness.
Christy Ndapewoshali Shakuyungwa a co-founder of Taati & Friends Dolls says that she felt the need to have black dolls in shops when she was shopping for a doll for a friend’s daughter but found that toy store after toy store and toy aisle after toy aisle she could not find an African looking doll. “Other than just placing an African doll on the shelves, Taati & Friends sets to teach our young girls to be comfortable in their own skin, to teach them to embrace their diversity and promote a positive self-image,” she narrated.
Taati & Friends Dolls represent different Namibian cultures. “Taati is an Oshiwambo princess in her pink attire and she has friends from most of the Namibian cultures. /Khomes is her Nama friend, Mbahimua is her Herero friend, Lesedi is her Tswana princess friend, Ntelamo is her friend from the Zambezi region and Alicia is her Afro-centric friend. The aim is to expand Taati’s line until she has a friend from each Namibian culture,” explained Christy.
The dolls are also dressed in their traditional attires because they wanted to place emphasis on the diverse cultures. And in turn show the girls that tradition and culture should not only be reserved for weddings and traditional ceremonies and school cultural days. “We aim to encourage that conversation at home and to allow Taati to tell the unique Namibian story,” says Christy.
The Taati & Friends Dolls portray a message of embracing one’s inner beauty and outer beauty and cultivating self-love in young girls as well as that of embracing and promoting the Namibian story.
“Our cultures are both diverse and unique and the dolls are a way to promote that among the younger generation,” emphasized Christy. She continued to saying that if the initial reactions to their social media platforms and expos are anything to go by; parents love the dolls for their daughters. “They mostly echo the same sentiment: ‘If only we had these growing up’”, says Christy.
Most people just think of dolls as a play thing but really, they’re not therefore if black children are force-fed that white is better, or if that’s all that they are exposed to, then they might start to think badly about their identity.
Black dolls are a great way to foster a healthy self-image in children and they can help young black girls negotiate racial identity, develop a healthy self-image, and form a well-rounded worldview. Black is truly beautiful.
Taati & Friends Dolls are available at the duty free shop at the Hosea Kutako Airport but you can also order by in boxing them on their Facebook page or by emailing them at [email protected] or call 0817924745. The dolls are sold for N$300 and can be delivered in Windhoek or courier across the country.