All I Really Needed to Know I Learned from Black Barbie

From the AWESOME Flicker photostream of Mieke Linden

Growing up as a FBQ in training during the early 70’s in Chocolate City, I had already begun to learn the duality involved in being black and gay. Wanting to fit in, I did my best to hide my true fierceness and passions from the world. Which is why I had to covertly indulge in my love for All Things Barbie. I would sneak into the rooms of my cousins and nieces on visits to their houses, and play with their dolls. I’d fix the HIDEOUS hairstyles that they had subjected Miss B. Millicent Roberts to, and put her in the appropriate outfit. Later on, when I began to receive an allowance, I would buy my own Barbies and surreptitiously sew gowns for them that I’d seen in Ebony Magazine. In college I used to smugly tell my good friend Keith that, unlike the stereotypical Queen, I had no female icon that I deified like Midler, Cher or Diana Ross. He would look at me equally as smugly and declare: “Yes you do. Barbie.” The perceptive, diva bitch was right: I definitely heart Barbie.

In retrospect, I realized that like many children, I learned valuable lessons about life while playing with these miniature divas. And I was especially schooled, albeit unconsciously, by the emergence of dolls of color into the Fashion Doll Community. I’d like to share some of those lessons with you.

1967 Colored version of Barbie's cousin Francie

1. If you hang on long enough, the world will finally have to acknowledge you exist. (Barbie debuted in 1959. The first “Barbie of Color” didn’t appear until 1967. But once you go black, you never go back.)

2. Having powerful white friends can get you places.(Being one of Barbie’s “Registered Friends” puts you in the chicest of Doll Circles)

3. Having a tough plastic skin helps to get you through those bumps and drops along the way.(As a kid, my best friend Charles and I put our Barbies through Hell.)

4. Dipping you in brown paint doesn’t necessarily make you black.(A lot of companies–including Mattel–use face molds with caucasian features, simply change the skin color and market them as “ethnic”–see Francie above.)

5. A man needs to offer you more than just what’s between his legs (‘Cause otherwise Ken would be USELESS).

2001 AA version of Oreo Barbie

6. A lot of white people mean well, but sometimes they. just. don’t. get. it.

7. When you’re Unique, people want you more. (Since Mattel manufactures fewer dolls of color than their white counterparts, their value as a collectible is higher.)

And the most important thing I learned from Black Barbie:

8. The world (and non-porous plastic) is not going to accept you just because you try to paint yourself lighter with the pink tempera paint that you stole from Art Class in the third grade. Eventually it will dry and peel off anyway; so you might as well revel in your inherent beauty.


2 thoughts on “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned from Black Barbie

  1. As a girl, I never had/played with Barbies. I did, however, have a Fonzie and Bozo doll…both of which were cherished.

    It’s hard to believe that “Oreo” doll is real! I thought it was certainly a joke, until clicking through to and reading the other blogger’s post. Wow.

    Your mention of Ken made me think of his characterization in Toy Story 3, where his fabulousness was captured well. 🙂

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