Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


White Barbie, black Barbie, blue Walmart

posted by Rod Dreher

Poor Walmart. Yes, you read that right: the Crunchy Con officially feels sorry for Walmart this afternoon. Why? This nonsense:

Walmart is raising eyebrows after cutting the price of a black Barbie doll to nearly half of that of the doll’s white counterpart at one store and possibly others.
A photo first posted to the humor Web site FunnyJunk.com and later to the Latino Web site Guanabee.com shows packages of Mattel’s Ballerina Barbie and Ballerina Theresa dolls hanging side by side at an unidentified store. The Theresa dolls, which feature brown skin and dark hair, are marked as being on sale at $3.00. The Barbies to the right of the Theresa dolls, meanwhile, retain their original price of $5.93. The dolls look identical aside from their color.

Walmart explained that this was purely an economic decision. Customers weren’t buying the Theresa dolls, so the retailer did what retailers do when they can’t move the merchandise: they discount it, hoping to attract customers.
That’s not good enough for some. More from the story:

But critics say Walmart should have been more sensitive in its pricing choice.
“The implication of the lowering of the price is that’s devaluing the black doll,” said Thelma Dye, the executive director of the Northside Center for Child Development, a Harlem, N.Y. organization founded by pioneering psychologists and segregation researchers Kenneth B. Clark and Marnie Phipps Clark.
“While it’s clear that’s not what was intended, sometimes these things have collateral damage,” Dye said.
Other experts agree. Walmart could have decided “that it’s really important that we as a company don’t send a message that we value blackness less than whiteness,” said Lisa Wade, an assistant sociology professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles and the founder of the blog Sociological Images.

So Walmart has to pay for society’s supposed sins by eating $3.00 per Theresa doll — which comparatively few customers want — so people won’t think that the public values white dolls over black dolls? This, even though academic studies show that for whatever reason, a surprising number of black children prefer to play with white dolls?
Seriously, it’s heartbreaking that any black child would think that the whiteness of a person’s or a doll’s skin makes them more beautiful or worthy. That is a problem we have to work on as a society. But forcing Walmart, or any retailer, to ignore what their customers are telling them in order to preserve a moralistic fiction is not the way to go. Faulting Walmart’s discounting policy here is a good way to convince retailers not to stock any black dolls at all, for fear that they won’t be able to treat those products like any other and discount them if they don’t sell, on pain of being called racially insensitive.
The ironies in this story are amazing to contemplate.



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Comments read comments(31)
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Gordon Zaft

posted March 9, 2010 at 7:05 pm


C’mon, Rod, if they didn’t stock a black doll they would also be pilloried. It’s a no-win situation.
(NB this is my fourth try to enter this comment. Annoyingly if I mistype the captcha my post is not saved and I have to re-enter the whole comment and try again).
[Note from Rod: Sorry about the CAPTCHA, Gordon. What I do with every single post I put up in the comboxes is highlight it and save it to my notepad before posting, in case of CAPTCHA problems. — RD]



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cato_

posted March 9, 2010 at 7:41 pm


A no-win situation is precisely the point in the great American skin game. This is ripe for irony here, but in other areas, it has serious consequences. With respect to law enforcement, for example, if police make an effort to increase their presence in black neighborhoods, they’re eligible for unfairly profiling blacks as being criminals. However, if they lessen that presence, they open themselves to accusations of neglect.
Regardless of what decision a white person or predominately white-owned company makes, there’s an angle that can be played.



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public_defender

posted March 9, 2010 at 7:42 pm


I agree that you can easily make too much of this. And it’s clear that Wal-Mart had no racist intent. But the fact that shoppers devalue the black dolls is an illustration that maybe, just maybe, this country has not gotten beyond race as John Roberts seems to think we have. Man, that guy can channel Stephen Colbert’s “I don’t see race” shtick like no one, except I think Roberts misses the irony.



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Amy

posted March 9, 2010 at 7:53 pm


While this situation is ripe for irony and controversy, Walmart probably could have saved some trouble simply by moving the discounted dolls to a discounted toy (or clearance section) so that the comparison could not have been that easily made. Which is ironic in and of itself!



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Rod Dreher

posted March 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm


But public-defender, I said that we clearly haven’t gotten over race completely in this country. What interests me about this story is that do-gooders think the store should have suspended its reasonable pricing practices and taken a heavy loss on the product to protect a social fiction.
This is not unlike newspapers not reporting any ethnic characteristics of at-large criminal suspects because they don’t want readers to make stereotypical assumptions about race and crime. This, even though the criminals remain on the loose, and the paper is printing other descriptive details so the public can help the police identify them.



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public_defender

posted March 9, 2010 at 8:34 pm


Mr. Dreher,
My comment was not a criticism of your statement (I agree that critics over-reacted). I was just pointing out another implication of the story.
I also agree that newspapers should include the race of at-large suspects when it could help the police apprehend the suspects. But once arrested, unless race plays a part in the story, race should be left out.



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PeterK

posted March 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm


just goes to show how economically illiterate our nation has become when people don’t understand simple market pricing. do the researchers believe the black barbie would fly off of the shelf if priced higher



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Francis Beckwith

posted March 9, 2010 at 11:49 pm


I suspect that if it were the other way around–if the black barbie were more expensive than the white barbie–that the complaint would be that Walmart is overcharging minority children.
But if Walmart were to charge its customers a price over or under market value in order to create “price equality” it would be harming the stockholders and employees of Walmart, some of whom are black people. It would also be lying to its customers in order to “protect them.” But this would teach us that Walmart does not believe that its customers are intelligent enough to understand markets and prices.
So, Walmart must either tell the truth by pricing its items in order to reflect market forces or it must condescend to its customers.



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Francis Beckwith

posted March 9, 2010 at 11:56 pm


“But the fact that shoppers devalue the black dolls is an illustration that maybe, just maybe, this country has not gotten beyond race as John Roberts seems to think we have.”
But I was under the impression that under the rules of lifestyle liberalism that one’s aesthetic tastes and judgments are outside the scope of things that others may declare wrong? So, if society is “racist” because its little girls prefer white barbies over black barbies, does that mean that I am racist because I prefer Halle Berry over Nicole Kidman? Buying a barbie doll, like dating a living doll, is an act between consenting adults. So, does lifestyle have a “doll exemption” to the ordinary prohibition of judging others’ deep personal private choices?
I’m really confused. Does somebody have the rule book?



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ceebee

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:30 am


Typical of walmart. Do you really think these big corporations such as walmart give a damn about people’s opinions and feelings? No. The only thing they give a damn about is $, $ and $.



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Charles Mencer

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:46 am


Let us not forget that 85% of the population is white, and barbie is a part of the white cultural experience which I am sure barbie would love to change. But until that happens these are the kind of twisted stories you will hear, get real your telling me that a black family walks into a store to purchase a doll for thier child and they elect to buy the white one. Right, I read the study this clown is referring to and I am not buying it, but if you believe it I can show you some studies showing that smoking is good for you and drinking doesn’t impair your ability to drive. The point is if it doesn’t sell then it gets cut, and its that simple, Trust me when I tell you Walmart Loves Black people.



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MargaretE

posted March 10, 2010 at 6:48 am


“But the fact that shoppers devalue the black dolls is an illustration that maybe, just maybe, this country has not gotten beyond race as John Roberts seems to think we have.”
Public Defender
Or maybe, just maybe, little girls still prefer to play with dolls that look like themselves. The majority of shoppers in this country – including Walmart – is white. So more white dolls sell than black dolls. These demographics are slowing shifting, and once they have, I would wager the sales statistics will, too. Why do we have to make any more of this than that? Children like dolls that look like themselves and their family members. Period. You can change the “rules” of adult society, but you can’t change human nature. And when you have small children, you see that nature writ large every day.



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public_defender

posted March 10, 2010 at 7:16 am


Or maybe, just maybe, little girls still prefer to play with dolls that look like themselves. . . . You can change the “rules” of adult society, but you can’t change human nature. And when you have small children, you see that nature writ large every day.
I think we may agree. My point was that race consciousness and racism are still very much a part of our society, despite the attempt of many on the Right to claim that racism has been defeated (except when it hurts White people).



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Rod Dreher

posted March 10, 2010 at 7:57 am


I don’t believe that it’s necessarily racist for a child to prefer a doll that looks like her, including skin color. I am troubled by black children who prefer a white doll to one that looks like them, because it seems natural to me for a child to want to play with a doll that resembles them. The studies showing many black children think whiteness is superior to blackness are truly sad and disturbing.
But again, why punish Walmart for what is society’s problem? Does pretending something doesn’t exist get rid of the problem?



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John E. Agn Stoic

posted March 10, 2010 at 10:05 am


Do you really think these big corporations such as walmart give a damn about people’s opinions and feelings? No. The only thing they give a damn about is $, $ and $.
Well, yeah…
Kind of interesting how the difference in prices trend with the difference in average incomes between the two ethnic groups.



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Cami

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:24 pm


Could it be that the whole of our society is conditioned to want “Barbie” as their first choice and not another doll such as Theresa or Skipper? If the black Theresa doll were renamed Barbie (just a black version) would they sell any better? FYI, I have known little, white girls who wanted a black baby doll, much as the little, black girls want a white one. It may not happen as often as the reverse but the ratio may be close when accounting for population size…



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Ben Mitchell

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm


What I don’t think many understand about this incident is “Location”. I do not want to be naive or nuanced as it relates to particular situation. Skin color is a major issue in this country. We try to sweep it under the rug quite frequently. Black folks have a chip on their shoulder quite often and they look at it every moment to see if it’s been josteled one little bit. White folks first don’t want to talk race at all, secondly they don’t want to express their true feelings, and lastly they harbor a bit of guilt for the sins of their ancestors that they really don’t want to come to grips with. But, beyond the social commentary this is probably a locational-regional problem. If Wal-Mart would have shipped the “Theresa” doll to a more predominantly urban area they probably could have kept its price point where it was initially. Being a black parent I consciously make the effort to find black dolls for my little girl because I don’t want her to think that her persona (likeness) is not valued. The fact that most African Americans live in a “White” world here in the US is very evident to all “intelligent” black people. We must successfully surf the wave of what is acceptable in this society without “selling out” to the white man and looking to “white” or being stubborn and trying to “keep it real” to bane of not rising economically because we are feared for being too “black” and not assimilating very well. I think I have probably said enough and have entered the rambling-stage, so I will end with this thought. When we truly care more as a society for the least of us without race even being factored in then we will get over the petty racially-divisive issues such as this one.



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AnotherBeliever

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm


LOL. This is where management, at some level, needed to pay attention.
Who signed off on ordering an equal number of different colored dolls? You don’t order an equal number of different sized shoes. You veer to the average. Or you lose out. It’s common knowledge that people of color are a minority in many regions. Furthermore, even small children of color often preferentially choose white dolls over “ethnic” ones. Ergo, ordering equal numbers was not wise, economically.
Who signed off on the price decrease for just the “brown” dolls?? And failed to figure it would not raise a stink?
My old man was a newspaper writer, and later, an editor. They liked to post samples of their headlines that didn’t “make the cut” on the wall. The editor’s job was to make sure things like this didn’t make the cut:
“Rabid Racoon Attacks Man in Yard with Weedwhacker”
THAT little gem was authored by my sleep-deprived father in the mid-nineties. It lives on in legend…



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karina_b

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Since there are simply fewer black people than white people in the US wouldn’t that mean that even if every black kid bought a black doll and every white kid bought a white one, there would still be fewer black dolls sold and the demand for them would be lower, causing the price to fall?
Maybe Wal-Mart should simply order fewer of the black dolls and therefore they might sell more of the supply and not need to discount the price in an attempt to move them? Of course, then the headline would be “Racist WalMart Decides to Reduce Orders fo Black Barbies…” etc. WalMart can’t win here.
Maybe they can salvage something out of this and simply package the dolls in a brawn warpper, so you buy the doll and you don’t know what color you got til you open the package. Grab-Bag Barbie!!



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karina_b

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm


By the way, it’s not just “black” kids who might want a Barbie that loosk like them. I am technically mostly “white” but as a child the perfectly tall, blond and blue-eyed Barbie under my Christmas tree would have been quickly discarded had there been a petite, brown-eyed, brunette Barbie option! Or a Cherokee-like barbie would have been even better!



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Paige

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:00 pm


Theresa is the Hispanic barbie, Christie is the black barbie. Just saying.



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Va

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm


This is the most ridiculous!!! Why can’t people stop looking at the color of the skin of everything. It is a major retailor and they are trying to promote sales on an item that is not a big seller. This is why racism is what it is!!



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Stephanie

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:40 pm


I think it is utter nonsense that someone is making a big deal out of an economic decision. I shop at Wal Mart, Target, JCPenny’s and virtually every other department store and I see things that could be potentially “racist” towards the white man. It is sheer bull crap if you want my opinion. If anyone owned a store or boutique and wasn’t selling something as rapidly as another item it would be marked down to get sold quicker…no matter the color or ethnicity of the product. I was at Ross’s two weeks ago and there was a white woman figurine holding a white child that was marked on clearance for $2.00. The exact same figurine except with a black woman and black child was $6.99. Did I make a political scene? No. I obviously understand why this was happening. But once again, someone who doesn’t have anything better to do with his/her time made a ruckus out of nothing. Maybe I should write to the president of Ross and claim how victimized I feel that a “white” figurine appears to be less in value than the “black” figurine. Come on and get a life people. This is ridicules!



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Kelila

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:08 pm


Like Paige already said, Theresa is the Latina one, not the black one. This whole thing is stupid.



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David J. White

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm


This reminds me of a segment on “This American Life” a couple years ago, told by a young woman who spend a stint working in FAO Schwartz. They had dolls that were marketed as “babies” that were “adopted” by young children. At one point they ran out of white dolls, and one parent even choose a deformed white doll (not intentionally deformed, but something had gone wrong when it was being manufactured) over the black and Latino dolls.
Act Three. Babies Buying Babies.
Elna Baker reads her story about the time she worked at the giant toy store, FAO Schwartz. Her job was to sell these lifelike “newborns” which were displayed in a “nursery” inside the store. When the toys become the hot new present, they begin to fly off the shelves. When the white babies sell out, white parents are faced with a choice: will they go for an Asian, Latino, or African-American baby instead? What happens is so disturbing that Elna has a hard time even telling it. (16 minutes)
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/347/Matchmakers
Apparently these dolls could also be ordered from the website; if the prospective buyers didn’t like the selection, the salesclerks were supposed to suggest, “There is a wider selection online”. After the while dolls ran out, the salesclerks started saying, “There is a whiter selection online”, just to see if they could get away with it. Apparently, they did.



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Brett R.

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm


Have to ask– how would the gay community react if they marked down Ken dolls? ;^)



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David J. White

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:19 pm


Sorry, I meant to italicize that entire middle paragraph — which I copied from the website for “This American Life” — but must have coded it wrong.



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Indy

posted March 10, 2010 at 7:10 pm


Hmmm, I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy for Walmart. As others have pointed out, businesses have to think about the big picture (I would add, just as political figures do). You have to think about the optics, whether it is considering how you mark down a dark skinned doll – or whether you muse out loud about whether or not to include a creche in a Christmas display in a quasi-public setting. It’s an affirmation thing – some people want to see themselves mirrored in situations other similar people largely ignore. You have to think which is more likely to occur, raising the issue or shrugging it off. And act accordingly. If high profile entities don’t think through these things, they can stir up a hornest’s nest. As someone upthread pointed out, better to place orders based on expectations of sales by region and locality and past performance.
As for the doll test from the 1940s, it is sad, I agree with you, Rod. I also think that there are things that we can think we understand intellectually, but because we white people haven’t been part of what the professor in the news story called “racial and economic subordination.” I cringed when I first read about how some children reacted in the doll study. My reaction was, “I’m lucky I didn’t grow up with some of those burdens.” I mean, none of us white people posting here (I know, not all your readers are) have ever looked at toys that looked like us and said, “ugly” or “bad” the way some of the kids in that doll test have done as it was first given or later repeated. Rather than reacting to the news story by raising my complainers, I tend towards saying, hey, what do I know, I’ve had it easy and lucky in life. And to businesses, think these things through, put the dolls in a mark down bin next time rather than living them displayed side by side.
Hey Rod, did you see the article in today’s New York Times about Mattel making new dolls of Joan Holloway, Roger Sterling, Don Draper and Betty Draper? Joan looks as if she is suited for a Barbie, for sure. See “‘Mad Men’ Dolls in a Barbie World, but the Cocktails Must Stay Behind,”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/business/media/10adco.html?emc=eta1



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Indy

posted March 10, 2010 at 7:14 pm


OK, posted too fast. The end of the sentence stating “but because we white people haven’t been part of what the professor in the news story called “racial and economic subordination” was supposed to be, “we haven’t felt them.” And raising was supposed to be followed by “my eyebrows at” complainers. And living should read leaving.



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public_defender

posted March 10, 2010 at 8:04 pm


But again, why punish Walmart for what is society’s problem?
We shouldn’t. They committed a business faux pas, not a capital offense.
Does pretending something doesn’t exist get rid of the problem?
I agree. That’s why I think Chief Justice Roberts was so wrong when he wrote The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
We can’t pretend that there is no racism by refusing to see racism. It exists. And people like Roberts who pretend that it doesn’t exist (to the point that pointing out racism becomes racism) make it harder to deal with.



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Your Name

posted March 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm


OMG! How ridiculous! When did the world become about making sure we don’t offend anyone, anywhere, anyhow, anytime? How does anyone learn coping skills to exist in this life, if everytime your feelings get hurt, some group jumps up to yell RACISM, DISCRIMINATION, THATS NOT FAIR, etc, etc, etc. Life is not fair, things happen, get over it.



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