Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dolls | Black and White and Upside-down

Graduate student extraordinaire from e725 drops out of the blue and into the Obscene Machine blog with a provocative entry on dolls:

Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2007 16:18:17 -0700
From: "Andrea Knab"
Subject Blog submissionTo: "Bill Nericcio"

Hi Professor Nericcio

I found this image online and thought it was interesting. Apparently, the lucky child to take this doll home can play with his/her black baby doll or white baby doll by just flipping the dress over. What I think is most interesting is that the white doll's face is obviously worn, her eye is missing and the paint on her face and hand is chipped. However, the black doll's face is pristine. The child who owned this doll seems to have favored playing with the white doll more than the black one.
According to the website where I found the picture, the dolls date back to the antebellum era and were thought to represent the symbiotic relationship between black and white children. I searched for more "upside down dolls" and found this description: A very charming vintage upside down doll. One side is a black mammie type character with a floral gown and great bead necklace. The other side is an equally lovely Carmen Miranda type character with a fruit hat, bright beads and pretty red dress. These dolls represent extremely generalized representations of black and Latin women. The children who play with these dolls undoubtedly imagined them to be the mammie, Latin diva, or some other type of stereotypical role.
Sadly, I'm sure kids today would play with these dolls in the much the same way.

Andrea Knab


  1. Anna Zylstra12:29 AM

    A child’s special attachment to the doll is reflected in the personality they create for this new “best friend.” In this case, a child would be forced to choose which side to associate as their favorite. If the child chose to play with both sides it may use generalized stereotypical roles taught by parents and society, yielding to a high probability of ill reflection on race and gender roles. The other irony is that one race is spacio-temporally superior and dominant to the other. One doll is on top of the other pushing it down as inferior. The political correctness to these dolls is questionable as is their manufacturer. Playing with these dolls reinforces racial stereotypes as do their “cultural” costumes. The nostalgia of these dolls by parents does not out weigh the racial implications these dolls carry.

  2. Maureen Clardy11:04 AM

    My grandmother traveled around the world in the latter half of her life and in her travels, she collected dolls for my sister and me from many different countries. We have dolls from India, China, Singapore, Germany, England, South Africa; the list goes on and on... One of my favorite dolls is actually one my Nana picked up on a Mississippi River cruise in the mid 90s- an upside down doll. She had a knack for picking out interesting, rare, or unusual dolls, so when she brought this one home I thought it was exceptionally cool. I had no idea at the time the significance of the half black, half white doll. In fact, I had forgotten all about it until now. My point is that the horrible racial stereotypes were still present just 10 years ago and I was one of the innocent kids who thought it was fun to switch from the black doll over to the pretty white doll (and yes, I did favor the blonde haired doll over the black). I don't think my Nana intended to perpetuate any stereotypes- she was just as innocent as I was.
    Out of curiosity, I googled 'upside down dolls' and came up with a sizeable amount of websites not only selling the dolls, but selling the patterns to make Dutch and Russian cloth dolls, a ‘Scotland Laddie’, a ‘Mammie mixer’ doll, etc. just going to show that yes, indeed, this bit of nostalgia from the antebellum era has grown to stereotype other cultures and races as well.
    -Maureen Clardy

  3. Anonymous12:43 PM

    When I first saw how withered the white doll was as opposed to the black doll I immediately thought of Brown v. Board of Education case that “ended” segregation. One of the Justices in the case mentioned that all of the black children who were given the option of either playing with a black doll or a white one chose the white one. Although I don’t know the race of the child who owned this doll, clearly the child preferred to exclusively play with the White doll.

    As far as the Chiquita Banana/Black Mammie doll, it reinforces the concept of ethnic mannequins. They are extremely stereotyped versions of a black woman and a Hispanic woman; versions that are comfortable to the consumer. As a consequence of these dolls and similar stereotyped objects, consumers/Americans will continue to (willingly?) accept these ethnic mannequins as the real thing.

  4. Anonymous2:20 PM

    As a girl growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, I’ve owned my share of dolls, which is why Andrea’s blog “Dolls: Black and White and Upside Down” caught my eye. The dolls portrayed in the blog reminded me of the Danbury Maria doll in Tex{t}-Mex, which got me thinking about ethnic dolls and the most controversial doll in history: the Barbie doll.
    I’ve seen the Barbie “Dolls of the World” collection at Target; however, the selection was extremely limited. The online Target store carried a couple extra dolls, including the “Cinco de Mayo Barbie;” however, none were available in stores. I went to the Barbie site but was redirected to the secondary “Barbie Collector” site where I finally came across the entire “Dolls of the World” collection. Of them all, I particularly enjoyed how “Mexican Barbie® doll's costume reflects the strong Spanish influence prevalent throughout her country.” Likewise, the second edition Mexican Barbie wears “a fiesta costume in red, white and green to celebrate the colors of the Mexican flag.” Both editions are no longer in production by Mattel.

    I had a mixed reaction to these Barbies. On one hand, they are a step up from the Barbie and Ken dolls I had growing up. However, the first description is quick to point out the “strong Spanish influence,” as if to downplay any sort of native resemblance. Also, the second edition Barbie has lighter skin and generalizes her clothes into the Mexican flag. I don’t think it ever occurred to the designer that a Mexican Barbie doll could wear the traditional clothing of any Mexican regions. The clothing of Oaxaca, Veracruz and Monterrey are all very different. This brought me to the same conclusion as the Jose ad for the Four Seasons (page 34-35). I think we’ll continue to see “Mexican Flag Barbie” and “Cinco de Mayo Barbie” because “these [dolls] work because they [look] familiar, and they are familiar because the logic that sustains them is reinforced by their very existence.”
    --Addaselia Rojas

  5. Anonymous8:49 AM

    this is a post for keri endich:

    From: "Keri Endich"
    Subject: I tried commenting on the upside down dolls
    Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2007 18:57:50 +0000

    When reading over this blog and seeing these dolls, I automatically thought of Aunt Jemima. She has been used for the symbol of an extremely popular and flourishing syrup product since the mid 19th centuy. She represents Black women during a time when their only job was to serve and slave over cooking as a way of life. (I thought of the older cook in Mandingo).
    I once was in the grocery store and could hear a child asking her mother if they could get the syrup with the "Black Lady" on it. I think these racially motivated products could be confusing everyone. I am sure that "Aunt Jemima" did not get any of the profit from her face being on a bottle of syrup. Her name sounds southern and her outfit suggests that she has been preparing food all day.
    The public has also used the name "Aunt Jemima" with a derogatory undertone to go along with it. A Raido host actually used this name to represent what he thought of a political figure who is a woman and is black. Go to this website and check out who he was talking about. In his defense he has tried to claim that he has had a long history with participating in the Civil Rights Movement. I don't think his history is quite as old as "Aunt Jemima" or the history of Black people for that matter. It amazes me to find that people are so prejudice without even knowing it. Or the fact that this radio host speaks to the public and continues to use excuses for his racial outbursts. we as a nation and as a race of "Americans" have a long way to go...
    And if you would like to learn more about Aunt Jemima's History:
    Not everything is as it seems. -Keri E.

  6. Anonymous8:00 PM

    I feel the concept of the up-side-down dolls is wrong. Children who play with these dolls are forced to decide if they want the doll to be black or white because clearly, they can't play with both at the same time. This suggests a division between races, showing one race as better than the other. Toys should not allow for this idea.

  7. Anonymous9:15 PM

    This children's toy is mind boggling to me. In order to play with one side of the doll, the other must be pointed down toward the grownd while the other gets attention. Although according to the product analysis, this was meant to bring together the idea of black and white children playing, it does exactly the oppposite. It almost seems like segregation in itself. If the child is playing with the white doll, the black doll is ignored, as if it is not there. It is on the bottom, while the white doll is on the top. And the same goes for the black doll being played with. Either way. the two are kept completely seperate and never to be played with at the same time. It seems to me that the product does exactly the opposite of what it says it is doing. Instead of allowing children to understand that races can mix in a friendly manor, it is forcing the child to chose which one he or she likes better and which one they want to give attention to.
    -Gina Hornung

  8. Jen Pollins10:02 PM

    I have actually kept up with this story for a while. These dolls were featured on the HBO series 'Real Sex' a few years ago... yes, I AM an avid watcher of the show! If you've never seen/heard of the program, it is a documentary style show that usually contains 3-4 stories featuring all kinds deliciously taboo sex acts, objects, toys and all kinds of other naughty goodies! However, I find it kind of ironic that the show would be titled 'Real Sex,' seeing as how sex with dolls and other erotic toys is not exactly what I would call 'Real Sex.' Anyway, after the episode that the dolls were featured in aired, the doll creators were suddenly swarmed with e-mails, faxes, phone-calls, etc. from women, asking if there was a male version of the doll; if there was, how do they get one? If there wasn’t, when will a prototype released? One year after the female sex dolls were featured on the show, the creators invited the ‘Real Sex’ crew back to their workshop to show them the very first prototype of the male doll. The male sex doll features a type of ball-and-socket joint at the crotch; this is here to swap out penises and scrotums of various sizes, shapes, and stages of arousal as well. There has been some talk as to whether or not a type of pump should be added below, in order to simulate ejaculation. A doll ejaculating?!?!?!?! Now THAT is something I’d like to see!

    -Jen Pollins

  9. Anonymous12:47 PM

    Eng 493

    Of all the mannequins I've seen thus far, this is probably the most disturbing. Not because of certain racial implications, but more from witnessing the resemblence to a baby perverted by some mannequin obsessed loon.
    Upside down, or right side up, I've never understood the obsession with defining a line between black and white. Culturally we (as American) are all intertwined -as well a red and yellow (but all you purple and pink people sorry!)- Perhaps this doll represents a symbiotic relationship that covers every color in the spectrum, starting at one end and ending on the other.

    Eitherway...the doll is creepy.


  10. It's funny because I actually had this doll as a child. Or something similar to it, Probably a gift from some auntie that I will never meet again in my life. It's sad that children at such a young age have to decide which doll they want to play with or which doll they think is "Prettier." I personally found myself playing with the darker skinned doll because I come from a family with darker skin colors. I guess because it was what I was accustomed to. Now that I look back, the doll's pretty creepy. Sad that at such a young age, a child has to decide which one is prettier which obviously ends up being played with more.

  11. Anonymous2:54 PM

    I find this very interesting because I had never heard of such thing. One of the first things that came to mind is the yin yang. The white doll in one end, and the black doll at the other. I feel that instead of putting the dolls side by side as what could be considered 'equality', one is on top of the other...I mean, they don't even have legs! --one of the dolls is bound to be under the other's skirt at some point.
    Another thing I thought of was this one time, when I lived in Mexico, we were visiting a orphanage run by nuns, and they had dolls on sale. My aunt asked my little cousins if they wanted a 'negrita' --they thought it was the cutest thing, going by the stereotype of the black doll with the big, red lips and the polka dot dress, and the handkerchief on her head.

    -Crystal Martin

  12. It's ironic in a way because I had a doll that was much similar to this. I probably received it from some auntie that I'll never remember until they show up on my wedding day or something. The doll I had was a little different in that one half was Asian with dark hair, eyes, and skin, and the other doll was White with blue eyes and blond hair. It's really sad for kids to be playing with these kinds of toys since they're like sponges and take everything in. I loved my Asian doll because I thought she looked like me, but I also remember, when I took her out I would flip her over and only show the white doll. I don't remember why I would do it, but I think it was because I wanted to show all the other little girls that I had a pretty doll like they did. Looking at the doll, it's almost as if one can't survive while the other lives. You have to choose between the two. It's mind boggling to think that little children are still being exposed to messages like these.