Racism in Children’s Toys (Participation)

Thoughts? What lessons are kids learning

Racism in Children’s Toys


About a week ago I went to see a friend and his 9 year old. My 3 year old was mesmerized by the big-kid toys. He settled on a ziplock full of figurines. From a distance, I approved. My son is currently obsessed with categorizing and organizing. Bunch of little people he could sort and line up? Seemed like a perfect fit to me.

I should have known better.

5 minutes later I sat down with him and this is what I saw:

My lower jaw fell open in shock. The entire bag was full of these types of caricatures. Mocking and stereotypical images of poor Latino/Hispanic people doing things like selling oranges on the street, sitting fat and lazy in an armchair, or toting a gun. I turned to my son with wide eyes. He looked at me expectantly. For a couple minutes I was tongue-tied. Then I shook myself out of it and clumsily said something about the toys being mean. I took them away, but was left with feeling gross and like the damage had already been done.

Just a cheap toy sold in a cheap store you would never go to? My zip code 98118 was the most diverse zip code in the nation according to the 2010 Census. Many educated, middle-upper income folk who live here consider themselves liberal as well as progressive. There is a neighborhood toy store very popular with the latter crowd that prides itself on the quality of its product. It has a huge Playmobil section. Surprise! Mostly White figurines. The last time I visited, these were some of the very few people of color represented:


Note the portrayal of dark people as primitive and backwards, or scary and dangerous.


When I searched for “family” on the Playmobil website, I get 6 results. Of these, 4 are “modern”: Black (with a basketball), some sort of Euro-Latin-Hispanic, Asian (with a book), and White. Then 2 “historical”: Knight and Native. Apparently Native families only dress in traditional garb, live in Teepees, and go to Powwows?

Here’s more.

In attempting to buy my son diverse play people for Christmas, for lack of anything better, I resorted to Lego’s World People Set.  When it was delivered, my husband and I excitedly tore open the packaging, and then – sat there scratching our heads.

Which people were the Asian ones? Aside from White, what were the other people supposed to be? My husband pointed to the lower left, “Well this is clearly the Asian family.”

“Why?” I asked.

He was stumped, “I don’t know.”

Did they simply make a bunch of the same dolls with the same European features and vary the skin tone? Why does that make me feel strange and a little sick to my stomach?


~ Guest Contributor Sharon Chang blogs regularly at MultiAsian Families (a private blog).


6 thoughts on “Racism in Children’s Toys (Participation)

  1. It is so strange to me that things like this are still happening in our country. I was recently talking to my mom after seeing a Barbie commercial on TV and her telling me that when she was growing up the only Barbie’s that existed were all white ones. Although, my mom did grow up in South Carolina I still thought that it was really odd to think that my own mom experienced something like this. When I was growing up I did not even think twice if I saw any type of doll or toy of color because it was so normal to me. I remember my older sister’s favorite doll being black and I never even questioned or wondered why. I do not understand how long it will take for things like this to disappear in all parts of our country because in my opinion it should have happened years ago.

  2. When you’re a kid playing with toys, you don’t think about the true meaning of the characteristics the toys might have. You just want to have fun with the coolest toys in store. But I think as kids keep playing with these toys that hold racial stereotypes, and get more familiar with what their role as a toy is. I believe the kids develop similar stereotypes to which the toys represent, without realizing it.

  3. It’s crazy to me that these things are still occurring in society today. The companies making these toys are doing nothing good for children. They are teaching them, at a young age, how to be racist. Instead of doing this, we need to be teaching kids how to talk about race. When I was younger I remember a lot of girls having American Girl dolls, which at the time I never thought much of, but looking back, some of the characters made by the company, were actually quite racist. For example, their was a white doll and her “story” was that she was supposed to have come from a very wealthy family where she had all the best things. The Native American doll was dressed in traditional clothing and was sold with a tepee and horse. One of the only black dolls they sell has a “story” where she is depicted as a young slave. These characters that the company has created are supposed to represent times when a certain race was very prevalent in US history, but honestly what is this teaching kids about people of different racial backgrounds?

  4. The fact that toys like these are still being made today is a little unbelievable, but at the same time not so surprising. We live in a society that pretends that race doesn’t matter anymore and that everyone is being treated equal, but I think it’s safe to say that most of us know that is not the case. Usually racism is a more underlying issue and not brought up in public by many but as we see in these toys, racism can be seen in the most unexpected places. Children who are exposed to toys like this, I don’t think consciously know that something is wrong, but after repeated exposure they will eventually point things out in public that they have learned from playing with these. For example, after playing with the poor Latino who is selling oranges, a child might expect that all Latinos are poor which could lead to them subconsciously categorizing people in ways that match those characteristics of their toys. In a society where racism is unacceptable, exposing your children to toys like these only builds a poor foundation for the ways in which they act in society, as they grow older.

  5. In a way I am not surprised that these toys are being made because i see these types of toys every day. For example in the Hispanic community there are some set of toy figurines called homies. Each figure is different and each one has a name, some are poor and trying to make a days living and another one is a gangster. The one that i find funny is they have one of President Obama standing in front of a podium. But majority of of the homies are representing some kind of Hispanic stereo type. But what i wonder is why the maker of these homies made them. The one thing that did surprised me is that as an adult the maker of these homies should have know what he was doing in the beginning. -Nohemi Meza

  6. Race can exist in everywhere in people’s life. It can be seen in TVs, books, ads and even in children’s toys. When children was young, they often buy toys that are look like themselves. Although at time they do not know racism, parents can help child to accept different colors of toys; which will good for the growth of child. When children grow up, they can make friends with different skin colors people.

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