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The "doll test" shows why society desperately needs Target's newest collaboration with multicultural doll company Orijin Bees

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Photo courtesy of Orijin Bees
Photo courtesy of Orijin Bees

Studies show that the toys we play with as children and how we're permitted to play with them affect us developmentally and psychologically. For a multitude of reasons, it is important for children to play with different types of toys without gender or racial restraints; this will lead them to higher levels of achievement in developmental skills.

Being open-minded when it comes to children and play can be difficult, depending on how you were raised. Many find it inappropriate for boys to play with dolls and for girls to play with toy trucks, for example. However, both genders benefit from being free to explore and play with any of these toys. Toys should be thought of as developmentally appropriate rather than gender specific.

Toys, like dolls and kitchens, can lead boys and girls to use their imaginations while developing their social, emotional, and linguistic skills. They help them learn to interact and handle real-life situations with other children, experiences that they will carry into adulthood.

Besides variety, another important characteristic for toys to have, in consideration of healthy development, is representation. While your first reaction may be personal representation — and while this is important to self-image — the cultural representation of others is equally important for children, so they develop a healthy view of the world and the different people around them.

On October 5, Target, along with Orijin Bees, a multicultural toy company, launched the Baby Bee Doll Collection on its website. Orijin showcases not only a diverse range of beautiful Black and Brown skin tones but also a variety of curly hair patterns.

Orijin Bees (actually, O.R.I.J.I.N. B.E.E.S) stands for "Our Representation Is Just Inclusion Normalized, Beautifully Empowering Every Soul." It was founded by Melissa Orijin after her seven-year-old, Esi, struggled with her confidence as a result of being the only Black girl in her class. She created this brand with the goal of instilling self-love during pretend play, helping young girls build the confidence to know their worth and, ultimately, become leaders of the future — something our community desperately needs.

Cultural representation in the toy industry has historically been disproportionate; this applies to dolls especially. The vast disparity between white dolls and those of all other races was once so great that it helped desegregate public schools in 1954. As the Supreme Court justices deliberated overturning the "separate-but-equal" doctrine, they had to consider a case made with Black and white baby dolls.

Mamie and Kenneth Clark had used the dolls as part of a groundbreaking psychological experiment they had performed to help heal children with racial biases. The "doll test" showed more than just a preference for dolls with white skin over dolls with brown skin; it helped the country understand the persistent effects of segregation on the Black children it affected most. The results displayed the devastating effects of life in a society that was intolerant of African Americans.

The test itself was simple and direct. Because Black dolls were not yet manufactured, the Clarks had to paint a white doll brown. They presented them to children of different races and asked them to answer a few simple questions: Which would you like to play with? Which doll was good or bad? Which doll looked most like them? Two-thirds of the children (some as young as three) picked white dolls for "good" characteristics, while some of the children were noticeably upset at having to say that the Black doll looked like them.

This year, a Texas A&M assistant professor, Dr. Sturdivant, re-created the doll test to see if anything had changed. Her experiment consisted of 13 students, four dolls, and salon props, as well as Black, Latina, and white dolls simply placed within the classroom.

The result was just as devastating as those 60 years ago. Black dolls were stepped on, cooked in pots, and disregarded for their Afro, curly hair. These results show that the work to undo racial biases and anti-blackness among children still needs to be done.

Dr. Sturdivant stresses that the ways to keep moving forward with children and society is as simple as talking about it. "We do have data to support that adult silence about race fosters feelings of anti-blackness in, not just black children, but all children," she said. "Children are always learning, always."

This is why Target's collaboration with Orijin Bees is a groundbreaking development in itself. As stated in a recent National Black Guide article, "This new deal with Target represents a milestone achievement for the brand, which continues to grow its toy line to empower girls like Esi to find self-love and pride in their identity by ensuring representation in their toy boxes."