Why I'm Signing the Petition for Mattel to Make Black Barbie Party Supplies

April 04,2013
Erin Dower( )

When it comes to planning a child's birthday party, moms know that there are, oh, about 10,000 themes to choose from (that's no exaggeration -- I searched for children's party plates on Amazon, and there were 9,096 results). But we also know that, of the overwhelming number of options, the *one* theme that matters on a child's special day is the one that she chooses based on her favorite toy/show/movie/thing at that point in her life.

So when Georgia Braithwaite's 5th birthday approached and she chose Barbie as her party theme, her mom, Karen Green Braithwaite, was shocked to discover a dearth of party supplies featuring black Barbies. Georgia and Karen are black, and Georgia's black Barbie dolls are her favorite toys.

Time points out that Mattel's first black Barbie doll, Christie, hit stores in 1968, and Barbies of nearly 50 nationalities are sold today. So Karen thought it was a mistake when she (with Georgia by her side) searched the internet for "African-American Barbie party supplies" and "black Barbie party supplies" and got no results. She searched and searched, and found blonde Barbie after blonde Barbie on all the plates and cups. Georgia naturally got upset (as any 4.9-year-old would in that situation).

Would Karen have to make Photoshopped/DIY Barbie party supplies that show some diversity, as other mothers of children of color had done and blogged about online? Frustrated at the prospect of that (in 2013!), Karen instead decided to harness the power of the Web and start a petition to Mattel, asking them to make party supplies that prominently feature Barbies of color. At least 4,000 people have signed their name so far, and the petition is going viral.

A few brands have gotten the memo and make party supplies that reflect diversity. In my party plate hunt, in the first 1,000 results on Amazon, I found these 10 kinds of plates with non-white characters featured prominently on them: Disney Princesses, Disney Fairies, Disney's Shake It Up Party, Cabbage Patch Kids, Dora the Explorer, Caillou, Yo Gabba Gabba, Cheetah Girls, Glee, and Sid the Science Kid. But that's about it: 10 in 1,000. It's not just "PC" to make diversity products -- it's good business: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the white population in this country will lose its majority by 2043, and non-white parents and white parents are increasingly looking for products that jive with their child's diverse classroom or birthday party guest list.

Are there waaaay too many choices for most products sold these days? Yes. Should we shrug this off and say Georgia's birthday party is a case of "you can't always get what you want" or "life isn't fair"? No. If there are 10,000 party themes to choose from and white children can identify with 99.9% of the ones with people/characters but children of color can identify with 1% of them, that's a problem. The birthday world doesn't look like the real world.

That's why I'm off to sign Braithwaite's petition.