Written by Toni Sturdivant, Texas A&M University-Commerce


When Mattel announced in January 2022 that it was releasing a new Barbie doll to honor Ida B. Wells – the famed 19th-century Black journalist and anti-lynching crusader – the company said the idea was to “inspire us to dream big.” However, while the doll may prove helpful to young Black children, its impact is likely to be limited.

Although diverse groups are sometimes represented accurately within print and digital media, racist portrayals of Black people still persist.

Young Black children can internalize racial messages from a variety of sources, including anti-Black messages from the media, interactions with peers and school practices, such as being disproportionately disciplined or suspended from school. This internalization can negatively impact young children’s feelings about their race and others.

Black dolls, like the one of Wells, can shape the way young Black children understand their identity and affect how they see themselves in society, but only to a limited degree.