When Karen Braithwaite couldn't find any black Barbie party supplies for her 5-year-old daughter's birthday, she petitioned to toy-maker Mattel to offer a diverse selection of supplies.
Karen Greene Braithwaite just wanted to throw her daughter a Barbie-themed birthday party. But when she couldn't find any black Barbie party supplies, the Harlem mom issued a plea to Mattel that has become a crusade.
Braithwaite, whose daughter Georgia turned five-years-old this week, posted a Change.org petition and an online video, calling for toy company Mattel to offer "a diverse selection of party supplies featuring Barbies of color."
In the video, which has nearly 2,500 views on YouTube, Braithwaite's daughter Georgia says she wants to have a "Barbie party."
"I want them to come in black," she says. "I want them in black."
Braithwaite's story attracted national media attention and her petition has more than 4,500 signatures, with many parents expressing similar sentiments. Braithwaite says she has now spoken to a customer service representative from Mattel.
"A supervisor in Mattel's Customer Service call center called me," she posted Wednesday on the petition. "She said she was surprised there were no party supplies with Barbies of color… She also said it made her 'sad' that moms are reporting on this petition that they declined to buy the products because they found them racially discriminatory. It's great that the higher-ups at Mattel are 'discussing it' … but we want action."
The first black Barbie doll, Christie, came on the scene in 1968, and in 2009, Barbie's "So In Style" line of black Barbies debuted, featuring Barbies Grace, Kara and Trichelle with varying skin tones and hair textures. Today, Barbies represent more than 45 different nationalities.
According to Mattel, a Barbie doll is sold every three seconds somewhere in the world and 90 percent of girls ages three to 10 own at least one.
Braithwaite's video features dozens of black children proclaiming "I'm a Barbie girl!" But she adds that "if one of those girls wants to have a Barbie birthday party, there is only one choice…We think Mattel can do better."
There are more options for parents seeking ethnically diverse dolls than there used to be, but some say more still needs to be done in general to make sure every child can find a doll that looks like her.
"People just think of dolls as a plaything, and really, they're not," Debra Britt, one of the founders of the Black Doll Museum, told Collector's Weekly.
Mattel sent this Tweet following statement:
"Thanks for your feedback. It's very important to us that Barbie reflects the ethnic and cultural differences of people around the world. We work closely w/partners to develop Barbie products, such as party supplies & will share your feedback w/them."
Alan Hilowitz, spokesman for Mattel said that the company had a good conversation with Brathwaite.
"Our VP of Licensing spoke with her to address the questions she had and the request she has to speak to someone in Licensing," Hilowitz said. "We walked her through the facts that Mattel takes all consumer calls seriously and to heart, that we care and listen, and explained that product development cycle is lengthy but that we were exploring the opportunities with the party goods category – that we are exploring and researching how we can create products that consumers want. We listened and addressed her questions so that she could better understand that consumers won’t be seeing new party supplies in the short term."
For Georgia's party this coming weekend, Braithwaite told Time magazine she plans to go the DIY-route, printing images of black Barbies on party plates and banners.
She has been Tweeting about what she calls the Barbies of Color Party Petition with the hashtag #blackbarbieparty. She says her request is a simple one:
"We <3 Trichelle, Grace, et. al," she Tweeted. "We want to party with them too!"
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