Why Racially Diverse Toys Matter

Wow! According to sales figures just in, the 2016 holiday season raked in a record $26 billion dollars in toy sales in the United States alone! That might sound like a lot of money going for mere child’s play, but psychological studies have proven over the years that a little one’s leisure time is linked to self-esteem, leadership and compassion. Just as baby animals mock-fight to help them with important skills later on in life, the same is true of kids.

Therefore, it makes sense children’s toys and media choices affect their self-esteem. According to an article published in the Times Columnist, “Characters who look more like they do, rather than imagined ideals, help kids build confidence, the foundation for leadership skills. But here’s the kicker — seeing toys that look like others (a different race, for instance) nurtures compassion.”

There’s no doubt that change to reflect diversity has been slow in coming, but toymakers have been working on meeting the demand. Mattel’s new Barbie line features dolls with seven skin tones and more realistic body types, and Lego’s latest set features a Minifigure seated in a wheelchair.

The world at large is in on the conversation, too. Samantha Knowles, director of the award-winning documentary Why Do You Have Black Dolls?, says that these dolls give kids “a more robust and healthy sense of the world and of themselves.”

So, that’s all good and it makes sense. But did you know that the status-quo can actually be harmful? You might think homogeneity in toys would just be “whatever”, but it goes deeper. “Watching TV has been proven to boost self-esteem in white boys, who identify with an assembly line of white male protagonists,” asserts the Times Columnist, “but lowers self-esteem for girls and children of color, who usually see themselves in supporting or negative roles. Kids connect with characters who look like them, even if those characters are sidelined.”

Samantha Knowles agrees: “It’s one thing to say: ‘This is what race is.’ It’s a subtler, more powerful thing to give them toys and let them learn.”

Kudos to Mattel and Lego! Here are some other awesome toys that celebrate diversity:

History in Action Toys

As we well know, American History as taught in schools has, up until fairly recently, omitted people of color who played pivotal roles in the shaping and progress of the nation. History in Action Toys is determined to bring some of their stories to light, with action figures that celebrate those overlooked pioneers. They now offer three of America’s real superheroes: Bessie Coleman, the first black woman in America to earn a pilot’s license; mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker; and Matthew Alexander Henson, the first American to reach the North Pole.

My Family Builders

Created by an illustrator, child psychologist, education specialist and product designer (how’s that for credentials?), the My Family Builders toy set offers a selection of whimsical wooden pieces decorated with differing skin tones and facial features to represent them. These blocks are sort of Lego-like — their heads, bodies and legs can be mixed and matched to combine with magnetic snaps.


When artist Nikolay Lamm set out to creative an average doll, it was because she wondered, “What if fashion dolls were made using standard human body proportions?” A successful crowdfunding campaign in 2014 led to the production of Lammily, a doll with a realistic body and every day flaws in the form of “Lammily Marks.” These are reusable stickers that allow the dolls’ owners to add realistic marks like scars, freckles, acne, scrapes and grass stains, and even stretch marks and cellulite.

Children’s Factory Soft Dolls

These plush and huggable dolls come with diverse skin tones and include two designs with faces that celebrate the unique features of Down’s Syndrome. The company also manufactures accessories to assist with the doll’s disabilities, including crutches, leg-braces, hearing aids, walkers, and wheelchairs.

Creative Minds Basket of Babies

This is a perfectly pint-sized a basket full of plushies to cuddle, squeeze, dress, and love. With removable sack dresses that match their hats, this set of six super-soft dollies are designed to inspire nurturing role-play for one child or a gathering of friends. When it’s time to go home or be put away in the toy chest, the babies bundle into their cozy, take-along, fabric basket. 

Never Forget a Face

This Award-winning game by eeBoo is an old fave, but it never goes out of style. It is fun, challenging, and works on memory skills. It is a card-game that features 24 pairs of different faces. It is a truly wonderful way to develop an appreciation of multiculturalism, because the card-kids come from all over the world. This leads to all kinds of avenues you can explore with your kiddos – from the climate (why are they dressed like that?) to their different religions (some have their hair covered, the girl from India has a red dot on her forehead, and the boy from Israel is wearing a yarmulke).

What are some of your favorite toys that celebrate diversity? Share them with us!

Cover image by Lammily

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Tags : toys   games   global citizenship   

Kira Smirnova
I love that they make these diverse dolls for babies
Lindsey Velasco
Lammily sounds great. Wish I could make a doll that looks like me!