Barbie, racism, inentionality.. such good times!
A friend of mine pointed out this blog post to me the other day, and I couldn't resist talking about it here. The post is on a blog called The Volokh Conspiracy, a group blog written by law professors covering a variety of blogs. This post is in reaction to the news that a Walmart store was selling two Barbie dolls, one white (Ballerina Barbie) and one Hispanic (Ballerina Theresa) side-by-side, but at different prices -- the Hispanic doll was on sale for a lower price.
(side note: the news article cited identifies Ballerina Theresa as black, but she is elsewhere described as Hispanic, but I can't find an "official" description; here's a picture, though)
Now, I'm sure you can imagine the popular reaction to this: Walmart is suggesting that the non-white doll is worth less! People don't want to buy non-white dolls! However, as my friend (a law student) points out, the blog post talks about two interesting things:
1. We don't know why the price is different; the author offers a few possible explanations, including the possibility that black parents are more willing to buy dolls of different ethnicities, while perhaps white parents only buy white dolls.
2. Nobody seems to be talking about the effect of the price difference. Maybe, the author suggests, this will mean more people (black, white, Hispanic, etc) will buy the non-white doll. Wouldn't that be a positive outcome?
After our ongoing discussion about intentionality, this really caught my eye. One of the comments on the Volokh Conspiracy post points out that this price difference was likely not decided by a person, but by a computer or by statistics. Product A isn't selling very well, so the price is reduced to get Product A off the shelf. Especially in a company like Walmart, it's unlikely that any deeper thought than that goes into this decision. Does this make it okay? Is there still an implication that Ballerina Theresa is worth less because she isn't white and blonde?
And really, is there any way to talk about or present Barbie that doesn't make this doll seem like some sort of joke? I mean, I'll admit I loved Barbie when I was a kid, and I think I turned out alright, but... have you ever been to Barbie.com? It will almost certainly cause you to grit your teeth in chagrin.