Attempting equality

My life is insane lately, and I really don’t have much time for blogging. I’ll hopefully be back for real in mid-to-late August. In the meantime, I thought you readers would find this image (from Fail Blog) interesting:



Two dolls for sale, identical in every way except skin and hair color—and price. The black doll is about two dollars cheaper than the white doll. Ridiculous! I was glad to see such a picture identified as a “fail.”

It got me to thinking, though, about the studies cited in Brown v. Board of Education and recreated by ABC News and others, which I read about not too long ago at Sociological Images. While it maybe less universal than it was a few decades ago, many black children will simultaneously identify a black doll as the one that looks like them and identify a white doll as the one that looks “nice” and “pretty.” You might expect that children would typically want to play with dolls that look like them, but white dolls tend to sell faster to people of all skin colors. (I remember an essay written by a woman who worked in an upscale toy store about how she had an easier time selling the broken, scuffed, white demo doll than the brand new non-white versions of the same doll. If I can find a link to that, I’ll stick in an update here.)

So what should we make of this? Is it the store’s fault that there is higher demand for one product than another? It makes a twisted kind of sense to shift prices like this, if your goal is to move more of the black dolls in your inventory. Higher demand of any product leads to higher prices for it, and lower demand encourages sellers to lower their prices. I still think the message that it sends, that depicting a black person is worth less than depicting a white person, is far too repugnant to justify the pricing. What do you think?

UPDATE: A commenter over at SocImages, in a post of theirs about this one (thanks for noticing, guys!), figured out the source of the story I had forgotten above. It’s from “This American Life,” by Chicago Public Radio, in an episode from January of this year. Go here to read about it or listen to the recording.

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July 6, 2009 Uncategorized