I’m not all doom and gloom, privilege/oppression/whiteness/and-other-social-work-buzzwords. There are some good options out there if you’re willing to do some digging (or some sewing).
I have a collection of dolls/hand puppets from when I was a teenager called “Treehuggers.” These were, in my opinion, the best rag dolls ever made. You could buy from the catalogue or place a custom order, choosing gender, eye shape (from a selection of buttons), hair colour and texture (yarn – straight, ravelled, dreadlocked, long, short), and skin colour. They also encouraged fine motor development through tie-able shoelaces, button fastenings on the clothing, and the fact that they could be used as dolls or hand puppets, making them excellent toys for children with special needs. Unfortunately, except for the odd Ebay listing, you can’t get them any more. If anyone reading this has mad sewing skills and wants to go into business, let’s talk!
Cabbage Patch Kids are still available in black or white and as boys or girls. At the lower price point they have unfortunately gone to the glossy doll-hair but you can get the “original” version through the website for a price. Lots of the older ones are available in thrift stores though.
There is a line of dolls called “Hearts for Hearts Girls” that is reasonably affordable. Each doll represents different country and comes with a story book, friendship bracelet, web access code, and donation through World Vision to help girls in her country of origin. Unfortunately, in Canada they are exclusive to Walmart, which may turn off some consumers. They only have girls, but that does fit with their concept.
I also quite like Groovy Girls – contrary to their name, there are boy dolls, and they come in many different skin tones and hair colours and textures (yarn). They have been around since 1998, so they would probably be available in second-hand shops as well for more variety. We have a great collection that was given to Molly by my cousin.
Online, by asking my good friend Google to find me “ethnic dolls” I also found the following intriguing websites (below). Sadly, the first entry that turned up in my search was toysrus.com, offering “ethnic dolls, including Dora the Explorer, Barbie, and SpongeBob.”
Anyway, moving on…
My World Ethnic Doll Clothing, based in Toronto, Ontario, was founded by a Canadian teacher who wanted to provide parents with the opportunity to purchase doll clothes that represented their cultures. This website provides a wide variety of multicultural fashions, male and female, and androgynous dolls in 4 different skin tones. Prices are shockingly reasonable.
Kids Like Me, based in the UK, provides educational toys, books, and resources that embrace diversity, special needs and inclusion. Their online catalogue offers a variety of reasonably-priced multicultural rag dolls (boys and girls).
And finally, oddly enough, IKEA has the coolest collection of multi-ethnic, unisex, and extremely reasonably priced doll stuff anywhere…which I suppose should not be particularly surprising since they have for some time been ahead of the game when it comes to providing unisex (ie. neither pink nor blue) toys such as kitchens and toolbenches. The LEKKAMRAT series includes 3 soft doll options (different skin and hair colours and facial features), 4 different sets of outfits, and a bathtime set in which the bathtub is blue. BLUE! IKEA also offers a wooden doll bed with blue sheet and rainbow-striped cover – and listed as “related products” to the doll bed are the children’s “10-piece coffee/tea set,” “5-piece kitchen utensil set,” and “toolbelt with soft toys.”
Whether you are searching for a doll that looks like your own child, trying to find resources for your classroom or daycare, or looking for ways to promote diversity in your own home, there are definitely options available – in fact, more than I even realized when I started this post.