Healthy Roots Dolls: Dolls Made for Your Black Child

Black Kids & Black Dolls

I’ve written a lot about the ways that racist messaging impacts Black children and how the messages of Black inferiority surround them. These harmful messages are everywhere—from the lessons they learn (and don’t) in school, to the toys they play with, TV shows they watch and designs they wear on their clothes. As I’ve said before:

As parents, the challenges associated with instilling confidence and a sense of pride into Black children can be even more complicated. Especially when it comes to their hair and skin color…

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This is especially true because: 

“…for parents of Black children, the desire to protect our young goes beyond worrying about their welfare in general. We also have to contend with issues of race and racism – and wonder how they will shape our kids’ lives and their sense of self.”

That’s why I’m absolutely in love with the Healthy Roots Dolls – a toy company started by Black women that creates Black dolls and teaches natural hair care to young girls of color.

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Yelitza Jean-Charles, Healthy Roots Dolls Founder & Creative Director

I met the group’s founder and creative director, Yelitza Jean-Charles, a student at Rhode Island School of Design (yes—this sista is still a student), when I spoke at Brown University this spring. I and was amazed with her and her project. I mean seriously—where were these dolls when I was a girl?! My interview with her is below. Be sure to visit her Kickstarter page—they’ve almost reached their goal but we want to help them do above and beyond.

Check out our conversation – and information on how you can support this Black owned venture – below.

Afro State Of Mind (ASOM):

Yelitza, your dolls are amazing – I love the story behind them and the very specific way you & your team framed their story. What was your inspiration behind the dolls?

Yelitza Jean-Charles (YJC):

Thank you! The inspiration for this project came from both my experience as a woman of color and from listening to the shared experiences of the mothers and daughters we worked with to develop this project.

When I was a young girl I went to Disneyland and I was so excited to share my experience with my family. When I got back, they didn’t ask me what I did, or for photos of my experience. The first thing they did was turn to my mother and ask her “Why did you let her get so dark”?

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ASOM:

Wow—I imagine that had a huge impact on you.

YJC:

They made it seem like there was something wrong with having dark skin. I also struggled with my natural hair and didn’t know to take care of it until my sophomore year of high school. It is ridiculous that we don’t know how to take care of our hair as it grows out of our heads. It is even more ridiculous that we are often told that are natural hair is unacceptable.

 

ASOM:

When we think about Blackness we often have a “Black American” focus. Yet your dolls are much more representative of the broader Pan African Diaspora. Why did you decide to do that?

YJC:

We wanted to represent girls across the African Diaspora because issues of colorism and internalized racism affect us as a whole globally. This isn’t something that is exclusive to the US. Black women in many African countries and in the Caribbean are using dangerous chemicals like perms and bleaching creams in order to be “beautiful.”

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ASOM:

I saw a lot of that when I lived in the Dominican Republic—sadly I still see it whenever I travel to other countries. This is part of the reason I focus on the Doll test and its continuing impact on Black children (and adults). Are you familiar with that test & what it showed about the way Black children see Blackness?  If so, how do you think your dolls can help combat the doll test phenomenon?

YJC:

The Mamie Clark doll test is what fueled the development of our project from our early research. The toys we play with at a young age influence how we think, act and see ourselves. At Healthy Roots, we believe our dolls can combat internalized hatred by  through positive representation and by encouraging young girls to embrace their natural hair and beauty. We get to the root of the problem: diversity and education. Creating diverse dolls that not only look like our girls, but that teach them how to care for their hair. In our opinion, that is a powerful combination.

 

ASOM:

A number of cosmetic industry reports have noted a significant decrease in the sales of chemical hair relaxers and an increase in the number of Black women and girls embracing natural hair options. Did that evolving mindset among Black women play a role in how you designed the hair for each of the dolls?

YJC:

The design decision behind our dolls was influenced by both current styles and the mission to show beauty in features that are not often praised. So our dolls have facial features, hair textures and skin tones that aren’t not often seen in media or praised as being beautiful.

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ASOM:

That’s amazing. But I really love the fact that your dolls also have a “how to” book for young naturalistas. What are some of the things young Black girls can hope to learn from the book?

YJC:

Our “Big Book of Hair” teaches girls everything from the basics to multiple protective styles. Girls will learn the properties of different natural products and their uses based on hair texture. They will learn some basic hair chemistry and learn the difference between low porosity and high porosity. Basic Black hair care information. The girls will also learn bantu knots, twist outs, afropuffs, box braids and more.

 

ASOM:

That’s going to fill in a lot of information gaps. One of the biggest reasons more women don’t consider going natural is because they don’t understand how to comb their hair. That an amazing service you’re offering.

Now, you know I’m a huge supporter of Black Owned Businesses. Will your dolls be available this holiday season? If not when can we expect the first batch to be completed? Where will we be able to buy your dolls?

YJC:

If we have a large enough demand we will work to produce our first batch by this holiday season, but we are currently scheduled to ship our dolls in May of 2016 if we reach full funding on kickstarter. You can pre order our dolls on kickstarter right now at  http://kck.st/1JtDlzn. You can also sign up for our mailing list and follow our work on http://www.healthyrootsdolls.com.

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ASOM:

What has been the response to your project thus far?

YJC:

We have had some incredible support from the For Harriett, Jenell B Stewart of Kinky Coily Me, Bustle, Daily Dot, Blackgirlnerds communities and Afro State of Mind of course! Mothers and daughters both love our doll designs and illustrations. It shows that there really is a demand for products like Healthy Roots.

 

ASOM:

In your press release you mentioned that part of your inspiration for the dolls came from seeing women in your own family “bleach their skin and burn their scalps in the name of beauty.” How have some of these family members reacted to the dolls?

YJC:

My mother loves the project and has been rooting for us since day one. Ever since I went natural, I have been trying to convince her and getting her to embrace her own natural hair. Because of this project she finally has and I am so proud of her!

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ASOM:

That’s amazing and really speaks to the power of how we can influence others to see their own beauty when we embrace it for ourselves. If you could meet with some of those family members when they were little girls, before the bleaching & scalp burning, what would you tell them?

YJC:

I would tell them that they don’t need to do this in order to be beautiful. Your hair, skin everything is already perfect. Don’t let anyone try to tell you that there is something wrong with the looks you were born with. Also, coconut oil fixes everything.

 

ASOM:

Yaaasssss – Let’s hear it for the Shea Butter & Coconut Oil Goddesses! Based on what you’ve learned from this experience, how can parents & those who love little Black girls protect their sense of esteem?

YJC:

You have to monitor what they see and what you say. In my experience it wasn’t just that I was being bullied or influenced from outside, but it was the things that my parents had internalized and were pushing on to me. We have to break the cycle and bring in positive images where they are lacking.

 

ASOM:

If you could speak to educators of Black children, what would you tell them about Black girls & standards of beauty?

YJC:

They are real and they are harsh and we have to work to project our children from harm.

 

ASOM:

Do you have any other projects coming out? Where can we follow you & learn more about you & what you’re working on?

YJC:

Healthy Roots is my main focus and while in school I will continue making that work. You can follow Healthy Roots on facebook, Instagram @HealthyRootsDolls and Twitter @RootsDolls. You can follow my personal artist work on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram @BlackGirlatRISD.

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ASOM:

You have a Kickstarter campaign for the project. How is that going? How can people continue to support you?

YJC:

Thanks to our supporters we have already raised 26,000. We are just 9,000 dollars are way from making dolls that will empower and inspire young girls.

You can help make this project happen by pre ordering a doll or book on our kickstarter for a little girl in your life. You can also purchases some art prints, an e coloring book for endless fun or a limited edition T-Shirt. This can all be found on our kickstarter at  http://kck.st/1JtDlzn. You can continue to support us my pre ordering and sharing our campaign with family and friends.

 

ASOM:

Thank you so much for joining us – we’re rooting for you guys!

YJC:

Thank you!

**UPDATE** As of the time we posted this article we’re ecstatic to report that they met their goal! You can still help them raise additionally needed funds by visiting their kickstarter page and helping them go above and beyond! Let’s hear it for beautiful Black women meeting the needs of our own children and communities. I can’t wait to take some pictures of my own little girl once she gets her Healthy Roots Doll!

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Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or available here for e-book download! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, or Instagram“like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest Youtube videos!

 

 

 

 

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Challenging our beliefs about Black hair, skin color, identity & race.

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