“The Talk.” Not an easy project. It’s uncomfortable, occasionally awkward and impossible to avoid doing eventually. I’m not thinking about the whole birds-and-the-bees thing here (though that is, in its own right, a very challenging conversation, too). I’m thinking about the talk about race: that unfortunate, compulsory discussion Black parents are intimately familiar with having, over and over again.
“The funny thing about race is that the world often forces you to have those conversations a lot earlier than you want to,” a parent told HuffPost Canada last September. No matter the year, it doesn’t get easier.
Do white parents have these same conversations? Do they teach their kids what racism means ― how to identify and combat it? If not, Mattel — yes, the toy manufacturing company — has gotten behind an effort at sparking the conversation among kids, through a three-minute webisode in which Barbie and her friend Nikki broach the subject of racism as simply as they can.
“Millions of people across the world are standing up to fight against racism, and they’re doing this because, too often, and for such a long time, people have been treated unfairly,” Barbie says in the vlog. “This stuff isn’t easy to talk about — which is exactly why we have to talk about it.”
Barbie then turns to Nikki, who talks about some of the microaggressions she has had to endure while moving through the world as a Black person — for example, being unfairly perceived as suspicious by law enforcement, or being made to feel as though she isn’t talented or doesn’t belong in academic spaces.
“Usually, when I talk about these things, people make excuses,” Nikki says. “People did these things to me because I was Black, and they made the wrong assumptions about me.”
Watch: How to start talking to your kid(s) about racism. Story continues below.
White kids often grow up feeling as though racism is a problem they don’t need to engage with. In a statement from Mattel, obtained by The Glow Up, the company said they wanted the video to be a real conversation starter.
“Barbie is using her platform to raise awareness around racism and encourage girls to stand up if they see a person being treated unfairly,” the statement reads. “The goal of the episode is to help girls to understand that there is a huge movement going on in the fight against racism, why people are marching together and the importance of reading and learning more about Black history.”
Of course, the video is only three minutes long. It’s not exactly a masterclass on fighting anti-Black racism. But it’s a simplified way that non-Black parents can introduce the subject to their children.
The vlog quickly went viral online, and many social media users were impressed with the delicate, clear and accessible way Barbie communicated about a rather challenging subject. They also acknowledged the importance of Barbie not making any excuses, getting defensive, or speaking over Nikki.
It might seem like a ridiculous idea to have two animated toys talk in a fake vlog about some deep-rooted, centuries-old concept that evades many fully grown adults. But as a primer for young kids, the video does a pretty good job of conveying both how racism can turn up in overt and subtle ways while also presenting a good example of a white ally who listens without taking offence.
In a time where the air is charged with conversation about racism, where freedom schools are opening to help children make sense of history, it makes sense to take a gentle but proactive approach, when it comes to identifying what racism means and what it looks like — even if it starts with a toy.