Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Playmobil Privilege

My kids are on a Playmobil tear right now.  You know, the posable people with cool sets like airplanes, horse trailers, knights castles and pirate ships?

The sets encompass just about anything kids could ever want to pretend.  They are well made, durable and easy to manipulate.  There are animals galore.  The kids easily afford them with their allowance. It seems like everything about Playmobil should be perfect for our family.

Yet I have this sense of unease about Playmobil in my home.  I think I finally figured it out last night.

Playmobil figures represent a most insidious kind of racism and privilege to me.  Every set and character reflects the idea that "normal" people doing "normal" things are white.  The airport people.  The RV folks. The pirates.  The knights and princesses. The horse farm. The soccer team.

It's only once we get into the specialized sets that we buy brown people. The pyramids.  The wild west Indians. Occasionally, there is a token brown person in a set.  Of course, you can buy a set of African American or Hispanic family.  But they're not normal.  You have to search them out, and there is only one set.

So you can't have a black princess in a beautiful dress or a brown knight in chain mail.  And if you and your Playmobil girlfriend want to go riding on your horses together, you have to be twins because there's really only one black girl. Even the soccer set comes with all white guys.  Soccer!?!  There are for sure more brown soccer players in the world than white, and at least around here if we see a group of men playing soccer, a large number of them are people of color.

Where does that leave my darling black 7 year old?  With the clear information that she's not normal, that   she's the token piece off to the side, that she isn't really invited to dream herself into the largeness of all the world has to offer.

And that makes me sick to my stomach.


fairyhedgehog said...

It's one of the things that really used to get to me when I was working in a school. Trying to get toys that reflect the ethnic mix that is reality is almost impossible. As you say, any black or brown character is special rather than normal.

I also had similar problems getting action figures that were female. Getting an action figure that was black or brown and female was well-nigh impossible.

Carol said...

Sara, have you checked the non-US Playmobil websites? Check out Spain, as an example. They have brown policia, pirates, etc.... :)
Sometimes you have to find a back door. Well, oftentimes.

Sara said...

Non-US!! You're brilliant. I'll start checking the sites.

Thanks for the hint!