Barbie changed, and so should we.

You should know: I got a Ken doll for my birthday many years ago.

Young Michael and Barbie

In addition to my Ken doll confession, I should also note, this post was almost titled, “The Girl Scouts are keeping up, and we should follow suit.” Whether it be Girl Scouts or Barbie, I figure both titles are somewhat interchangeable (though, social media informs me that more people in my life are pro-Barbie than Girl Scouts – I am mostly just glad change is occurring within each institution).

The hype of Barbie’s updates a few weeks ago has been on my mind for quite some time, and with all the videos and articles about the changes Barbie has endured, I cannot help but smile when I see a friend or colleague post about how their children (or students, family members, neighbors, etc.) can now see themselves in these newly designed dolls.

While the edits are not perfect (and have quite a bit of room to grow forward), it’s an important move in the right direction – a direction Lego is also exploring. Around the same time, and not receiving as much press as Barbie, Lego made a great statement for equity and inclusion by creating their first character in a wheelchair.


…for most of us.

You see, not everyone is as progressive or forward-thinking as our friends at Barbie, Girl Scouts, or Lego. And in honor of these companies, I must say:

If Barbie can change, so should we.
* “we” = individuals, institutions, companies, communities, organizations, crazy uncles

I am quickly brought back to my graduate school days, learning about the philosophy of, “see someone to be someone.” I talk about this a lot in the work I do, and specifically around the idea that children and students must see people who are like them to believe they, too, can be someone (an astronaut, a model, a teacher, a doctor, a zookeeper, a gay person who is married, etc.) – “see someone to be someone.”

It is incredibly important that people see individuals like themselves reflected in the media, in their classrooms, communities, and organizations to believe they, too, can achieve in a similar manner. Outside of my own industry of education, the Academy Awards are an important example of where we’re completely missing the mark.

For example, according to Bloomberg, “…all but eight of the Best Actor and Best Actress winners have been white.” This is in reference to the entire history of the Oscars. I repeat, the entire history of the Oscars. I don’t even need three hands to count that number, and not to mention, this year, all 10 nominees are also white.  I digress.

This is more than a “diversity moment” (and not including the equity of diversity that rears its head during times like these). This is about representation. And representation matters. We place great weight on the Academy Awards as an indicator for talent, skill, and field-ability, and when marginalized groups are not represented in that pool, it implies there to be few-to-no talented, skilled, or able folks with (already-)marginalized identities (further marginalizing them, and so on).

It starts with pushing industries to be more inclusive, more diverse, more justice-based, and more representative. The recent outcomes at the Screen Actors Guild Awards will affirm a notion that the Academy Awards really missed the mark in their latest round of nominees (#OscarsSoWhite, and all of that). The entertainment industry is made up of much more than solely straight, white, able-bodied folks, and including many more who are deserving of awards, accolades, and highlights.

Closely related: education needs help, too.

The reality of education has also become center-stage in a conversation about representation and equity. NPR initially breaks this down into two quick pieces, one about female professors and another about the role of Black teachers. Loosely connected, The Washington Post also highlights inequities in higher education, connecting to the research of Warren Waren, a professor at Texas A&M University.

Specifically, Warren notes the following, via Racism Review:

“In a country that is 37% people of color, we have no nominees. In an industry where 46% of moviegoers are people of color, we have no nominees. In an industry where we have recognized superstars giving top notch performances, we have no nominees. We hate to have expected it.”

“Like with the Oscars, the problem [in higher education] is not with who is starring (professors of color) or who is watching (students of color)—the problem is who is voting. Leadership at universities look a lot like leadership at the Oscars. Both institutions are 90% to 95% white. Both are largely invitation-only affairs (make no mistake, social networks matter for every faculty appointment). Both bask in the glory of their own conceit. Both are prone to recreating their own biases. Both are self-regulating and quite insulated from external challenges. Do we expect either of these institutions to change without a challenge?”

“Do we expect either of these institutions to change without a challenge?”

Do we expect people to change without a challenge?

Are we willing to change our own views and behaviors without a challenge?

While you pause on those questions, remember that inclusion is about action. This is why education and equity both matter a great deal to me. This is why I’ve committed to a career in helping people, “see someone to be someone.” This is why I care so deeply about the landscape of education from k-16. So, What do Barbie, the Oscars, and education all have in common, you might be wondering? Representation matters, and kids (and students – even adults) all need to view the world around them as someone who can and will achieve greatness – while celebrating their beautiful differences.

We have a long way to go.

Urgency is essential.

Your voice is necessary.

We have to move the needle of intercultural competency forward (more Ken dolls for young boys, and more inclusive spaces for trans* kids). We have to be more passionate about seeing people who others can see in themselves (the entertainment and education industries must undergo a transformation). We have to support a culture where we are safe – bravely so – to name unjust, bias, and inequitable behavior (sexual assault and sexism, continued racism and police brutality, and the list goes on and on).

We have to do more than imagine the possibilities – we have to unearth them. The future is waiting, tiny humans are watching.



4 thoughts on “Barbie changed, and so should we.

  1. Michael – it all begins at the top. If results are going to change leadership has to change. Far too much of academia, entertainment, corporate board rooms are filled with male, pale, and stale leadership. There are still too many boys clubs.

    The other thing people don’t spend enough time talking about is that it’s hard for diverse people groups to infiltrate these clubs. The rules were written and are held by the middle-aged white guy. The standards, rules, norms – all need to change to get more inclusion.

    We have a LONG way to go here. Thank you for writing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the threads being drawn here: Oscars, education, Barbie, etc.

    As an educator of color, working in the halls of privileged, private institutions, I often think about the idea of representation. I know it my presence matters to the kids of color in my classroom. There are countless moments where I connect with them in a way that I know they haven’t with a teacher before. (Particularly true given how young my students are.) Their faces light up, eyes get bright, smiles stretch, like we’ve got a secret language going. Those moments feed my soul as much as it does theirs. But representation does different things for my white kids.

    I came to the realization early on in my career that I could very well be the only person of color many of my white students would encounter over the course of their day. For many of my white students, their time in my classroom would also be the first time that a person of color would be an authority figure in their lives. I realized that I didn’t really have a schema for that, which in turn got me thinking…what happens to those white kids who get to college and have a professor of color for the first time in their life? What’s it like to experience the intersection of race and authority that late in life?

    My point is this. Representation matters not just for those who are marginalized, but for those who are privileged as well. For my white students, having a teacher of color in Kindergarten starts building a schema for them, one that says that men of color can be nurturing, authority figures. So when they get to the hallowed halls of the Academy (of higher education or motion picture) they can say…”Where are the folks of color?”

    Liked by 2 people

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