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Dolls Like Me: Retailers see ‘holiday green’ in multicultural toys

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By Chris Levister –

Mylisa Knowles and her sister Kendra were disturbed by their 3, 6 and 9 year-old daughters playing with toys that didn’t reflect the diversity of the neighborhood around them – so much so that on Christmas 2 years ago they launched a doll drive and toy educational campaign to help parents looking for multicultural, ethnic or anti-racist dolls and toys. The campaign hit a raw nerve.

“There’s still a lot of disgust and frustration out there. We found that parents of children of color regularly scan shelves looking for culturally and ethnically sensitive toys often coming away insulted and empty handed,” says Mylisa.

To date the Knowles have collected thousands of new and used culturally sensitive toys including ethnic dolls, puppets, puzzles, multicultural Crayola crayons and books like author bell hooks “Happy to Be Nappy”, a positive message about brown girls with kinky-curly hair of all lengths.

“The reason little girls love dolls so much is that they are miniatures of themselves. Dolls are one of the first toys of identity and self expression,” said Kendra. “Children want their dolls to reflect who they are.”

The Knowles are gearing up to distribute the toys to low-income Inland Empire children like 6-year-old Natasha Williams who wrote a letter to The North Pole asking for the Princess Tiana doll. Anika Noni Rose Disney’s first-ever Black princess plays Tiana in the animated film “The Princess and the Frog”.

“At first I wanted “Belle” (the white heroine of “Beauty and the Beast”) but I changed my mind when I saw Princess Tiana. She’s pretty like Malia and Sasha Obama,” said Williams.

A 2008 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey found 86% of African-American parents, 73% of Hispanic parents and 52% of Asian parents felt, “it is important for children of color to have dolls that look like them.”

Bolstered by the success of Nickelodeon’s popular bilingual children’s character, Dora the Explorer, and the spending power of the nation’s growing minority population, toy retailers across the country are filling their shelves with dolls whose skin colors and facial features reflect the girls and boys who play with them.

Although Black and Hispanic dolls have been around for decades, doll designers and manufacturers are trying harder at authenticity, rather than simply tinting the hair and skin from “white” doll molds.

Discount retailer Kmart has been cashing in on a growing appetite for ethnic toys among minority consumers, and their rising spending power. In 2007 it launched its own initiative - dozens of multicultural dolls on shelves nationwide.

Although other retailers are stocking more multicultural dolls often in predominantly minority neighborhoods, Kmart claims it’s the first mass-market retailer to have such a wide selection available in every store.

Kmart stores sell nearly four dozen types of ethnic dolls a nearly fourfold increase from 2006. The dolls are flanked by an advertising campaign in the store’s circulars and designed to appeal to Black, Hispanic and Asian parents.

“We needed to be relevant to them,” said Philipp Elliott, a toy merchandise manager at Kmart, a subsidiary of Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Corp.

Becoming relevant to minority shoppers can reap big benefits. About one in three Americans is a minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 2006 and 2011, the spending power of the country’s Blacks, Asians, Native Americans and multiracial shoppers is expected to grow 38 percent, to $1.9 trillion.

Meanwhile Hispanic buying power alone is projected to grow a formidable 48 percent, to almost $1.2 trillion, according to data from The University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.

By 2050, minorities will account for half of U.S. residents, according to Census Bureau projections.

Kmart officials declined to release figures showing how much the chain has invested in the doll project, which includes brands such as Baby Abuelita and Mattel Inc.’s Rebelde dolls, as well as the newly designed proprietary Just Girlz collection. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman Melissa O’Brien said the chain’s Hispanic doll selection has more than tripled since 2007 while the total assortment of Black baby dolls has more than doubled.

All told, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has more than 70 varieties of ethnic dolls, but it doesn’t carry the full selection in every store. Instead, it often stocks many of them in neighborhoods where there are more minority shoppers.

Wayne, N.J.-based Toys “R” Us Inc., which follows a similar approach when stocking its more than 100 types of multicultural dolls, said its Hispanic selection has soared in the past two years along with smaller increases in the more established Black doll products.

“If you’re a little girl of color, you’ve got choices” said Denise Gary Robinson, president of DollsLikeMe.com, an online specialty doll boutique that specializes in ethnic dolls, toys and gifts. “I see companies now really putting forth the effort. I see designers going back to the drawing board and saying the old colored-plastic routine isn’t working.”

 

Public Ambivalent About Osama bin Laden Death

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By Eric Mayes, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

Officials with the local chapter of the Council on American Muslim Relations greeted the news of Osama bin Laden’s death with a relief shared by most Americans.

We’re proud of President Obama and of our Armed Forces for bringing justice to the world,” said Meoin Khawaja, executive director of the local group. “He’s attacked people all over the world.”

Bin Laden’s role — and that of all radical Muslims — in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks cast a shadow over all Muslims, Khawaja said.

“I’ll never forget that day 10 years ago when my country was attacked,” Khawaja said. “I’ll also never forget that my religion and that of over one billion people was tarnished in such a manner that Osama bin Laden became one of the most recognized Muslims in the world. Now, I’m confident that my fellow Americans know that Islam isn’t and never was bin Laden or his ideology, but like all religions is a path to peace and love.”

Spontaneous celebrations were reported in New York City and Washington D.C. The Phillies game was interrupted when the crowd broke into chants of “U.S.A.” and “Bye Bye Bin Laden” after news of his death in a U.S. raid was reported.

Individually, Philadelphians had varied reactions.

“Next they should go after Bush,” said William Payton. “You let his family out of the United States.”

Payton refused to be swept up in the euphoria reported across the nation.

“Show me some proof that he’s dead,” Payton said. “He might be; he might not be. I want to see some proof.”

Photos of a blood spattered Bin Laden were flashed across the globe in Monday morning’s papers. Reports from both CBS and ABC news said they were composite photos and that the White House had withheld real photos because of their gruesome nature.

“You can put anything in the paper,” said Payton.

Officials in Washington said they had DNA samples to prove that the al Qaida leader was in fact dead.

Others took officials at their word.

“Mr. Obama made a promise and he kept it,” said a woman who asked to be identified only by the initials D.E., adding that she was relieved by the news. “Now they will go after the rest of them and they will stop killing people.”

Like Payton, she suggested that bin Laden was not caught during the Bush administration because of personal or financial concerns.

“Why didn’t Bush get him a long time ago?” she asked rhetorically. “They were friends.”

Several Muslims declined to discuss the death.

“I don’t get into politics,” said a young man wearing a taqiyah and shalwar kameez, as he stood near the Clothes Pin across from City Hall with a woman in a full burqa. He declined to give his name.

Another man agreed.

“I’ll let God handle this,” the man said. He too refused to give his name. “He [bin Laden] never did anything to me.”

Others were glad that the terror leader was dead.

“I’m at peace,” said O. James. “Hopefully, all this comes to an end. I hope it brings peace.” Officials with the Department of Homeland Security and city police were on heightened alert following the news.

James said was concerned about the possibility of retaliation.

“You still have his followers out there,” she said.

Khawaja remained optimistic.

“It’s the long-term beginning of the end,” he said. “I really hope and feel that this is the beginning of the next 10 years, and that the next 10 years will be a winding down of terrorism.”

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or emayes@phillytrib.com.

Racist Letter Addressed to Black Students at Pennsylvania School

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

“Maybe if you niggers wernt (sic) in this school, west a (sic) might actually be a perfect school. So do us a favor and get the f… out you motherf… niggers!”

That is just part of a letter eight African-American students found on their seats—personally addressed—when they arrived for their first-period classes at West Allegheny High School in Imperial, April 15.

“It was a total surprise to me. I wasn’t so much scared as shocked,” said sophomore Lewis Walls. “I never expected anything like this to happen.”

Calls to the district for comment were not returned by New Pittsburgh Courier deadline.

Walls’ mother, Sheila Johns, contacted the Courier about the incident 10 days later, after growing frustrated with the lack of action by the school district.

“They’re saying it’s an isolated incident and they’re investigating, but they don’t know who did it,” she said. “Some parents think it could have been an adult because some of the spelling mistakes seem intentional, but we don’t know. A lot of us came out here to get away from the craziness in the city and to get a better education for our kids—and now we get this.”

Bonita Pannell’s daughter Tyler also received a letter, but Pannell, whose children have been in the West Allegheny District for several years, said this incident is just the latest in a long progression.

“My son is 27 now, and things like this were going on when he was still here,” she said. “There have been incidents of nasty texts, calling people names in the cafeteria and the principal keeps saying they are isolated incidents. But, if there are this many, how isolated can it be?”

Pannell said some think it could be related to a fight between a White girl and a Black girl the day before, which resulted in both being suspended. However, the White girl received 10 days for instigating the fight, twice as much time as the Black student.

“The principal said they are looking at security tapes, but how long does that take,” she said. “So we’ve gotten together and sent a certified letter to the principal and superintendent asking for a May 2 meeting with all the parents, before we take this to the school board May 11.”

Don Elvoid’s two sons also had letters addressed to them. Both were so angered by the incident that the vice principal asked her to take them out of the school for the rest of the day.

“I’d heard it stemmed from the fight too, but that’s just rumors,” she said. “I tell my boys to deal in facts, but right now we don’t have any. So, when we meet with the principal, we’re going to ask for some changes. Kids shouldn’t have to put up with this. Now that we’ve sent the letter, I expect a different tone.”

Walls agreed, he said one student in his class let loose a verbal assault laced racial epithets on another Black student in the cafeteria about a month earlier.

“He’d have been the obvious suspect for the letter, but it couldn’t have been him—he was suspended at the time,” Walls said. “I mean, two years ago, I was at a Catholic school that was racially balanced so I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I’d like it to stop. I don’t think I should have to go through this again, neither should anyone else.”

 

Brazile Urges Blacks to Support Obama, Protect Gains

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By Cash Michaels, Special to the NNPA from The Wilmington Journal –

The interim chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) says the nation, and specifically the African-American community, has to stick with President Barack Obama and the Democrats during these tough times to “keep the country safe and secure.”

But, in an exclusive taped interview Tuesday with the weekly radio program “Make it Happen” on Power 750 WAUG-AM/Power 750.com, top Washington insider and CNN/ABC commentator Donna Brazile also admitted that there have been times during the past two years when she didn’t necessarily agree with some of the president’s policies.

“Look, I haven’t always been pleased with the president of the United States,” the renowned Democratic Party strategist and interim DNC chair said. “I’ve had times when I’ve had to differ with the president. Whether it’s been the housing policies or the firing of [former USDA official] Shirley Sherrod, or just recently, giving the Republicans the opportunity [during the recent 2011 budget negotiations] to write their own narrowly-based social agenda on the [Washington] D.C. budget where I live, I’m not always in the cheerleading section.”

“Sometimes I’m on the sidelines, sometimes I like to be right there on the field getting a little dirty with the rest of them. But, the bottom-line is I’m proud to be a Democrat, I’m proud to be an American, [but] more importantly I’m proud to say that Barack Obama is my choice for president in 2012,” Brazile said.

It’s the kind of frank, pull-no-punches talk that Brazile, 51, is known. The first African-American ever to run a major political party’s bid for president when she took the reins of then Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, the Louisiana native has earned the title of Washington powerbroker, serving as DNC vice chair; managing her own D.C. consulting firm, hitting the talk and keynoter’s circuit at colleges and universities across the nation; and now chairing the Democratic National Committee until Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, is officially voted in, which is expected to happen shortly.

But right now, Brazile’s passion is supporting the president, and making sure that both he and the Democrats are successful in 2012.

“The country is still in the throes of a very critical economic downturn,” Brazile told WAUG-AM. “While we’ve seen 13 months of promising job growth, President Obama is committed to see that every American who is looking for a job will be able to find work in his/her hometown.”

Balancing spending cuts with “revenue attractions” in the midst of a slow economic recovery has to be a “balanced approach to getting our fiscal house in order,” Brazile maintains, countering the popular Republican mantra that America as “a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

The poor and middle-class have definitely been hurt during the recovery, so government must do all it can to make them whole, as much as possible, Brazile says, particularly through job growth.

Brazile says the president “is committed to make sure that the federal government lives within its means,” and will make well thought-out cuts to the budget where needed.

But Republicans, per their plan to drastically cut the federal budget through Medicare/Medicaid, education, affordable housing, and other vital programs, while simultaneously giving millionaires and billionaires generous tax cuts, threaten the government’s social safety net where it’s needed the most. The trend is already being seen in local and state governments across the nation, and Brazile says Americans must take note, and then take action.

Brazile also urges communities to support President Obama’s insistence on “winning the future” through investing more in education, and for individuals to improve their own educational opportunities to better prepare themselves for upcoming challenges and opportunities.

“If you’re living on the margins; if you’re living without the means to dip into your savings account, then the recession we’ve just experienced will have a devastating impact on communities of color,” Brazile says, maintaining that communities should not be “pitted against each other” in times of great struggle.

Racial Tension Taints Views on Health Reform

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By Charlene Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

According to findings by a national policy institute for race and economic justice, racial tensions in America undergird the debate over national health reform.

In a study titled, “The Role of Race in the Healthcare Debate,” researchers with the Greenlining Institute reported that Blacks, Latinos, and other people of color are more likely than Whites to support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In addition, the act is more likely to be opposed by Whites who are racially biased or show “racial resentment.”

“Racial resentment is a modern form of racism that developed in the post-civil rights era ... Negative attitudes towards Blacks can manifest themselves in an individual's political attitudes,” said Dr. Daniel Byrd, research director for the Greenlining Institute.

In analyzing data from the 2008- 2009 American National Election Survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Stanford University, Byrd, Carla Saporta and Rosa Martinez, Greenlining Health Program managers, accounted for variables like age, gender, education, income, political ideology, and whether or not those surveyed had health insurance. People harboring racial resentment argue Blacks lag behind in society because they don't work hard enough, not because of discrimination, Dr. Byrd told The Final Call.

This study is related to work by other researchers who argued since the president is Black, Americans were more sensitive to race and President Obama's association with issues and policies made debates and opinions more racialized, Dr. Byrd said.

The 2008-2009 American National Election Survey found 38.4 percent of Whites supported the healthcare law, compared to 78.6 percent of Blacks, 52.6 percent of Latinos and 43.6 of people from other racial groups.

During the summer of 2010, 44.3 percent of Americans favored the health care legislation compared to 35.8 percent who opposed it.

Its findings and Greenlining's report come at a time when non-Whites generally endure a greater likelihood of being without health insurance and suffer from racial health disparities in the U.S.

According to statistics highlighted in the “The Role of Race in the Healthcare Debate,” Blacks and Latinos are less likely to have a regular doctor when compared to Whites; American Indian/Alaska Native adults are more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with diabetes; while Black women are 10 percent less likely than White women to be diagnosed with breast cancer but are 36 percent more likely than White women to die from the disease.

On March 24, 2010, a day after President Barack Obama signed the health reform legislation, Minister Louis Farrakhan commented on the bitter controversy surrounding passage of the act. He described it as a “Pyrrhic victory.”

“I called it a Pyrrhic victory, because even though Mr. Obama won one of the greatest things of his young presidency, something that America has been desirous of for many, many decades, yet, at the same time of the victory, there's a splitting of the country,” Farrakhan said during an interview on the Cliff Kelly Show on 1690 AM-WVON.

“It was a victory in one sense, but great loss in another because you have 13 or 14 states desiring to repeal this law, and you have the vitriol, and the manifestation of hatred—because President Obama is viewed and is being demonized as a Socialist, and even as a Hitler,” Farrakhan said.

In a videotaped message posted on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighted the act's progress a year later. Many revisions have yet to go into effect, but the changes have already granted Americans new protections, greater freedoms, and lower costs, she said.

“Thanks to a Patient's Bill of Rights, insurers are prohibited from turning away children because of their pre-existing health conditions and families in new plans have access to free, recommended preventive care. Beneficiaries with Medicare now have the freedom to get preventive care screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies for free,” Secretary Sebelius continued.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, other benefits that have taken effect are 50 percent discounts on brand-name drugs for seniors on Medicare and tax credits for small businesses that provide insurance to employees.

Still, data says racial resentment, even among America's younger generation, is at the forefront of the movement to defund the health care bill, Byrd said. People born into political systems develop their political attitudes in childhood and those predispositions become lasting, he noted.

“The things that are going on now, efforts to defund the healthcare bill, will disproportionately effect communities of color ... Are they going to stop its implementation? We'll have to see how this shapes up and what happens next,” Byrd said.

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