Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Child's Play?: Religious Toys and Race

Mara Einstein over at Brands of Faith (in light of this post be sure to pick up her forthcoming book) posts about Bible toys at Wal-Mart. In collaboration with the religious toy company one2believe, next month Wal-Mart begins selling Bible characters -- Jesus, Mary, Paul, Peter, Esther, and David, just to name a few.

Interesting as well are the company's P31 dolls, toys (according to its website) "based on the biblical teaching of Proverbs 31...specifically designed to provide a Bible-based, Christian alternative to other secular toys on the market, and to encourage young girls to pursue biblical womanhood....It is our prayer that the Lord would use these dolls as a means to encourage the girls of today to become Proverbs 31 women of tomorrow!" Included with the toys are Bible lessons, an accessory kit, recipies, and cookie cutters, tools that suggest the company supports domestic teaching and learning for P31 women. Of the four P31 dolls currently available, "Leah" is an African American doll, while the others are clearly white.

From the vantage point of religious goods in the spiritual marketplace, these toys are simply the latest example of trends and products religion scholars Colleen McDannell and Heather Hendershot carefully write about here and here.

From another perspective, these products display another sad example of the association of whiteness with godliness, and the depiction of biblical characters as Euro-Americans. American religion and capitalism work in sinister collusion yet again. No doubt the company sees these toys as evangelistic tools, but I wonder if parents who purchase these products will realize the connections these toys suggest, and the psychological associations their kids will invariably make playing with these figures, in many cases subtly and powerfully reinforcing racial codes of white supremacy?

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