So, Mattel is releasing a Baiana edition of the famous Barbie doll collection. This is good news, right? Well, depends on where you live. First of all, for those who don’t know, Baiana (Bahian in English) is the term for a woman from the northeastern state of Bahia.
Baiana also refers to the “baiana do acarajé (baiana of the acarajé)”, which is a woman one sees in the streets of cities like Salvador, Bahia, selling acarajé, the famous fried fritters stuffed with shrimp and vatapá sauce.
Acarajé, shrimp, etc.
The women are usually of African descent and dressed in long, flowing white dresses, head wrap and necklaces. These women have long been representatives of Bahia’s majority black, African-influenced culture for centuries and have been the focus of countless anthropological studies dealing with cuisine, culture and African derived religions.
The Baiana was honored in a famous song by singer-songwriter Dorival Caymmi, also from Bahia, in his famous 1938 classic song, “O que é que a baiana tem (What is it That the Baiana Has)?”
This is how the release of the Barbie Baiana is being reported:
The toy giant Mattel, maker of Barbie, releases version Bahia doll banking on growth in the domestic market. For $29.95 (worth about R$60 in Brazilian reais), Barbie Baiana (the doll is called Brazil Barbie by the company) is already on sale overseas. In Brazil, the doll will hit retail stores sometime in September (some sources say October) at a suggested price of R$150 (US$75).
Wearing a white lace, beads and colored coconut sweets with a tray in hand, the new Barbie is part of the “Dolls of the World” collection. Part of an edition created especially for collectors, Barbie Baiana reinforces the line of dolls representing different countries around the world launched annually.
This is not the first time the manufacturer will release a Barbie with Brazilian influences. The first doll, manufactured in 1990, was called Brazillian Barbie and wore Carnaval clothes. The other doll was called Amazônia Barbie (2009) and was inspired by the beauty of the rainforest and indigenous tribes.
The “Dolls of the World” collection has 82 dolls, divided into categories such as, Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Australia, Europe, Festivals, Princesses and Icons of Cities, created especially for collectors.
According to the Barbie Collector site, the first doll of this line was launched in 1980 and was called Royal UK Barbie and was dressed like a queen. In the same year were launched the Parisian Barbie and Italian Barbie. In 2012 alone there have already been in ten dolls released in Irish, Chinese, Australian, Argentinean, Mexican, Indian, Dutch, Chilean, Brazilian and Hawaiian versions.
So in a Brazil where black girls and black children in general lack role models because theBrazilian media insists on filling its TV screens with persons who look as ifthey came straight from Europe rather than what the majority of Brazil’s population actually looks like, the release of a black Barbie Baiana should be good news, right? Well, as I said, it depends on where you live. The doll will sell for a retail price of about $30 in the US and many other countries, but in Brazil, the country from where the doll gets its Baiana look, it will sell for a whopping R$150. That’s 150 Brazilian reais which is worth about US$75.
This is outrageous!
As we have reported on this blog previously, the demand for black dolls is huge in Brazil, so on the one hand, this is a good thing. But, on the other hand, how is it that this doll is being sold on the US market where folks earn an average of about $40,000-$50,000 per year (which is worth R$80,000-100,000 Brazilian reais) for $30 where the doll has absolutely no cultural significance, but in the country that influenced the doll’s making and where many Afro-Brazilian parents crave images in which their children can see themselves and where these black parents, particularly in northeast Brazil, earn about $600-$800 per month (that’s US$300-$400), the doll is being sold for $150 reais (US$75)? In other words, using the lowest average income, an American can buy this doll for less than 1% of their monthly income, while a black Brazilian has to spend about 1/4th or 25% of their monthly income.
Is this another example of a US company nibbling off of the culture of an “exotic” country and selling it to its US consumers for dirt cheap while selling it back to the “natives” it borrowed it from for a fortune? Hmmm….Reminds me of a popular song title: Something Just Ain’t Right!