First shop exclusively selling black dolls opens in Brazil


Brazil, a country whose population is more than 50 percent black and mixed race, and which has problems with racism, now boasts its first shop exclusively selling black dolls to promote diversity and educate the public.

The goal of the store is to strive for social transformation using a toy as emblematic and traditional as a doll and drawing on black history.

Jaciana Melquiades, inspired by her race and the suffering of ancestors who fought for freedom and equality, decided to create a business that would have a social impact and help low-income families in the area.

The process has not been easy and the expectations were high, but the project grew wings and took off without knowing what the destination would be.

Despite the uncertainty, the early results appear promising, with the store, which opened last weekend, selling out its 30-day inventory in 90 minutes.

Era Uma Vez o Mundo is located in downtown Rio’s Saara market, one of the busiest commercial areas in the city.

The simple store was designed to fulfill a dream, which is to promote equality and be a place where black children can feel comfortable with their identity.

Some people, however, have criticized the venture, saying the store itself is “racist” and instead of advancing the goal of equality promotes discrimination by “blacks against whites.”

The criticism “is completely wrong and far from the truth,” Melquiades, a 35-year-old who was never able to play with a black doll as a child due to the lack of such toys, told EFE.

Melquiades said the experience had an impact on her life that she felt until she was attending a university and studying history.

As a student, she taught a workshop for doctors, helping them understand the situation and conditions of black people so that they could provide better health care.

Melquiades said she saw how strong discrimination was among adults and realized that the problem had to be fixed at the root - during childhood, marking the beginning of her project.

She began holding an awareness program at schools and found an opportunity for a venture with dolls.

“I started creating things for the workshops, that I would use for my work in the university and the city. I started selling without expecting much, only by order. In 2013, I set up a website to sell the products online. In 2017, I decided to focus on the project as a full-time job,” she said.

Melquiades said the physical store came into existence a few months later, after a long list of doors shut in her face “because no one would approve a loan for a black woman with no credit history.”

Melquiades is a thin woman of average height with a gaze that overflows with hope and a smile that is impossible to say no to.

She was born and raised in Baixada Fluminense, a depressed area in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, where violence and poverty are part of the daily experience.

Melquiades wants kids to be aware of their race and culture when they look at one of the dolls she sells.

The dolls were inspired by the history of Brazil and the main character is Dandara, a heroine who fought for equality and freedom.

Melquiades’s story is one of the many battles people have fought against racism in Brazil.

In 2001, Congress approved a resolution calling on toy manufacturers to make more black dolls; however, the numbers have not improved.

A study by the non-governmental organization Avante found that only 7 percent of the dolls made in Brazil in 2018 were black, up by just 4 percent from 2016, when the group had conducted its previous study.

Although the figures are low, Melquiades said it meant that production has “doubled! A great achievement and an invitation to move forward.”

By Maria Angelica Troncoso.