Judy Ragagli, Christie Barbie, Oil on Canvas, 36" x 30."
February 1st of each year marks the beginning of Black History Month. In honor of Black History Month, I want to celebrate Christie, one of the first African American Barbies.
We celebrate Black History Month to recognize the sacrifices, contributions, and achievements of African Americans to the United States and the world. Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month, first originated as Negro History Week in 1926. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian is credited with the creation of Negro History Week. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birth dates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month. He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
During the civil rights movement, 1968 welcomed Christie into the Mattel family, Barbie's first African American friend. Barbie was not afraid of transformation. Her malleability allowed her to act as a representation of the adult universe and Christie opened the door to a new generation of diversity for Barbie, once again blurring the lines between youth culture, current events, fashion, and fine art.
Christie is an important figure in the Black Power movement, appearing the same year as the black-gloved salute by John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the Olympics and the year before TVs Julia appeared. When Christie first appeared on the doll market, she made the bold, undeniable statement that an ebony-skinned doll can be strikingly beautiful too. Unlike her predecessors and contemporaries, Christie was sophisticated, savvy, and stylish. Like Barbie, Christie broke stereotypes and became a standard-bearer who permanently altered the American media's multi-ethnic definition of beauty.
Although Barbie has been criticized for her unattainable, unrealistic facial features and body dimensions, she has tirelessly served as a positive role model for young women. She's done so much to break the mold of rigid, traditional, expectations for young girls growing up in the second half of the Twentieth Century and the 21st Century.
Unlike so many of her doll peers, Barbie has always been smart, sassy, and stylish. She's remained independent and single and has forged a path to become a larger-than-life figure who is prominent in books, magazines, and the media. She's beaten the tremendous odds and now stands alone at the top of her field. We're all better off because of the tremendous leadership she has demonstrated over and over. To this day, American eyes of all backgrounds are focusing on Barbie's vibrant legacy and contributions to American integration, culture, women's history, and Black History Month.