A disturbing scene unfolded while Riptide was waiting on line at Target on Wednesday night. A woman later identified as Ketrina Brown came to the cashier with two boxed dolls: Baby Alive, the creepily animatronic doll that "digests". They were exactly the same dolls, except one was black and the other one was white.
They were both priced on clearance, on sale from $44.99. But the white doll cost $22.48, and the black doll cost $31.48.
Brown was none too happy about this. "Let me ask you something," she said loudly after having the cashier check the price. "Why are these two dolls, that do exactly the same things and the only difference between them is a paint job, priced ten dollars differently?"
Not a bad question. We already know Baby Alive eats, burps, urinates, and sometimes poops. But is Baby also subtly racist? That seems a bit too life-like.
That Target's "Leader on Duty", who, citing corporate policy, gave her name only as Elise, looked like she would rather be leading a Dunkin' Donuts when she was dragged to the scene. She said that the prices are set by corporate headquarters, and speculated that the white doll was cheaper because it was discontinued by Hasbro.
She even offered, speaking to Brown, who is African-American, that "most people are happy to hear that their doll isn't being discontinued."
Jones just grew more and more disconsolate. "When is this sort of thing going to stop, man?" she asked Riptide, who had identified ourselves as the press. "I feel sick right now."
She did try to solve the situation one last time, asking Elise: "Let me just make sure. There's no way I can buy this doll" -- pointing at the black one -- "for the same price as this one?" -- pointing at the white one.
The response: "No."
The next morning, the new Leader on Duty, Kelly, gave a nod of agreement to her colleague's steadfastness. "Different items go clearance at different times," she said, as if fathoming a great mystery. "Maybe the first doll was an older model than the other one. We can't control the pricing. That's all controlled by headquarters."
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So we called headquarters, and eventually received an e-mail with a statement from Target spokersperson Tara Schlosser. The e-mail's subject line was "multicultural dolls":
At Target, we are dedicated to offering exceptional prices on items throughout our stores. While we can't go into great detail on Target's pricing strategies, items are put on clearance based on their popularity and sales. The price of individual items is not at the discretion of our Store Team Leaders.
Wait, did they really try to turn a racist-doll-price story into an ad for "exceptional prices"? Are they trying to lose to Wal-Mart?