• 1. The NBA minifigures were not LEGO’s first attempt at representing race via different colors of plastic. The Red Indians set of 1977 (set #215) contains four “Homemaker”-style figures representing native Americans, along with a canoe (Homemaker was an earlier line of larger LEGO figures with brick-built bodies and molded heads, hands, and arms). The four figures in the Red Indians set have heads and hands molded in bright red plastic.
  • 2. Within LEGO fandom, the word “fleshie” has become a technical term for those minifigures molded in the various shades of pink and peach meant to represent Caucasians (and occasionally other non-black races) in the worlds of licensed LEGO sets. This usage is problematic, since minifigures molded in the standard LEGO brown, representing black characters, are equally “flesh-toned.” Thus, in what follows, I will use the term “flesh-toned” rather than “fleshie,” which should be understood to include not only pink/peach “fleshies” but also figures molded in brown plastic, and meant to represent black characters.
  • 3. For a detailed discussion on the philosophy of race, the reader is encouraged to consult Michael James, “Race,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2016. Available at (accessed February 26, 2017).
  • 4. Ali Rattansi, A Very Short Introduction to Race (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Anthony Appiah, “Race, Culture, Identity: Misunderstood Connections,” in Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, eds., Color Conscious (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).
  • 7. Naomi Zach, Philosophy of Science and Race (London: Routledge, 2002).
  • 8. It is worth noting that the all-yellow world of non-licensed LEGO sets, where there are no races, is not necessarily a world of boring homogeneity. Rather, by not imposing rigid, pre-constructed racial identities and differences on minifigures (or real people), such a world leaves open the possibility (imaginatively in the case of LEGO minifigures) of unscripted idiosyncratic difference - the possibility that individuals can craft their own identities and differences.
  • 9. Michael Root, “How We Divide the World,” Philosophy of Science 67 supplement (2000), S62-S639.
  • 10. Available at school-wednesday-racial-justice.html (accessed April 15, 2016).
  • 11. Toyoshima takes some liberties with the Kobe Bryant minifigure, combining the purple jersey from the home uniform figure (set #3433) and the yellow legs from the away uniform figure (set #3563). The latter figure also illustrates another practical reason for abandoning the traditional yellow head in licensed sets, since some licensed figures require yellow clothing that might read as ‘naked’ when combined with yellow hands and head.
  • 12. By the time flesh-colored NBA minifigures were introduced, LEGO had effectively abandoned the idea that yellow minifigures were racially and ethnically neutral, since they had replaced the single iconic “smiley” with a range of different faces, some of which were racially and ethnically stereotyped. At the same time minifigure heads also ceased to be gender neutral, as heads with explicitly feminine features (eye shadow, lipstick) began to appear.
  • 13. Interestingly, “Seven Smiley Samurai” was nominated (but did not win) the Best Humor Category at Brickworld 2016. It was not built with the intention of being humorous, but apparently was inadvertently chuckle- inducing. I am not sure what this means, exactly, with respect to the issues discussed here.
  • 14. It is perhaps worth noting that LEGO does make minifigure heads with explicitly “Asian” facial features, in both yellow (for example, the Blue Shogun in set #6083 Samurai Stronghold) and flesh-toned (for example, Short Round in set #7199 The Temple of Doom).
  • 15. This essay is deeply indebted to participants in the “LEGO and Race” roundtable at Brickworld 2016.
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