What color is a lego person?

“I think we’re going to have to accept fleshtone minim-figs.”

So spoke my lovely and sensitive wife.  This decision is a hard one for us.

Background information:

In the beginning, there was a toy maker named lego.  He made his toys out of wooden blocks just like everybody else.  Then his son came of age and said:

“Dad, I’ve seen the future, and it is PLASTIC.”

Originally lego only made bricks, and told you to use your imagination and build things.  Then came the logic that since kids were building houses they should provide people for the houses.  So they made some people using pre-existing blocks.

a happy familyThese figures were too large to fit well into the houses that are practical to build with most lego sets.  So the redesigned them to fit better and we got this:

And 2 short years later in 1976 we got this:


the first minifig was a cop

note the sticker on the chest

And this has been the specs of a lego minifigure (from now on mini-fig) ever since. It’s important to note that yellow skin is part of this standard.

ahhh nostalgia

Lego has stated that they deliberately chose the not-a-real-skin-color-yellow so that children at play could project their own races on the mini-figs, and I bought into this. And these simple smiling figures were what I grew up with, and have since been integrated into my son’s lego collection (which is so vast compared to what I had as to be completely ludicrous).

I was completely unaware of the earlier figures… and this:

check out the injuns!

if not racist, definitely not raceless.  Though the papoose is kinda awesome.

So I was completely onboard with the raceless vision of lego mini-figs.  Largely genderless as well.  Then in 1986 they released a series of pirate legos”


I totally love the drawn on bust/hips/waist that they gave the females.  It reminds me of the drawn on abs in the movie 300.  Since then pirates also came out with special “peg leg” pieces and hooks for hands.  This was all awesome in my book.  There was an awesome castle that came out when I was little that was way too expensive for me to even consider.  It came with some evil knights to defend the black castle and 4 bright colored knights on horseback to defeat it.  And the faces were key to knowing who was good and who was bad.  I bought it off ebay for Alaric… yeah for Alaric, that’s the ticket.

in 1996 when I was too old to pay attention to legos they came out with a cowboy and indian series.  Their skin was still yellow, but the raceless argument lost some of it’s teeth.  And then in a controversy so large I heard about it in 2001 they released an NBA series.  Since these figures were meant to represent real people they decided the yellow skin was a bit silly and we got this:

also note they use of color on the face (teeth/eyes)

Overlapping with these racial developments was the beginning of licensed movies with lego starting with 1999 and the Starwars series (timed with the phantom menace hype).  This was a powerful nexus of nerdom and it’s power could not be denied.  After releasing several sets people began to ask “where’s Lando Calrissian?”  Lego’s response was “We’d love to, but we don’t know how to make a mini-fig that looks like him without making him darker.  That would imply that all the yellow mini-figs are caucasian.”   So they found themselves caught between a racist rock and a raceless hardplace.  In 2003 they released the cloud city set:

Does yellow = white?

Which was later re-released with no yellow pieces and fleshtones all around.

Lego’s new policy is that if the mini-fig is in a liscenced set and based on a real actor they would copy the actors flesh-tone, but in all their generic sets they would still keep their trademark yellow racelessness.

So we’ve been throwing away flesh colored heads and hands for a while now to maintain our raceless purity.  We then order some separate yellow heads and hands to fill the set back out.  Depending on the cut of the shirt you may or may not be able to use a body. We recently purchased Jack Sparrow’s hair separate from any set through bricklink.  And with the LOTR sets coming out Stanna is proposing that we’ve held onto this idea beyond it’s time.  Is our quest for a raceless world really just hiding all the other races out of sight as we assume all our yellow’s are actually white?  Was the yellow skin a farce all along?


3 thoughts on “What color is a lego person?

  1. Ridiculous as it may seem, this is the first thing I’ve written that took any research in 15 years or so. It took forever and gave me writer’s block.
    I need to ask what’s the point here?
    On the one-hand, I feel like I obviously need the practice since this was so hard. I know it should-be/ will-get easier.
    On the other-hand, If I’m mostly doing this for my own satisfaction, should it feel like work? Should I only write what’s fun?
    On the gripping-hand, If it jams me up from generating new content I it’s probably not worth the trade-off of improving my writing.

    • I’m gonna side with your one hand. It’s not like you need to research for every piece you write, after all. Writing only what’s fun (or easy) always sounds like a good idea, but it cuts out a huge chunk of topics that are worth writing about. Or, by extension, conversing or debating about, which also require some level of research.
      So tell your gripping hand to stop finding excuses for being lazy!

      I think your head-and-hand substituting is more along the “we’re all red on the inside” racial philosophy. Of course, like the above writing comment, that does ignore a real and important part of life.

      Really, you should start dying random lego people blue or orange (or puce) ;-)

      PS oh, and most of the pictures don’t show, not sure what’s up with that.

  2. Pingback: Boiler tuning and Shadman adrift | Shadman The Wonderguy

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