American Girl, keep giving us Dolls of Color for Girls of the Year.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

AG Complaint Department: Racial Diversity in Collections and How It Doesn't Happen

More diversity in a group of three modern dolls than in some people's collections of thirty-plus.
As I've said, I have twenty five American Girl dolls. (Or 25 dolls roughly in that generic AG size. Three are from other brands but I don't give a damn that they are.) It's not the largest collection I've seen, but it's a pretty good size.

And somehow, in those twenty-five dolls, I've managed to have a gang of girls that has more diversity than most collections I saw on boards before my unfortunate bannings. Hell, I had a diverse collection back when I only had a max of six dolls by year's end. And yet some people either can't or won't figure out a decent diversity to their collection, and it really drives me up the damn wall. 

I realize that to some people, all dolls look alike. And a lot of the AG dolls do look alike, as there have only been eight face molds across a whole gaggle of dolls. Still, there is something grossly unnerving about seeing a so called "diverse" collection of more than ten or more dolls which is full of pale skinned Classic Mold1 faces. There might be an Addy, Josefina, Kaya, Cécile, or Ivy if they're a historical person; modern girl # 26 (who is Ambiguously Brown), #4 (who was the token Asian before she was discontinued), or Kanani, Jess, Sonali, and/or Marisol because they're LE but only one of them. It can get even creepier, when all the white girls are blond and/or blue eyed. It screams out "I am a White person, in a majority White Fandom, and the idea of a doll browner than undercooked oatmeal makes me nervous. Blonds are best! White girls or no one!"

The average diversity of most AG collections. And collectors.
Part of this is because the AG fandom, as it was when I left/was unceremoniously ejected from the majority of it back in 2008, was full of White women and White girls. (To be a touch more precise, overwhelmingly white Christian-identifying females in fairly high income levels.) Even now, when I occasionally get the stomach to scan a blog or board that isn't my AG comm home turf over at AG > 18, I still see a span of White dolls. White people tend to stick to their own kind--in life, in families, in gated neighborhoods and in doll collecting. It doesn't help that there aren't many Dolls of Color to pick from in the Historical Line, the modern line, or the LE line. (Still waiting on my Black LE, AG, and I'm likely not buying any dolls direct until you do. Only DoC from me, AG.) At one point AG had two long haired blue eyed blonds. Even with the parts on the same side. And the only quick difference was that #27 had non removable earrings and slightly darker blue eyes. Since anyone can get ear-janked now, her earrings were later removed.

Now I started with Addy, who had to hold down the Black Peoples Historical Fort from 1993 to 2011 until Cécile came about. By the end of 2006, I had six dolls--and less than half were white dolls.

This was the 2006 Giftmas Gang--and still more diverse than most collections are now.
Even now out of twenty-five girls, very few are white. Six of my Historicals (Felicity, Kit, Beth Cady--a Gotz--and Dorothy, Charlotte, and Elizabeth--created, though Lisbeth is from Felicity's books) and three across five Moddie dolls (Otters and Laylie are 1/4th white, Naomi is 1/2, and Abbi and Tara are both fully white.2) This is likely because I tend to lean towards Dolls of Color in all my collections, being a woman of color myself.

However, before I see the common justification of people just sticking to what is comfortable and white people just being the majority in society and people sticking to what's easy, let me point out something. In this day and age, we still have young girls of color who think that white dolls are better, or white people are better, and who don't love themselves or see themselves reflected in society. There are children who have only been given white dolls. Same with white girls, whose parents discourage brown dolls. We live in a racially unequal society still, and this shit does not happen in a vacuum. A fully white mapped collection with only spots of color isn't just out of casual preference. It is a reflection of the racial inequality in the world. Yes, even in something as small as the dolls people pick and show and buy. I at least commend AG on showing their dolls in stores in varying outfits, but when I see a gaggle of white dolls online as someone's collection, I sort of bristle.It just shows another aspect of society claiming diversity and then not having the actions to back it up.

Then there's the nasty aspect that more than an "acceptable" number of a social minority is overwhelming. Much like in a group of equal men and women, men feel outnumbered? An equal balance of whites and PoC makes whites feel outnumbered, like there's too many brown folk around. (Note the freak outs that white people are having feeling outnumbered in states like Texas, now that 38% of the population ID as Latino.) I once saw a collector--who luckily I've had the joy of not seeing in years--who said that the brown dolls offered were more than enough, and that adding any more would be forced diversity--and furthermore, the line needed to be balanced out with all the variations of blond, because that was true diversity.

I may have seen fire.

I wish white girls and white adults would stop being scared by brown dolls, or only having tokens in collections. Stop having just white girls in your groups. Go out and add a brown girl to the line up that isn't an LE, and treat her right. However, don't be racist. That never helps at all.

But that's another Complaint Department. Only one topic at a time. 


1 The Classic Mold is the first one AG ever came out with; it pretty much maps as white girl, though there have been medium variants. Naomi and Felicity up there are Classic Molds.
2 Kanani around here is not half white. I have a lot to say about that next time.


  1. Your entry seems to call for discussion, and I've been sitting here for what seems like hours with my fingers poised over the keyboard...but I couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't sound like I was blindly paying lip service to the Diversity Principle, or begging for the Nethilia Seal of Approval, which I am not. BUT, just for the record:

    I willingly plead guilty to the charges of being white, female, and Christian, but not to the charge of being-well-to-do. (I'm on a fixed income, and must save carefully for my dolly purchases.) For that reason, I only have seven dolls so far: Addy, Julie, Emily, #11, #47, #30, and Saige. I bought each of them for one reason and one reason only: because I fell in love with each one of them, and had to bring them home. Unlike the majority of AG collectors you talk about, I am quite capable of falling in love with dolls of all colors--have done it in the past, and will do it again, whenever I can afford to.

    Why am I telling you all this? I guess it's to point out that even though the AG world may be 99.9999999999999999% as bland and same-same as you say it is, there's always that other fraction of 1%....

    Anyway...your posts online have given me a lot of food for thought. Sometimes, it's food laced with pure capsaicin, that leaves my eyes watering for hours, but I'm not afraid of that, and I thank you for making me think.

  2. I remember when I got my first American Girl doll Kaya, sitting in a room with a bunch of white Christian girls with white dolls for a doll party. One of my 'friends' at the time had five siblings but through the magic of white people had four dolls. Another thing that disappoints me though is how American Girl dolls have become a class based thing with the high price they cost, when the price of production can't be near that much. People can make dolls like this, buy wigs and eyes, and spun vinyl is not an expensive process, not enough to warrant 110$.

  3. I read this blog post last night, and it made me think about alot of things. I often feel like alot of doll lines, tends to make only 1 character to represent her race. As a white girl it saddens me, to see that its allways the blue eyed girl with straight blonde hair. I whant to see diversity in all its forms, I wanna see all shades of skin color, hair color and eye color. I remember that as a child, I missed having more diversity amoungst my dolls. But it seemed like, it was only the blonde barbies we could find.

    You blog really made an impact on me, because last night I had a dream about this issue. I was dreaming that I had a beautifull daughter, with light brown skin and slightly wavy black hair. I had bought her a blonde doll from a doll line, and I regretted this verry much. I whanted to give her a doll that looked like her, the blonde doll allso looked verry boring. The AA girl from the line didnt look much like my daughter, because of her verry dark skin and dark brown afro. But then I found, the asien doll from the line. Her skin color was a little lighter than my daughters, but her hair was PERFECT and she was beautiful. I bought the doll, and thought to myselvf that my special girl would be verry happy. When I gave her the doll she became overly happy :)

    I know its alot og rambling but I hope you get what im trying to say.

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  5. It's interesting that I found this because, as a white woman, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how I view race and how that affects my daily interactions.

    I buy dolls because I connect with them. Josefina was always my favorite. Raised by a single mother, I was interested in how she dealt with her mother's death, since mom's death seemed like the worst thing in the world. That was my first doll, and she was still my favorite.

    I buy the dolls after I have read the books, usually because of an imminent retirement. The next doll I buy for myself (assuming AG doesn't announce any other retirements) will be Addy, because her story made me cry. It is the only one that ever did. The fact that she had to leave her sister behind made me so depressed.

    But I think people like to have dolls that look like them, and I think that's normal. We just need to teach young girls that identifying with something goes beyond looks. Frankly, I doubt I would have considered Addy if I hadn't read the books. She doesn't look anything like me, and maybe I'm too small minded to see past that. But reading the book made me rethink my stance.

    Thanks for the insightful article. It's good to hear how other people view issues of race, since white people are often free from having to think about it at all.

    P.S. Did you ever see that video of black girls saying the white dolls were better?

  6. Sometimes I wonder if I'm weird. I'm white, of German-Irish extraction (with a whole bunch of other European smatterings) and I've always been more drawn to dolls of color than white dolls. White dolls just look kinda boring to me. There are a couple of white AG dolls that I like, but my wish list of dolls only contains one (and technically Rebecca is Jewish so is still considered a minority). The others I want are Josefina, Cecile, and Sonali. In the My AG line, if I were ever to have enough money to branch out into them the ones I like best are F1263 (would that just be 63 for short?) and F1235 (who I would make into a Claudia Kishi.) I don't really know where this comes from because I grew up in the most white-bread of white-bread towns. My high school class of 450ish kids had precisely two black kids. But I was never raised to believe that "white is right" or anything ridiculous like that and I've always been disgusted by racism. I wish my town and school had been more diverse. Maybe that's why I want diverse dolls around - to make up for their absence during my formative years?

    1. You're not weird. I'm white and I feel the same.

  7. Well, my little daughter, who actually takes very good care of dolls and toys in general, is getting her first ag. A made over Molly. (I spent a whole 2.00 on her at Goodwill.) I rewigged her chopped off mess of hair and bright the total to 32.00. She is blonde, but I made her to look like my little girl, who has blonde hair and gray/blue eyes. I don't think that's a bad thing! I do wish there were more diversity in the dolls though. Not everyone has white skin/pale skin/blonde hair! (Yes, that's Julia in my profile picture from a few years back)

  8. You should see some of the hubbub at other online forums. The fact that "My daughter has blonde hair and green eyes and she needs to be properly represented" as being a good reason that we have yet another blonde. Then the whole "I am tired of the blonde hate/discrimination." All of this in a thread that was mostly lamenting the lost opportunity to at least have a non-caucasian doll. Oh and the complaints about how whether McKenna classified as blond or brunette... It's nice that people who are of mainly European ancestry can complain about not having the correct eye color and hair color combination available in just one doll, yet they expect people who are Japanese/Chinese/Korean... to be ok with 1 face mold, 1 eye color, and 2 different lengths of dark hair. Latinos can be happy with Josefina if they want a Historical or a MyAG if they don't care -but still would have to rewig and most likely eyeswap, and African Americans have to settle with the idea that even though we have a Black president there is no Black Girl of the Year doll. But hey, thats all ok because we have 10+variations of blonde and dif. eye color combinations and really, that is all that matters. >.<

  9. I love diverse collections- and although only 5/16 of my dolls are not caucasian, I am hoping to add Ivy, #26, #58, and #30 soon.

  10. Wow! I do really love your blog! I am an adult (19) who just began collecting again and found your incredible. And while I have chosen to focus on some of the retired historicals and Girls of the Year, I cannot wait until I reach my initial goal and add more dolls of color to my collection. So far I have Cecile and she is definitely my favorite. I admire the diversity in your collection and your very refreshing stance on the many problems within the American Girl fandom. I also agree that they need a girl of the year of color. Marisol pretty much put the line on the map, I was ten at the time and I was thisclose to getting her, but then the pretty historicals swayed my attention. I am so thankful to find your blog as I was so sick of finding videos on Youtube of collections of 30+ dolls with MAYBE one or two of color thrown in.

  11. Love your blog. I collect for me and my girls. I started getting frustrated when Kanani came out, looking absolutely nothing like a true Polynesian or Hawaiian. She should have had darker skin (she is almost white), hair, and eyes, and her features should have looked different as well. I love her long, wavy hair, but the length and wave is about the only thing on this doll that is truly Polynesian. Isabelle is my least favorite. I hope we see something change with the "new" line coming out in the fall. Our collection is about half ethnically diverse dolls and half not. I doubt that they will ever make a doll as beautiful as Lupita Nyong'o. Wouldn't it be great if that was next year's GOTY?

  12. Firstly, I would just like to say how much I enjoy reading many of the posts on your blog :-) . But reading this post, I felt slightly insulted. After all, one can't control it if they are born white or into a wealthy/religious family, all of which are true for me. Secondly, it just strikes me as odd that it offends you to see a collection of only white dolls. After all, many people don't buy girls of color because they are afraid of their textured/ curly hair or because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I love my Addy and #26; they are my favorite dolls. I agree that it was a little bit "off" for american girl's first batch of dolls to be all Anglo-Saxons, but I guess that's just how it is. I agree that american girl displayed little diversity until recent years, however, there is no law commanding all doll-making companies to make dolls to represent all races. I suppose American Girl didn't have to make any dolls of color at all. But they have, so I guess we'll just have to wait for our negro Girl of the Year.

    1. Bloo hoo hoo. No one can help being born white. But they can help feeding into white supremacy and continuing to let it go unchecked. It damn well offends me for multiple reasons. Doll choices aren't made in a vacuum. It is a subtle style of racism to only seek or desire white dolls and think that this is just as balanced a choice as having a diverse group.

      Go read my AGDoCGotY post and learn something.

  13. I'm a redheaded white girl (well woman) and my favorite is Josefina. I grew up 15 minutes from the Mexico border down in San Diego, all my friends were Hispanic and I participated in many celebrations for Mexican Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo (which is a pseudo-holiday but whatever, it gives me an excuse to eat more tamales). My Josefina is spoiled with a four room custom display, and all my other (white) dolls have been sold off because they could not hold a candle to my lovely Josefina.

    So sadly my collection is not diverse at all.

  14. I can't tell you how many times I've seen little lily-white girls go to Kaya or Addy or Josefina (or Cecile and Ivy when they were around) and mom and dad told them no. Josefina always goes to the store with me and her beauty has encouraged more than one white mom to look more closely at the non-white dolls because Fina's beauty attracts all eyes.


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