The latest American Girl catalog arrived on our doorstep the other day; but before handing it over to my tri-racial daughter (black, Hispanic, and white), I snuck a peek at the pages of its extensive collection of dolls and accessories that sells the American dream of girl power and racial harmony.
On their cover was yet another white girl posing as exotic; this one featured “Aloha Kanani” the Girl of the year for 2011. Apparently the company thinks that if they dye their young blond models to a dishwater blond and then give them a tan, they can pass for Samoan or Hawaiian. Just as confusing as both the model and doll passing for brown was the rapid accolade pasted on this 21st century Barbie. How in the heck did this girl win the coveted American “2011 Girl of the Year” award when only three days of 2011 had passed? I guess this company operates like Facebook and decides who or what wins.
Inside the pages of this American Girl fantasy, the company’s attention to reality hits it out of the park with Addy Walker, the collection’s only colored girl. Addy, true to her heritage, actually looks black in her pigmentation and is treated like one as well in the text. You see, Addy is so “courageous” and “determined to find freedom and keep her family together” that she, like many of her million American colored girl counterparts, is lost in the middle of the catalog.
Unlike Molly McIntire, Kit Kitteridge, or Rebecca Rubin, Addy has only one page devoted to her likeness. The lighter skin girls have pages and pages of accessories, pets, toys, and, for some reason or other, friends as well. Kit has Ruthie Smithens for a friend and Molly’s got Emily Bennett to kick it with. I guess runaway slaves didn’t have time to make friends or even be one.
But it was great that the publishers of the magazine stuck the colored girl next to the Mexican, Josefina Montoya, the other “one pager”, and sole Latina in the doll line. In her traditional white frock and black hotel vest, she looks like she’s ready to serve dinner or clean the house. Guess it made sense to stick all the darkies together so that they might bond between making beds at the “rancho” and looking for those lost, irresponsible parents who aren’t around to take care of Addy. But, hey, everyone knows you have to grow up quicker in the ghetto.
In its final attempt at equity—and to reach a broader market, American Girl has included a Bitty Baby selection that features “baby dolls in five skin, eye, and hair color combinations.” How nice; but please don’t let this magazine get out into the Asian part of town cause there ain’t a slant-eyed Bitty Baby among them. I guess having two minorities is enough…Oh wait, on page 15 there is an Asian, Ivy Ling. This makes sense since Ivy is an accessory friend to the only liberal white doll in the bunch, Julie Albright from San Francisco and the wild 70’s! I don’t think Julie would have it any other way. “Hey mom, I’ve got a friend for you to meet…She’s a minority!”
Oh shoot! In my fascination with this magazine I accidently burnt some of the pages while reading it over the stove. What will I tell my daughter now? … But wait, the smelting of the pages actually make Kit look Middle Eastern with a dark mustache; and Rebecca is now Rubiyat, an Iraqi girl whose terrorist parents have left her stranded in the desert. And all the white models are cuddling black and brown babies. Hey, maybe dad and daughter’s Christmas wish for 2011 will come true after all.
Alfee Enciso, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has worked in education as an administrator, English teacher, Literacy Coach, and Social Studies Specialist. He has presented throughout the state on literacy, culturally relevant teaching, and reading and writing strategies for teachers. He currently works at Banning High School as a teacher librarian.