As we celebrate 10 years of empowering Black and Brown Girls, we can not ignore the fact that American Girl is still selling “Addy”, a 9-year-old runaway slave doll in 2020.
As you may be aware, in April 2010, I was excited to plan a birthday party for my daughter at American Girl Place in Chicago. Unfortunately, my excitement changed into disappointment. All the beautiful, Black girls chose a white doll for brunch versus a doll that represents them. I was in shock when I noticed that the only Historical Black doll that was available on the entire wall of dolls to select from was “Addy”, a 9-year-old runaway slave. It would make sense as to why the Black girls didn’t pick Addy because they didn’t see themselves in her. It is also an outdated misrepresentation of Black girls today.
American Girl released Addy in 1993. According to American Girl, all of their Historical dolls showcase experiences from the past that helped shape a brighter future. Other dolls including Samantha and Kirsten stories did not heavily emphasize oppression. Addy’s story portrays the most painful part of Black history in a romanticized way to ease the painful truth of our journey in America. There is no amount of sugar coating that can replace being sold, beaten, and tortured at the hands of white slave masters. Understandably, we want to move forward as a country, but not without addressing the facts and the millions of souls sacrificed. Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. What if American Girl created a Holocaust survivor doll? How would society and the media respond? Most likely, the outcome wouldn’t be positive. The same goes for Black history in America and the trauma we’ve endured, which shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The storybook, Meet Addy, introduces her and details how her family is planning a dangerous escape from slavery in the summer of 1864. It shares how Addy Walker is saddened by the loss of her father and brother who were sold off the plantation and the overseer comes to check on Addy. The excerpt reads, “She gets to the end of the second row and the overseer comes to check her work. Addy starts on the next row when she sees the overseer storming towards her. She tries to run but he catches her; he holds her tight with one hand. He opens his other hand to show that it is full of live worms that Addy has missed in her previous rows. He forces her mouth open and stuffs the worms in. Addy chokes and is told by the overseer that if she doesn’t eat them that he’ll get more. Addy gags, but chews up the worms. Satisfied that this will teach Addy to mind her work, the overseer shoves her away and she crumples to the ground.” An experience such as this should not be taken lightly and marketed as if slavery contributed something positive to the lives of Black people. There is nothing about Addy’s experiences that aligns with American Girl’s brand showcasing a brighter future, only highlights of pain found in Addy’s story.
This Summer, after the national response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Mattel published a statement of their commitment to the Black community which states, “We are deeply committed to addressing the racism, injustice, and violence against Black Americans.” They also stated, “We will offer product, content, and experiences built on the foundation of diversity.” While some national brands have jumped on board by removing racially insensitive products, branding, and offensive language to the Black community. Mattel must take a hard look in the mirror and see where they fall short. It’s 2020, there are many accomplishments the Black community has obtained since 1864. Our narrative isn’t limited to slavery. There is no excuse to refer to slavery to connect with Black people. It’s unethical to rationalize manufacturing and selling the doll and book of a 9-year-old enslaved girl for representation to inspire and empower. There is nothing honorable about trauma and labeling it as “adventurous and brave.” It’s time to make changes beyond the surface. There needs to be more diversity in boardrooms where decisions are being made.
Dolls are more than just toys, It’s psychological representation. Children seek to find themselves when picking up a doll off the shelf. It’s an early foundation of our beliefs about who we are. With a Black girl playing with Addy, what is the message that American Girl wants her to learn? On the other hand, when well-meaning, yet misguided white people purchase Addy for their daughters, this is perpetuating white supremacy.
American Girl should not assume the responsibility of sharing Black stories. American Girl should be a place where girls come to have fun, play, and find a doll that suits who they are. Instead, American Girl is a doll store that is profiting from our pain and oppression. The privilege and ignorance of this act shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s not enough to just put a Black face on a shelf and expect support from Black dollars. It’s time for American Doll to take responsibility for making changes from the inside out to ensure that this lack of representation doesn’t happen again.
Please join us in demanding that Mattel and American Girl stop selling Addy and remove her from the shelves of all their stores.