Perspective: American Girl Dolls welcome a new future: ‘wokeism’
Like the well-compensated diversity consultants they hire, the new woke companies like American Girl are just cashing in on the guilt of white parents
It would be impossible (and embarrassing) for me to calculate the thousands of dollars I have given to the American Girl company in the past 11 years, since my older daughter received her first doll as a birthday present. I have paid for dolls, clothes, furniture, accessories, lunches at the store in Manhattan, hair appointments, and even a “head replacement” for a doll whose hair was unsalvageable.
That all came to an end last week when I learned of the company’s new book, “Race & Inclusion: Standing Up to Racism and Building a Better World.” With lessons on “microagressions,” “intersectionality,” “white privilege” and “structural racism,” the company has lost its way and it has lost this customer.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the American Girl company, which offers a series of decent books teaching girls about manners, friendship, traveling and even how their bodies are changing, would decide it was time to add advice on being an “anti-racist.” But in many ways, this new book is a real departure from what I understood to be the company’s mission in the past. I thought (aside from making money for the company) the dolls and books and movies were supposed to make girls more resilient and feel better about themselves. But no, apparently, the plan is to make them feel worse.
For those unfamiliar with American Girl, the iconic dolls were the “history dolls.” There was Rebecca, the Jewish daughter of Russian immigrants who wants to keep her family’s traditions while also fully embracing American life. There was Addy, who escaped life on a slave plantation with her mother and migrated north to Philadelphia. Separated from her father and siblings, she learns to read and write. There was Kit, the child of the Depression. Her father loses his job and her family starts to take in boarders, but she does her part to help — growing vegetables and writing articles for the local newspaper. As Black, Jewish girls who are the children of journalists, my daughters’ fondness for those three might not have been surprising. (I have an adorable mini-menorah and a mini-typewriter somewhere.)
In recent years the company has moved away from the historical characters and placed more emphasis on dolls that look like the children buying them. Girls can customize their dolls, with a rainbow of skin colors and hair types. Great, I thought. Neither one of my daughters chose dolls who looked exactly like them, but if some kids feel better with that option, why not? The company has also helped kids feel better about other things that make them stick out. They have dolls in wheelchairs and dolls with braces or glasses. Our most recent addition was a surfer doll with a hearing aid. Kids come in all shapes and sizes with different abilities and disabilities, and if you don’t look or act like everyone else, that’s OK; you are strong and kind and resilient and you’ll do great.
Maybe you think I’m reading too much into a company’s mission, but I’ve spent enough time with these products to get the message. But now there seems to be a new one. The book “Race & Inclusion” begins by explaining that “biological race is not real, but society has everyone believing it is.” I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, and I’m sure the 9-year-olds reading this book won’t either. Then we learn that “white people” — who are not white because of biology, right? — “have more power in their roles as teachers, school officials, bankers, doctors or politicians.” Also, “White people have made it easier for other white people to benefit from systems, such as education, that help them have more successful lives. Whether this happens on purpose or unconsciously, it is still racism.”
The book offers descriptions of two girls — Madison and Selah — “sixth graders in the same middle school. … But their days look very different.” Selah, you see, lives in a world “built to favor white people.” People want to touch her hair, no one wants to cast her as the lead in the school play and there aren’t many books with girls who look like her in the library. I don’t know where Selah and Madison live, but if there is a middle school library in this country that is not featuring children of color in books on its front table, I would like to see it.
The real problem with “Race & Inclusion” is not accuracy — are we really supposed to believe that Madison thinks Selah cannot be the lead in the school play because she is Black? — it’s the fact that white children are seemingly blamed for all sorts of things that they are not responsible for. And that they are being tagged as racists for saying things that might be completely harmless and not racist at all. According to this manual, it’s racist for a girl to think, let alone say, that another girl’s food smells gross. It’s racist for someone to assume that when they hear someone speaking another language that they don’t also speak English. It’s racist to think an Indian girl will win a spelling bee.
American Girl stories were once filled with kids who experienced significant problems and managed, with the help of other kids who were able to look past their differences, to adapt, succeed and change minds. Now the girls seem to have little agency. It is on their oppressors to recognize their privilege and rescue the girls from their terrible lives.
And because anti-racist activists are never going to be satisfied just changing one girl, the book even contains advice for how to fix your school. You should tell your school leaders that “colleges and employers want students … who are good people and who are knowledgeable about the world around them. Explain that in an increasingly diverse world, the best schools challenge students to think about anti-racism and what it means to be an ally.”
In fact, for a mere $25,000 you can probably get Ibram X. Kendi to come give a lecture. Now, that’s not in the book, but it might as well be. Like the well-compensated diversity consultants they hire, woke companies today appear to be cashing in on the guilt of white parents (or at least their desire to send their kids to the “best schools”). But they can count me out. I’d rather have a head replacement.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Deseret News contributor. The paperback version of her book “The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians” will be out this fall.