Black Girls and the American Girl Doll Dillemma

Today a few friends and I took a field trip to the local mall. Our destination? The new American Girl store, two stories of little girl heaven. We planned to get there early on a weekday in order to avoid the lines that are common in the evenings and on weekends. Since we are all students, ten a.m. worked well.

I bought along the American Girl doll my daughter received for Christmas. Yes, we, her parents, were the folks who bought it for her. It wasn’t an easy purchase, mainly due to the price. For the doll, a stand, and a brush, the total came to about $160. That was the only gift she received for Christmas from us.

I never had an American Girl doll growing up. Honestly, I had no idea what they were until about a year ago when my little girl started talking about them. After doing a little research, I see they were big in the 1990s, but perhaps I was a little too old for them by then. In any case, I was totally in the dark about the dolls and likely when I was a preteen I wouldn’t of even shaped my mouth to ask for such a thing. Not at $100.

But I did it for my little girl. Living where we live, and where a lot of black girls live, there are no positive images of little black girls. No book series for the young reader. No engineering sets. A whole lot of nothing. And her talk about her white dolls being more adorable than her blacks ones was breaking my heart (I’d never bought her a white doll, but other people had.) And many of her friends already had at least one of the dolls. I’m not usually one to do what everyone else does, but I recognized the cultural capital inherent in the dolls. Just like Bey Blades and Pokemon are today’s popular toys for the kids in my son’s circle, American Girl is the “it” toy for my girl and her friends. And given it was her only Christmas grift due to the cost, I didn’t feel like I was spoiling her.

When the doll came, however, I was a bit disappointed, and my daughter too. Mostly because she didn’t look the way I imagined. I expected dark skin, dark brown eyes, and “textured” hair. This was a “My American Girl” doll, meaning she was not one of the historical characters who simply came “as is.” This doll was supposed to be one that looked like my daughter, an “American girl.” I thought I was getting a somewhat close approximation.

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For the most part, it was correct: dark skin, dark brown eyes. But the hair…the hair was a problem. I couldn’t notice any real “texture.” I peered closely to each individual strand, trying to ascertain the difference between the straight blond hair and this straight dark brown hair. I imagined that I saw texture, but whether I saw it or not was irrelevant; you couldn’t DO anything with this hair. It didn’t hold a braid, which to me, textured hair should do. My daughter, like myself, has locs, and I so wanted to be able to do individual braids in her hair (by the way, her name is Bella, as named by my daughter) so that she would look more like my girl. But it was impossible.

But I’d spent over $150 and I didn’t have what I wanted. Furthermore, over the weekend, my daughter talked to one of her “uncles” and told him that she wanted the doll with the curly hair because she “looked more like” my child. He told me this on our field trip, which made me happy that I decided to bring the doll with me to the store. I planned to ask them whether the processing center got my order wrong and what we could do about it.

Come to find out that there really is no such thing as “textured” hair on any of the “My American Girl” dolls. Besides bone straight, you can only get silky curly or textured curly. Textured curly actually looks like my daughter’s hair in its natural state (cuz she has Indian in her family, lol) but it wouldn’t look like many black girls hair. I expected something coarse, but brushable, like my hair once was when unpermed but blow dried.

That only comes with the character Addy doll.

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And the Addy doll is an escaped slave.

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Sigh. I’m still processing what this means. I want textured hair, but I don’t want to buy an enslaved character as my child’s doll. Now, she is an escaped slave, so part of her story is about getting to freedom. But until recently, the ONLY black American girl doll was a slave. To be black and American means, in this company’s eyes, to be enslaved. And at NO point in American history does black automatically equal slave. That is just a false and blatant untruth.

On the flip side, the company does give the option to make a girl who is like “you,” meaning not just in looks, but in activities and interests. The dolls have bikes and horses and gymnastics sets and hair salons and tennis and dance equipment and doctor jackets. The girls can wear glasses or have freckles or be in a wheelchair or use crutches. You can make the doll of your choice. Your black girl can be anything.

Except that if you want kinky hair, you have to buy the slave.

Buy the slave.

Again, I’m still processing this. I really wanted kinky hair. As black women — hell, as women — our hair means something. It’s political, it’s personal. It’s part of what makes us feel like women. I know this is not the case for every woman, but it is the case for me. I love my hair. And I’m trying to build a love of her loced hair in my daughter too. So …

Am I supporting a blatantly racist company? Am I supporting a suspect racist company? Is selling a black enslaved girl doll in the most popular doll store in America a problem? Does the fact that you can purchase non-slave black girl dolls tip the scales toward non-racist? There is now another black girl, a fluently French speaking creole in New Orleans. But she’s not dark, and she doesn’t have the textured hair — it’s more curly and silky. Does she make up for the slave?

My friend says there are better black dolls out there to buy that more accurately reflect us. I don’t think I’m as concerned about whether the doll truly looks like my girl — the white dolls are pretty generic too — as I am with the message behind the characters. Let me know what you think in the comments.

P.S. If you don’t know about American Girl, start here.

82 thoughts on “Black Girls and the American Girl Doll Dillemma

  1. THIS. So much. Dolls are serious business in the lives of young children. When girls (and boys) play with dolls, they learn lessons about how to take care of other human beings, and also about who deserves to be taken care of. Which is why I’ve bought my daughter several black dolls, but cannot get myself to buy her a white doll (although I am considering getting her a set of several dolls, each with different complexions). The problem is, however, that she has asked me why I won’t give her a white doll. After then, because kids recognize bullshit whenever they see it, she said, “because all skin colors are good, right mommy? So, you don’t have a problem with white skin, right?”

    This was a hard question for me to respond to. She’s right; I don’t have a problem with white people (some of my best friends are white! LOL…no, but seriously–they are), but I do have a problem with white supremacy, and I have to do my best to insulate her from that. Figuring out, however, how best to insulate her is tricky. The gulf between “white supremacy will always try and break you down” and “black is beautiful” may seem wide, but the line between the two is actually fine. How do I teach my girl that (1) black is beautiful, and that she can be whatever she wants if she’s willing to work for it; AND (2) that our society is based on/shaped by/informed by structural and societal racism? How do I teach her not to allow that racism to put limits on her, even as I teach her how to recognize those limits, if only so that she can know to go around–or through–them?

    I’m not sure she’s yet old enough to completely understand what I’m telling her, but I have explained that although Mommy does think all skin colors are wonderful, I am worried that she doesn’t have enough examples of her beautiful skin color. To start driving this point home, I’ve started pointing out to her times when images don’t include brown children, like some Disney Princess sneakers she wanted that did not include Tiana, but did include Ariel, Snow White and Belle. I’ve told her that if she doesn’t see enough images of girls that look like her, that she might start not to like her skin color, and that that would be a sad thing. And so, in our house, Mommy tries to give her lots of images of girls that look like her. That seems to have pacified her, for now.

    As for the American Doll, I understand and agree with your decision to get it for her, although I also agree that it’s problematic that she can’t get a texture-haired doll unless it’s a slave. (I also think American Doll IS racist, although I’m not sure there are many toy companies out there that aren’t, and so don’t think it’s problematic that you purchased the doll). And, actually, I like the way you put it; there’s nothing wrong with learning about slavery, but it’s the notion that to be black means you were automatically a slave that is at best, incomplete, and at worst, just wrong. I’d keep the doll, but talk to her about the very issues you’re describing (hard to do at their level, I know). In the meantime, there’s a woman on the internet who takes black dolls with straight hair and manipulates them so that their hair is kinky–I’ll try and find it and send it to you. Thank you for this post!

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    1. Yes to everything you said. When I was growing up, I had dolls of all different colors, but I also lived in an area where black people were the majority. I do think the messages we give our kids in our words mean a whole lot, so that talking about the issues explicitly is actually so much better than trying to manipulate the message through the choice of doll. We talked about why we didn’t care for the doll that came – her straight hair made styling options really hard. It’s funny – we found her to lack versatility! I think if I got her another AG, I would buy Addy, but only because she already has one that is like her – not a slave, but 2014 Amina in all her beautiful black glory, lol.

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    2. This is in response to ORJ: I agree that the company should expand to have all types of dolls. Although I strongly disagree that they are a racist company. Saying they are racist is saying they deliberately choose not to have afro american dolls represented in their stores. Have you heard them make racist comments? Do you have proof? I think it’s easy for you to sit there and say they’re racist but have you tried reaching out to them to express your concerns, which I think are very valid and important! Have you contacted the company? Did you get a response? Were you satisfied or dissatisfied with their response? I’m thinking you haven’t contacted them. If so you failed to mention ANY of this in your comments. So what gives you the right to call this company racist! So they have a doll that was a slave. So that means they DELIBERATELY chose a slave because they want to make sure ALL young black girls know that they were once a slave and hopefully will be one again???? Could it have been that this is apart of our history, granted not a great part but an awful part?? Could it be to help educate?? Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it! If you want change…..be the change! That’s what I tell my daughter. I’ve just spent a year battling Leukemia. It was a living hell. I’ve since had my eyes opened, especially to children fighting cancer. It thrills me that those kids can purchase an American Doll without hair. Isn’t that wonderful! And how did this come about? Hmm…that’s the question you should be asking! It’s because of the many requests to have the option to get a hairless doll. I can’t say 100% without a doubt that all of the request were nice, sincere and without judgement. But I do doubt seriously that, being a cancer patient myself, that parents of young girls battling cancer blogged about how unfair it is that there’s not a doll without hair so that my child can feel accepted for who she is and what she’s going through! I know this IS different than race. You can’t compare race and cancer. Good thing! Cancer effects us all! More on that later. Back to my point. My point is instead of accusing someone you’ve never met as being racist or owning a racist company, reach out to them. Express your concerns. Help them see the dolls from your child’s perspective. I believe their lack of choice when it comes to hair types for the dolls with color is lack of insight and education. So educate them! If you can do that in a positive manner, the world will be a much better place. I’ve been through a major storm in my life fighting Leukemia. Now I understand what others experiencing a similar storm feel. However, I do not just expect you to get it! No, I will educate! I will advocate! I will NOT jump to conclusions! I will NOT make accusations without sufficient evidence. Do you know how many people looked at me and thought immediately that I had breast cancer??? Because I’m a woman, that has to be it, right? How many commercials do I see supporting breast cancer programs??? How many do you see for Leukemia??? I’m not blogging and posting how ignorant people are!!!!!! Do you know that I’ve had people tell me to just change my diet. That they did that and their tumors went away. Well, Leukemia is a blood cancer….I didn’t have any tumors. Did I look at them, the way you’re looking at the American Girl Doll company and say, “You idiot!” NO! I kindly opened up and explained what I have and how my cancer is different. I’m also speaking up for those that are no longer here, for those too weak. I encourage you to do the same. BE THE CHANGE! Or you can continue to write negative things about someone you do not know, which you have no idea is true. And NOTHING will EVER change! I will say this about American Girl, I do like that it’s 1. wholesome! You do not see dolls barely dressed with boobs and tons of make-up and wearing high heels. 2. They do advocate and encourage girls to pursue their dreams, make goals, accept people and embrace others for their differences. And this is where I would encourage them to expand on…Let’s see an Afro American Girl of the Year! But I wouldn’t do it by calling them a racist. I would like to see a Girl of the Year that has to battle cancer with removable hair! And should I feel strongly about that happening you can be assured I won’t be blogging about it until AFTER I’ve done ALL I can to reach out to them FIRST! I will NOT assume, “well shouldn’t they know!” I will EDUCATE! NOT HATE! More on the “cancer effecting is all” I mentioned earlier. How bout instead of calling people racist, you go do something life saving for your race! Go get your cheek swabbed and get on the national bone marrow registry. You can go to bethematch.org for more info. See, every 3 seconds someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Right now there is a talented young afro-american man needing a stem cell transplant. He’s young. He’s a dancer. I was too! He needs a match but because the lack of people with his profile and ethnic background, he is unable to have the life saving stem cell transplant because he cannot find a match. And encourage others in your family and community to get registered! Am I a racist because I’m a “white” woman asking the black community to help their own kind? Here’s your opportunity to do something, something great!!!! GOOD GRIEF! Racist???? Really????

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      1. Wow. You make a WHOLE lot of assumptions here. I can’t address them all, except to say that if you think anyone here does nothing but complain, you have no idea what you are talking about. Change comes about, often, by naming the problem, and discussing what we find problematic. Writers have always been at the forefront of social change. If this post wasn’t written, you would not have had the opportunity to express your views on the topic, views to which you are entitled to have. Both ORJ and myself are at the front lines of making the world more representative of our daughters, not just for them, but for all girls. So please, in the future, address ideas, not people. Because you don’t know us. We don’t have the time or the space to explain all that we are doing in the world.

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      2. Thank you, Dr. Mama Esq. I would add 3 things: (1) this is, in fact, how racism is perpetuated–because of faulty notions of racism as intentional slights committed by people in white hoods who like to burn crosses on your front lawn. Unfortunately, that is not how racism operates anymore, at least not most of time. Today, racism is implicit, institutional, and/or unconscious. Racism IS a doll company that doesn’t think to make more than one black doll despite the many, many, white dolls it produces. Racism IS a doll company that chooses to make the backstory for its only doll slavery. Racism is a doll that doesn’t see, or care, that most black girls have textured hair, and that making a doll to which they can relate requires that detail. And if a major, worldwide brand like American Doll doesn’t already KNOW these things, it is racist, because it means one of several things (or all of these things): they have no people of color at the company who can make these sorts of informed decisions; they don’t include black parents and their children in their market research to help them shape the future of their dolls lines; or, they know and just don’ care because they (incorrectly) believe diversity, inclusion, and anti-discrimination are not profitable. All of these things are manifestations of racism and white supremacy. White people need to learn this very important lesson. Living in segregated neighborhoods, sending your kids to segregated schools without ever questioning your district, working in primarily-white work spaces–that is all racism. And if you’re involved n some of that, you’re involved in white supremacy. (2) You want me to “do something for my race,” but your request brings us to the second important lesson about white supremacy–WHITE PEOPLE MUST FIX WHITE SUPREMACY. Black people have, and will continue to, do much for the struggle–protest peacefully, protest violently, produce art (music, paintings, sculpture, dramas) that address racism, produce intellectual property that addresses racism (books, speeches, classes); the list is so long, there’s not enough space here. But white supremacy cannot be fixed until WHITE people start dismantling it. If you want some suggestions, see point number 1, above. (3) Finally, thanks, but no thanks for your suggestion–I don’t need it. Not that it’s any of your concern, but I am already in the registry. I’m glad to note that I don’t need a tragedy to personally befall me before I realize that it requires some of my focus, time, or energy. Be well.

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      3. Yes to Dr. Mama Esq. and ORJ. American Girl Company is just that a company. The historical dolls aren’t real people they are created characters. As such, the decisions behind their creation show at best extreme unthinking white privilege and at worst racism. Currently, half of the Historical Characters are dolls of color/non white and the other half are all white. That means for every individual doll of color there are four white dolls. On top of that for the past five years the AG of the Year doll has also been white. Since 2001 only 4/16 dolls are dolls of color/non-white, not even half like in the historical collection. When AG continues to open the new year with another white doll, they are actively choosing to ignore other stories, styles (hair included), and cultures in favor of their perceived generic default. Newsflash white is not the default and should not be used by AG to promote that kind of thinking because there is way too much of it about especially in children’s toys. It has taken thirty years for AG to finally create a black historical doll (Melody, summer 2016!) set in modern times, literally since the company began in 1986. In contrast, AG released Julie (2007 set in 1970), Maryellen (2015 set in 1950), and re-released Samantha (2014 set in 1900) in less than a third of that time. When you look at the dolls it’s just that obvious.

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  2. There’s another black doll in the Historical line, a girl from New Orleans with fabulous curly hair. So I don’t think they’re selling the notion that being black means that one is a slave.

    I’ve actually bought an Addy doll and books for my girl. The character has the most inspiring stories in the whole Historical line, and I’m glad that a company so focused in sugar coating things, didn’t ignore the fact that slavery happened and forged this country. There had to be a doll like that in their historical library. Addy is a must.

    The only problem I have with American Girl is the lack of black dolls in their Girl of the Year line; it’s been 12 -14 years of “Girls of the year” and none of them have been black. Now, this is an insult to me. Why can’t a black character be a girl of the year?

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    1. Thanks for your comment BissyL. I did try to address the other black girl, although I think she is not the “black” that many black girls would be given her multiracial background as a New Orleans Creole. I also like Addy- I think she best represents black girls today. Now that I think about it more, the issue is also just with the messaging about all the dolls – before the NO doll, to be black in American Girl world was to be enslaved. Now, with the inclusion of the NO doll, to be black is to be enslaved or mulatto. What I’d like is just a black girl living in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. Or one out in California during the gold rush working with her mother and father. Just something other than “slave” or “not totally black.”

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    2. Hello, I thorough enjoyed reading this post, and will likely follow your blog for several reasons.🙂

      I too, have an adoring/disgruntled affinity to AG. I actually introduced my 3 year-old (kicking self), to the dolls, primarily because I always wanted one as a girl.
      Started off with the bitty twin, which I paid $65 for almost two years ago. Now, they’re running about eighty dollars, and my daughter is vying for a “big America girl doll” lol, and has already given the doll a name…Star.
      I’ve managed to stave her off for now by sending her beloved bitty to the doll hospital, along with some new outfits but it looks like we’ll be getting an 18′ next year when she turns 6….who knows who’ll be g.o.t.y. by then! *fingers crossed*

      But yes, regarding the hair textures…there are I believe 4 “hair types” available lol. You’ve got the one with the beautiful shorter curls, one that has longer ringlets, another whose hair is bone straight, and one who’s got hair that is slightly textured. And of course, there’s Addy’s hair.

      The black bitty twin comes with adorable curly pigtails, but after a few weeks look a hot mess. This was with NO combing. Unfortunately, the AG doll salons will only tend to straight-haired dolls. So, away we sent the beloved Sky to the doll hospital for a new head.
      Some time later…a repeat episode. I mean, for what the dolls cost, they should actually have rooted hair! But at the very least, equip them with high-quality wigs smh.

      In conclusion, instead of getting another new head, I taught my child to embrace Sky in all her natural glory…much like us lol. My girl still loves her bitty twin, especially when I give them similar poofy hairstyles. It’s a new option…get the curly haired one, when the curls unravel as they undoubtedly will…your AG will have glorious, natural-looking kinky hair.
      Of course, the doll will be exempt from standing on the ridiculously long line to be seated in the coveted salon chair. Nor will your daughter be able to run the wire brush through her silky mane, but if these are sacrifices you can live with, the doll will ultimately have a gorgeous head of hair that can be fro’d, braided, twisted..just like your girl’s own hair. So long as she’s happy – because that’s what it’s all about.🙂

      -Kris

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  3. Awww… I used to want the Addy doll so bad when I was growing up… my dad wasn’t going though. He told me I would understand when I had a child. Lo and behold….

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  4. I understand you wanting hair like your and your daughter’s own ’cause I’m thirteen and I love american girl dolls and I really wish one looked like me, but really… I mean there are just so many different types of hair – and even more different skin tones and face shapes. It’s just silly and entitled to even think that they could come close to getting it all. They don’t have my hair type either – long, dry, frizzy blackish and tiny very coarse springs. And the ones that had something close to it, were dark-skinned or very tan. I’m half black and half white, but I have pale olive skin erring towards a lighter complexion. And I have freckles and brown eyes. There is no doll with that combination so I just have to pretend – honestly where have imaginations gone? I think school just zaps them straight out of you.

    If you wet, put lots of product in and straighten your doll’s hair it will damage it a bit, but it will also make it more manageable and better. I know because my sister did that to my doll’s hair a few months ago when we were pretending to have a doll salon and I was mad at her because I didn’t want it that way, but it did make her hair more like mine. Then after you straighten and put various random hair products in it, then condition it, you have to wet it, and put it in dollar tree curlers. After a week or so take them out, dampen her hair, put a teensy bit of conditioner in it and carefully and lightly comb threw it, and gently braid a little bit of it. It worked for me so it might work for you, too.🙂

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  5. Hey you know you can permanently texturize the hair by wrapping the strands in pipe cleaners? Look up giving Doll natural hair. I actually bought a kaya for my sister and I will be giving her an Afro… Yes this company is racist because there are a million different types of white and like 4 not even accurate African American dolls. Or if u want you can replace the wig with a new wig. Thy wear size 10 11. Google search it. Good luck!

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  6. This is a very difficult situation. I had a similar problem with the American girl dolls. My children are Half Vietnamese and when I tried to find a My American Girl Doll there where no biracial options. I buy my girls the dolls they like and encourage them to be open minded. As a result of this they have a nice collecting of dolls whose origins are from different countries. They play with these dolls as if they are all equals. Talking about racial issues is never easy. The best thing you can do is give you child a sense of pride in being themselves and that they look just right no matter what others might say. As for not buying white dolls I think that is a personal choice and that your explanation to your daughter will let her know how valuable she is to you. Hopeful the doll makers will see the need for a more authentic American doll

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  7. I came across your blog after doing an internet search for “American Girl doll racist”. I noticed that the commercial for the American Girl doll featured four white girls, all with a similar look and long hair. I was appalled…at this day in age, a commercial with absolutely NO diversity does not represent an “American Girl.” It makes you wonder what audience they are trying to target. I, personally, have 2 sons who are biracial. If I had a daughter, I would NEVER buy from this company.

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  8. there actually used to be many american look a like dolls with textured hair, and i got one. unfortunately there were too many complaints about the dolls hair ‘not being shiny.’-12 year old

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  9. I love Addy! Yes she was a slave but that is because she is a historical figure. Slavery is apart of black history in America. I am proud that she represents us. She’s beautiful, her character is amazing & her story is the best series point blank period. Nobody else has a story that will move you and still make you proud of our history. I support her 100%. Yes AG needs to do better with their diversity & Yes I also hope the next black doll my AG is totally opposite, but I will always love and appreciate Addy.

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  10. It just so happens that I am white and I only buy my daughters white dolls. I see nothing wrong with people buying what they want their children to have. My youngest daughter and I are some pretty serious doll collectors. We love the american girl dolls but I’m a little nervous about her having a doll with textured hair. I think Cecile was the prettiest doll but her hair seems to be an issue. I had to flat iron our josefina and kaya(Indian is in our blood too). I even had to do this to Caroline. I’m happy to see black moms only buying their girls black dolls. To me this means they are proud of what God wanted them to be

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    1. There’s also the Pattycakedoll company that has dolls for ethnic and bi-racial dolls. I’m white and I’m so sick of American Girl with their prices, their unwavering in terms of refunds and shipping and their embarrassing lack of dolls of color! My daughter’s first doll was a black baby doll from Pattycake, because that’s what she wanted!! It looked like her best friend, so she was drawn to it. It’s not good for girls of any color – white, black, or brown – for american girl to have such a startling lack of diversity in their historical dolls and in their GOTY dolls. If the 2015 GOTY doll is another white one, my daughter and I have decided to boycott American Girl until they get real.

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  11. If your looking for a doll with natural curly hair American girl dolls are not the answer. Go find a heart4heart doll they have a wonderful collection of beautiful dark and light skin African American doll collection that my young sisters love. The dolls hair is curly and beautiful you also have the choice if finding one with straight hair and freckles or light eyes and dark eyes and many more things I’m sure she’ll enjoy and you will too as a mother.

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  12. The my life dolls at Wal-Mart are a fraction of the price(under $30) and can fit American girl doll clothes and have black dolls that have hair more like real black girls.

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  13. My daughter is 3 and when I saw the offerings for Black AG dolls I was truly taken aback and they were quickly taken off my list as an option. For that price I expect my money to be able to influence options that truly reflect my daughter. After a little researching I have decided on My Life As…Dolls at Wal-Mart. They have a school girl with puffs and a hairstylist with an afro, etc. Of course, they do have straight hair and way hair options as well. They have numerous skin times too. And they are only about $30.00. #Winning. And honestly I think they look better than American Girl. If you like the AG accessories better, they still fit on the My Life As…Dolls. As for me, I’m sorry, but I refuse to give my money to a company that barely recognizes that my daughter and I exist.

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  14. Thank you so much for this post. I am a white woman with a half black sister, and my sister’s daughter loves American Girl dolls (and the movies that go with them.). My niece is in first grade in an almost all-white town, and I have witnessed quite a bit of racial-identity confusion already. (We had a debate she refused to lose over the term “skin-colored” crayons :()

    These dolls aren’t helping. She tells me none of the movies are about the black girls. We just watched one today about Isabelle, a ballerina, and my niece determined the imitation AG doll a family member gave her must be the mean girl, because a brown girl finally made an appearance, and she was the movie’s bitch.

    I’ve been dying to get her one of these dolls as a special birthday or Christmas gift… but the whole thing just makes me feel weird.

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  15. http://www.pattycakedoll.com/18_inch_dolls

    These are beautiful dolls of color – and you can get ones with the closed mouth so they don’t have that buck-tooth look that all of the AG dolls seem to have, lol. I just looked up AG’s 2015 doll of the year (they usually have leaks this time of the year) and she looks to be – you guessed it – white. Unbelievable. Maybe they feel they’re being progressive because she’s a brunette, lol…

    Go to pattycake or double dutch. Spread the word.

    Thank you for your blog!!

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  16. Good Morning,
    I came across your blog this morning while looking for a site where I could make a doll that resembles my daughter, who happens to be half white/ half black. I was in tears after the third site I went to was unable to create the look I wanted. I complained to each one, however I don’t feel like this even matters to them. One site had all of the correct features, even had long allover curly hair down to the high back. However when I went to check out I got an error message that “all-over curly hair is only available in blonde, light brown, and strawberry blonde”. Really? I spend so much time telling my daughter that she is beautiful (she is!) not inspite of her differences, but BECAUSE of them. She questions why her hair is different from mine, which happens to be bone straight. Every morning when I am brushing she reminds me that she wants straight hair. Now I don’t know why, in 2014, I am unable to find a doll that actually looks like my daughter, and feel like this is a real problem. I don’t buy an American Girl because I do not want to buy my daughter a doll that used to be a slave. Why isn’t there a first-daughter doll? We do have a black President America! There is no reason that this should be the only option for my dark skinned, long curly haired daughter. I love your post. God always gives me exactly what I need.

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  17. I came across this because I googled “how to make AG doll hair curly”. My dilemma is that my son is medium skin toned with very curly hair, but the AG Bitty Boys only come in medium with pin straight hair or dark with curly hair, neither of which truly reflects my son’s image…Now my older daughter plays with a hand-me-down AG that sort of looks like her but not really. Luckily her AG doll has dark skin with the curly hair (probably started out as medium 15 yrs ago!). For my younger “china-latina” daughter there are a few options. But then I really want my son to be able to join the girls in play when he wants to and have a doll that is just as nice….but I am truly struggling with and conflicted about the limited offering. If i do get him a Bitty Boy, it will be the dark curly hair one because it is more important to me that he embrace is African heritage and have a positive image of himself…even if not really an exact match…Curious, have you shared this essay with AG? If not, would you? Maybe even add a petition requesting more positive options for all people of color: Black, Mixed, Hispanic/Latina? Honestly, not all Latinas come from Mexico or New Mexico! And while we are at it, how about requesting that a real Native American Indian model be pictured with Kaya in the catalog…really!

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  18. For the past 2 days I have been in a back and forth with a woman about why AG does not make a Black GOTY. She is exceptionally nasty and pretty much says that Black dolls don’t sell, don’t matter and don’t bring revenue….and she doesn’t even work for the company! It doesn’t really matter what one person says, until you realize that excluding girls of color from this annual position speaks to women like this who have this idea about us and our daughters.

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  19. I think the best response is from the 13yr old biracial girl. There are far too many hair types and complexions out there to be covered by American girl. Have you thought that possibly no one else has asked for the textured black hair that addy has, and that’s why it is not available? It is possible it is not financially lucrative for ag to offer that type of hair because it isn’t requested as often and other hair types are, not because they don’t want to offer it.

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  20. its not even a matter of race that this same problem comes up. As a kid i always wanted one of these dolls, but could never find one that fit me. I am a very fair girl with brown hair and brown eyes, when you look at the dolls with curly hair the only options for a white skinned girl is blonde or black and me not being either was forced to settle on straight brown hair or nothing. I honestly dont even think its a problem of race but rather what this world deems to be beautiful, and that is this straight smooth hair. I have curly and rather large unrully hair and i think it beautiful and American Girl needs to get with the times and update their doll collections for all girls. They need both a light and dark skin doll that matches the curly hair that comes from both races, and i have also seen that there really is no selection for beautful red heads either. American girl needs to get with the times!!!

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    1. has anyone seen the new dove hair care comercial about loving your curls? thats a company who knows beauty when they see it

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  21. You could always buy Addy Walker and create a different story for the doll. You could even change her name if you want to. As a little girl Addy’s story taught me about Black History. I love Addy Walker, she’s beautiful. You can keep her as a historical character or modernize her. Remember after you buy any historical character from American Girl you can create your own story for her. The doll is not locked into anything. My Addy Walker is historical and somtimes modern. It’s your doll and your decision.

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  22. It’s Monique again…as you can see, I have not given up on the search for the perfect doll for my BabyGirl, who is now 4 years old. And I found it!!! There is a new line of dolls that will be hitting the market soon….They are/will be called Naturally Perfect. The founder is running a kickstarter campaign for funding the first doll in the line. If you donate $85 you can have one if the first produced dolls of the line named “Angelica” which should be shipped out in December of this year.
    Here’s the kicker… the doll has kinky/curly hair that you can ACTUALLY style and wash!!! And itwill remain kinky/curly the founder and her daughters have battle-tested the hair for 8 months with twists, bantu knots, and washes…I AM SO HAPPY. She had been in the fundraising phase for about 4 or 5 days of the 30 days that she intends to raise money and she has already almost doubled her goal. So much for there not being a market.
    I am in no way affiliated with the founder our this line of dolls, I am just really excited and want to get the word out.

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  23. Please explain to us what you mean by textured curly. My daughter has an older “Just Like You” doll that has textured hair. It is not stick straight. I think it is like Addy’s, but I haven’t taken Addy’s hair down, so I can’t say for sure. But it is definitely textured in my opinion. So maybe you mean something else when you say “truly textured.” We use a pick on her hair. The texture is on the strand itself, but it does not have loopy curls. Hope that helps

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  24. I feel I shoul preface this by saying I’m white. About as white as a person can be. My daughter has 2 AG dolls. My old Molly doll from 1989 and the Bitty Baby with brown hair and blue eyes. And I love them.
    But I am concerned about a lot of things with the company.
    We just went to the AG store in Dallas. About half of the little girls their were black and a lot of them had white dolls. When I researched it I found that a lot of non-white girls prefer white dolls and think they a prettier. Obviously this is a problem! Also they do not have a historical Asian doll and their Truely-Me Asian dolls don’t look Asian.
    They are introducing a new Black historical doll in 2016 along with a red headed doll from the 1950s. I’m not sure of her history yet.
    BTW that Angelical Doll is gorgeous!! I think I’ll be buying one.

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    1. Hi Jill,
      One of the things that worries me about your “research” is that it’s not a real research study. I’m a Black woman and I will tell you that we don’t think that our daughters should have dolls that are representative of who we are based on what YOU think we feel or want. My daughter, nieces, friends who are back and brown don’t think the white dolls are prettier. They select based on the choice they’ve been given, and when it comes to dolls that look like us, there is no choice. You are absolutely right, it’s a problem. The heart of the matter is this…we’d like to see a Doll of the Year with black/brown skin.

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      1. The research I was referring to was the Clark Doll Test. I was reading some of their findings, not my research. I just meant I was searching the internet. I don’t think having white dolls is bad. I was saddened to see those children think the white doll was better.

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  25. My issue is that the “Girl of the year” is always white. My 10 year old daughter wrote to them about it. She finally got a letter back from them that side stepped the issue. Sad.

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  26. I searched and searched for a decent doll for my daughters, who are biracial. I looked over several months and finally decided against the American Girl line. I was unimpressed and extremely disappointed in the dolls that they offer that are not white. The hair options were a huge turn off for us as well. Also they did not offer any dolls with curly blond or dirty blond hair at all (we have one daughter with curly dirty blond hair and light skin and one daughter with dark brown curly hair and darker complexion). I ended up ordering from Madame Alexander and have been extremely pleased with the dolls we got, at half the price too. The dolls are of good quality and my girls love them. I would recommend the Madame Alexander dolls to anyone looking for an 18″ fashion doll.

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  27. I don’t know if you or your daughter are still looking, but one of the loveliest Black dolls I’ve seen in the 18″ range is Lulu of the Karito Kids. She is no longer produced, but sometimes you can get her gently used on eBay for a reasonable price. Be aware, though, that Karito Kids can be hard to dress because they’re taller and have longer feet than American Girls.

    Another series of high-quality 18″ dolls from a company that’s increasing its diversity is the Maplelea series, Canada’s answer to the American Girls. So far their only clearly non-white main character is Inuit, but they do have two Black “friend” dolls in the looks-like-you theme. One has short curly hair and the other long and textured (from the picture, it looks genuinely textured). Mapleleas can share most American Girl and other 18″ doll clothes, though their feet are too long for most shoes. Also many of them have better faces than AG, in my opinion. One barrier here is the international shipping, but Amazon carries some of these dolls as well.

    I’m so sorry your daughter ended up with a doll that wasn’t actually what she wanted–especially with the added discovery of Addy’s slave status thrown in to make the whole thing that much more problematic. I’m white and love dolls of color, but after reading this I think I’ll hold off on buying the hard-to-find ones on eBay now that I realize how frustrating it is for so many girls (and women) to try to find dolls that look like them. With the market for dolls of color so small to begin with, it seems fair to let the buyers who don’t see themselves represented very often have the first choice.

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  28. This is a great essay. I am looking for a black doll for my white daughter for Christmas (all of her best school friends are African, and it seems unfortunate that none of her dolls are black), and what an awful time I have had trying to find one. After calling every shop in the area and being told they have no such thing, I started to get the picture. In my search, I also ran across Addie, and had the same reaction that you had. Why is the only black child in the series an escaped slave? Why? (the French girl, Cecile, is discontinued). Why are there so few other nice black dolls (other than a few Corolle baby dolls) that have not been discontinued or sold out, even on the internet? Why? Not even a black Groovy Girl exists this Christmastime. I realize that race is a problematic social issue. But one would think that late capitalism could at least provide children of color with affirming playthings.

    I ended up paying a bit too much for what is probably the last Haba Souri doll in America…she is lovely, but she is so light, I am wondering if my daughter will even make the connection. As a white parent, I am frustrated, but obviously this doesn’t come close to the frustration that parents of color must feel surrounding this issue. Thanks so much for this great essay, and I hope you have a good doll in your life at the moment.

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  29. I knew about these dolls as a kid. My mom liked the Samantha doll, because she loves the Victorian age. I wanted Barbie, who had way better clothes and a boyfriend. I found this article on a Google search. I completely agree with the author when she states that black women are rarely if ever given a powerful role model in everything from books to toys to tv shows. I can only imagine how much of a negative impact that has. I could go on about that for a while, I am white,andI feel like, if I can see how grossly black women are mistreated, it has to be much much worse from their point oc view.
    However, the reason I found this article, is because off American girl dolls hair. I am an antique and vintage toy dealer. Occasionally I’ll pitch up a modern toy or doll. I just so happened to acquire one of these films at a deep discount due to the shape of her hair. She has been a victim of a haircut from a well meaning little girl.I was researching how to fix her hair. She ifs a very pretty doll, she has green eyes sweep skin tone and black kinky hair. I don’t know if she was a make your own girl or a pre made doll, but I’m positive of her hair texture. I don’t know anything about the company currently, as I said before. I do know that my dolls Samantha and Kiersten both hair no texture to their hair, while this doll does. She is from 2011. I don’t know if this is helpful to you in anyway Ms. Author(I can find your name I’m writing on an old phone, it’s been an eventful day, my phone is drying out from the soak it took this morning😦 which is sad) I hope it does give some hope that there is the possibility of getting a doll for your daughter with the correct hair texture!!! Good luck. I appreciate you putting this into th attention of the internet. I love seeing black women voicing the reality of their experience in America!

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  30. I’m going to tell my daughter that don’t make dolls at american doll as beautiful as her..THANK U .. I wondered u i couldn’t find a biracial doll.. unfucking believable. . A escaped slave my heart hurts right now.. and I WILL b emailing them

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  31. As an African American woman i understand what you are saying. I do not think the company is racist but I do think it is short sightedness as one reviewer said. Anywyay here are some suggestions for you. I refuse to buy American dolls but this is what i have found
    maru and friends – raven
    Via E – Tatiana
    Gotz Hannah at the ballet – African
    Heart 4 Heart doll
    Karito Kids (must buy off of ebay)
    double dutch girls
    http://www.ecworldgirls.com/the-world-girls/
    naturally perfect doll
    there are other dolls but these were my favorite because of their face and hair combination
    many of the doll manufacturers dont stay open long because of the lack of demand (I guess)

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  32. This post is ridiculous about Addy (the slave), so what if she was a slave? All of the original American Girl dolls depict critical moments in American history. It does suck that the non historic American Girl dolls don’t have the option to come with textured hair, but don’t frown your nose at ‘the slave’. It’s a shame you didn’t do your research before buying such an expensive doll. On a lighter side there are plenty of YouTube videos that show how to make this bone straight more textured, best of luck.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. It’s not that I didn’t do my research — I purchased a doll that was not Addy, and my daughter liked it. I did end up exchanging it for one with more curly hair.

      I’m not frowning my nose at Addy; rather I’m frowning my nose that of all the historical moments for which to make a black doll, slave was the one they chose. It reduces our history to this one time period, and sends a bad message to our children that historically, that’s all that we were. I am in no way trying to say there is anything shameful about Addy. But I’m questioning the message given to all girls — not just black girls — of what blackness in history means.

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    2. They actually do come with textured hair. My girls have a few. Long textured or textured short! They are cute!!!!!!! My eight year old has the Bitty Twins. A boy and a girl. They both have textured hair and are the cutest of all of the American Girl Dolls! We just had my eight year old’s bday party at the Store this past Sunday. FUN!!!!!!

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  33. These dolls tell the stories of American girls, during certain time periods. They are not racist at all. We have three girls and they each have three American Girl Dolls. They have a series of books for each doll. They are actually amazing. Our favorites are Addy, Kaya(an Indian), and Josephina(a Mexican). It is a great way for girls to learn History. Unfortunately, our History is painful, but Addy overcomes a lot and makes our us proud. Mattel did a good job with these dolls. Parents can also get dolls that resemble their child. So, if the dolls that teach Historical events offends, then do not buy that doll. I am proud that my girls can carry around a doll, that was a former slave, and say she is beautiful! Our girls need to embrace our History. We are Americans and we have a story!!!!!

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    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I do not disagree with you about slavery being a part of our history. But it’s not the only part. When our children hear about “our history,” it always comes back to slavery. I happen to think that is a very narrow way to think about who we are as Americans. It’s very important, and I talk to my children about the atrocity that was slavery. I do not try to sugarcoat it or make it into something that is fun. It’s not that being a slave is shameful — its that who we are as a people has been boiled down to being slaves.

      In any case — I wrote this about two years ago, and can’t remember everything about the doll. But if the story does not talk about lashings and rapes and beatings and brutality — then it’s a whitewashed version of our history. I don’t think that’s helpful.

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      1. It is not whitewashed in the least. Addy’s father and brother were sold off and some other horrible things happened. This actually surprised me. I did not believe, that the stories would tell the truth. I am brutally honest with my children in regards to our plight and others. My girls are ten, eight and four. I taught the older two our History prior to kinder, because I did not want their school to whitewash it. O course I was age appropriate, but I was very honest. Our History is painful, but they must embrace it. If a doll helps, I am OK with it. The stories are great! Especially, for non blacks. In California, I see kids of all hues carrying around Addy, Kaya, and Josephina. Makes me happy that their parents are teaching them the truth.

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  34. I found this as I was looking up Addy Walker. I have a 3 year old who loves dolls….she has had a Samantha AG doll for a while. Samantha is the doll that most resembles my daughter. For Christmas her grandma bought her Mary Ellen, which she isn’t crazy about. She now asks for Addy Walker for her next Birthday. She likes Addys dress and thinks she’s so pretty, but isn’t old enough to know her story of her being a slave. How will this be perceived? My daughter who is white carrying around this doll who was enslaved? I defiantly wouldn’t want to hurt or upset anyone. And it’s so sad for me….all my child sees is how pretty Addy is and doesn’t know the history. To have the innocence of a child🙂

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    1. I would totally buy her Addy!!!!! Addy is so beautiful and so is your daughter’s spirit! I would not be offended at all, if I saw her with Addy. I see girls of all hues carrying Addy🙂.

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  35. When I was little my favorite doll was a black doll. I ma now 72 years young. I still love my dolls. I get teased a lot but I collect dolls. My doll when I was you did not have real hair she was all plastic with the look of curly hair. My mom bought all the girls in our family black dolls because she felt every girl should have a black doll. I am white

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  36. In the United States of America, as an entrepreneur, you can produce what ever product you want as long as it is not overtly offensive or illegal and makes a profit! I would say the American Girl Doll has been a phenomenal success without government regulatory measures…. wouldn’t you?

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  37. I went to American doll store in Orlando fl and all the display showed black boys dolls with back girls dolls in one section ..SEPARATED from the white ones…very offensive… white girls dressed like professionals and artists. BLACK girls dresses like a servants and doing manual works…. They are racist

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  38. I wouldn’t say that American Girl is racist, and this is coming from a Native American who literally has one doll in the entire line that is clearly Native.
    I also disagree with the concept that Addy is a racist doll, as well. Why would she be? If anything she, and her story, teaches children about the effects of slavery, during and after. Her story even addresses light skinned African American where Addy meets her long lost cousin who is passing as white. These, and many other subjects she touches on, are glossed over in schools. Addy was, and still is, an inspiration and light towards African American excellence, a story of a girl who refused to give up despite her limitations pressured on her based on her skin tone. To imply she is somehow racist because she bravely escaped slavery, knowing that in doing so she may never see her father, brother, or sister again, is ignorant. Not to mention she has an entire series of books, and she was in slavery for one of them.
    Not to mention, you’re comment about the other black doll, Cecile, complaining about her skin and hair is incredibly offensive, whether you mean it or not you’re implying she was less black because of her hair and skin color. Excuse me if I didn’t know that you had to have a certain hair type and hair color to be black.
    As for not buying white dolls, that’s just a different problem all together. I can understand if you personally don’t want your daughter to associate her beauty with Eurocentric standards, I played with plenty of dolls of different ethnicities and it never made me feel I wasn’t pretty enough by their standards. It just meant that I had more dolls who could be friends, regardless of race, which was something my mother encouraged. I mean, imagine if a white woman said she would only buy her daughter a white doll, the internet would set itself on fire!
    It really irks me when people want to place the blame of racism on a company whose actually doing well. American girl’s poc dolls, clearly poc, are over just over 40% of the dolls (Truly Me). This is actually an accurate look at America’s diversity ratio which has poc at around 40% and white at around 60%.
    That said, the textured hair shouldn’t really be a problem. Having actually textured hair for a doll is expensive, which is why they use it on Addy, one of the most successful and iconic dolls they have, and use a lesser quality on the Truly Me dolls, which they do with all dolls.
    Using racist to describe a doll company who is much more and accurately diverse than most companies just because of hair is amazingly ignorant. It’s especially ignorant to bring up a doll such as Addy as racist, and I’m assuming you haven’t even bothered reading her amazing story. Yes, the curly hair isn’t textured and the textured hair could be better, but it’s not cause to state that company is blatantly being oppressive to a specific race, the very definition of racism.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. Feel free to disagree with me, but calling me ignorant or assuming what I have or have not read isn’t warranted. The issue with Addy, to be succinct, is that the only history AG is highlighting when it comes to African-American girls is that of enslavement. Enslavement is a part of black people’s history, to be sure, but our history is so much more. Addy is a great character. But the problem is that she is the ONLY African-American character with hair like my daughter’s. That might not be important to YOU, but it is to ME. And it was to my kid. So for a store that says it can make a doll that looks like all girls, and black girls like my child tend to have highly textured hair, and the ONLY option for an AG girl to have textured hair like theirs is an enslaved doll? That’s a huge problem. So Addy herself isn’t racist. The fact that Addy is the only option if one wants a doll with textured hair is the problem.

      But again, let’s agree to disagree. I wrote this a long time ago. My daughter doesn’t even play with the doggone doll anymore😦

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