American Girl Kills Off Asian, Black Dolls

Emily Levy, Vocativ, May 27, 2014

When American Girl opted to discontinue two of its historical dolls last week, the brand chose Facebook as its medium of communication: “Soon, we’ll say farewell to Marie-Grace, Cécile, Ruthi and Ivy,” American Girl announced. “Complete your collection while supplies last–quantities are extremely limited.”

It wasn’t so simple, though. What the brand failed to address in its statement, but which very quickly became evident in blog posts, was that Cécile, an African-American doll, and Ivy, an Asian-American doll, were two of the only dolls of color in American Girl’s standard collection.

The Facebook post has since spawned more than 1,100 comments, including some from American Girl public relations combatting rumors about the company’s racial motives. Race, the PR reps say, has nothing to do with the brand’s decision; rather, it’s a tactical business choice about the value of its historical dolls like Cécile and Ivy, and all part of the company’s slow but relatively silent evolution as a brand working to refresh its appearance.

“While we are archiving these characters as part of this shift in strategy, we remain incredibly proud of the wide range of backgrounds, cultures and races offered in all of our doll lines,” says Stephanie Spanos, American Girl senior PR rep, in an email to Vocativ. “We’re honored that people look to us as a leader in creating high-quality, diverse characters.”

There isn’t an obvious lack of diverse characters in the set: The company maintains its “My American Girl” series, where collectors can create dolls in their likeness, and its “Girl of the Year” series, to which a new doll is introduced annually. The brand also continues to manufacture some of the very same dolls it did when it launched, known to collectors as the “Historical Characters,” and those dolls reflect a variety of backgrounds and races. So though the company is eliminating its “Best Friends” collection, character pairings of which Cécile and Ivy are a part, there’s no shortage of cultural variety.

{snip}

Spanos recognizes that the news “can be disappointing to some”–especially loyalists attached to discontinued dolls–but reiterates that the selection is part of the brand’s overall business calculations. “Our goal–as it has always been–is to ensure that all of our doll lines remain successful for generations to come,” she says. “That means continuing to refresh and evolve the lines over time so they remain interesting, meaningful and enjoyable for girls today.”

But is the brand sacrificing some of its authenticity for future success? In an April 2013 article published in The Atlantic, Amy Schiller explores the notion that the dolls are no longer as “radical” as they used to be. “With a greater focus on appearance, increasingly mild character development, and innocuous political topics, a former character-building toy has become more like a stylish accessory,” she writes. “Now the company’s identity feels as smooth, unthreatening and empty as the dolls on their shelves.”

New Yorker blogger Adrienne Raphel makes a similar point in an October 2013 follow-up story, in which she, too, reflects on the personality of the brand. In the story, “Our Dolls, Ourselves?” (note the question mark), Raphel says more than 23 million dolls have been sold since the launch of the company, but many collectors feel the brand had sold its soul to bigger business ideals.

Perhaps the best example of the brand’s recent shift from personality-based to profit-based decision-making is Isabelle–the latest doll to hit shelves. Part of the company’s “Girl of the Year” series, Isabelle is a blond ballet dancer whose primary accessories are her vanity table and yoga mat. And while she isn’t outwardly diverse in any quantifiable way (her most obvious quirk is the pink streak of dye that runs through her hair), she certainly reflects the aspirations of many young girls across the country.

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  • JackKrak

    Don’t they know that making a statement about validating everyone’s identity is more important than whether or not the dolls sell?????

    • Oil Can Harry

      Correct, it’s better the company should go bankrupt rather than hurt the feelings of a nonwhite.

      BTW the black doll was excellent. You pull the string and it lifts your wallet.

  • propagandaoftruth

    Gah…

    I have very good friends with little girls. This stuff makes my head swim…. Thank God they DO eventually grow up, eh?

    Be good daddies, White men.

  • TruthBeTold

    And will a black doll maker step up to fill this void and satisfy this market share?

    No. Blacks only whine what whites don’t do and they won’t do for themselves.

    Besides, despite the protests, I suspect the market for black dolls is small and unprofitable.

    • WR_the_realist

      Actually liberal whites do a great deal of the complaining. No black woman gives a high priority to giving her daughter a white doll, but lots of liberal whites insist on teaching their little girls to love a black doll.

      • If someone gave Ariadne a black doll, I’d cit it up with my circular saw before putting it in the trash.

        • Sick of it

          Michael, don’t deprive your family of some good, old fashioned doll burning fun. Perhaps Ariadne could burn the face off?

        • Rurik

          Stick pins in it, and then drop it off in front of the welfare office.

        • Alexandra1973

          Just make sure its name isn’t Talky Tina.

        • propagandaoftruth

          Sounds like fun with fireworks time.

          • I once made my own fireworks, but I’d get arrested if I ever did that again.

          • propagandaoftruth

            Teach your children well…lol…

      • M.Magog

        They use the dolls heads to clean pots and pans

    • Rurik

      Of course not. Whom among them would have the money to open a doll line? All their money has to go for bizarre Hair-doos, Rubber clown shoes, grillwork, and drugs. not necessarily in that order.

  • MekongDelta69

    These people are so pathetic and PC, they can’t even say “colored dolls.”

    Nope – Magically, they’re transformed (just like the people the supposedly represent) into “dolls of color.”

    • The same deranged folks probably want us to apologize to dolls, allow them to vote, and henceforth refer to them as “Plastic-Americans”.

      • MekongDelta69

        I believe the insane PC term would be “Plastic-Americans of Color”

        • M.Magog

          Oh no, that is ray-ciss, the correct term NOW is “Polymer Citizens of the world of a darker hue”

      • Lewis33

        “I don’t let them tell me what to do!”-George Bluth to Polly the doll.

      • M.Magog

        some will want to marry them

      • awb

        Like to have a beer with you.

    • Rurik

      People of Idiocy.

    • Midoria

      If you don’t say “colored people” anymore, what sense does it make to say “colored dolls”?

  • willbest

    I wonder how many of those upset actually own the colored dolls in question.

    • Fr. John+

      At over $100 a doll, I probably doubt it.

  • Dave West

    Well nothing is stopping black people from creating a doll company of their own where they only produce little brown dolls. Never mind it is a lot easier to complain and yell racism/ white privilege. Plus finding reliable and capable employees in “communities of color” might be a problem as well.

    • MBlanc46

      Well, they certainly would if it weren’t fur de turrible, turrible legacy ob de slabery.

    • M.Magog

      are there any products, other than black hair care products, that blacks make? Are there any companies that are started by blacks? I’m not talking about a franchise that may be owned by a black, I’m talking about companies that are started and grown by blacks. I heard there was once a brand of beer that was made by blacks, It lasted all of a year or so.

      • Dave West

        I remember coming across a list once of black owned companies and remember the vast majority of them being consulting firms, I noticed a trend that a lot of these consulting firms were hired by the federal govt.

        • M.Magog

          THAT, is just the old three card monty scam, it is not a business that produces anything.

  • Rhialto

    Note the usage of “kill off” in the headline. Isn’t the term “discontinue” used when a company ceases to produce a product? Perhaps Ms. Levy has not yet mastered the English language.

    • Sick of it

      She might be more comfortable with Yiddish.

    • Rurik

      That could be a Freudian example of a sublimated fantasy on Ms. Levy’s part.

      • Fr. John+

        Well, Freud and Levy share something in common….

  • Truthseeker

    Perhaps the best example of the brand’s recent shift from personality-based to profit-based decision-making is Isabelle–the latest doll to hit shelves. Part of the company’s “Girl of the Year” series, Isabelle is a blond ballet dancer whose primary accessories are her vanity table and yoga mat. And while she isn’t outwardly diverse in any quantifiable way (her most obvious quirk is the pink streak of dye that runs through her hair), she certainly reflects the aspirations of many young girls across the country.

    Now they’re using the word “diverse” to mean “different from the majority” rather than its actual meaning of “composed of a variety of elements.” One person cannot be “diverse.” We used to make jokes about how “diverse” is code for “non-White,” but now they’re openly using it that way.

    • seapeaMP

      One person cannot be “diverse.”

      A multi-racial person is pretty “diverse”.


      “Diversity” is a code word for White GENOCIDE.

    • LHathaway

      A 100% female, Asian, Black, Hispanic anything, even a mixture of these, is considered 100% diverse and something to celebrate, and their kind something to further give credit to, consideration to, and promote, even there.

  • Fed Up

    There ya go! Proof positive that Americans are racists! Because White children are simply not interested in owning Black or Asian dolls.

  • dd121

    Must have been a slow week. But the libs had to find something to cry about.

  • JSS

    So it’s perfectly fine for a company to make prophet based decisions if it negatively affects Whites, like importing cheap and illegal brown labor and shipping our jobs to China India and Pakistan. That’s just good old Amurrikan capitalism. But when a doll making company can’t sell ugly nonwhite dolls to anyone and decides in the name of making a prophet to nix them then that’s just pure racism. It’s always about race and in particular hosing down Whites.

    • The completely hilarious aspect to this tempest-in-a-teacup is that the toys in question are probably made in China.

    • Fr. John+

      You are correct. They got rid of two or three WHITE Dolls, long before these slow sellers got the corporate ‘axe.’ Kirsten, the Scandinavian White Blond doll, was one of the first dolls, excised from their lineup, just as the more modern, ‘multicultural’ dolls debuted. (Too white, too… well, Aryan, I guess)

      I ought to know. I bought said doll for my daughter, who now (as a teen) notes (with disgust, and of her older Barbies as well) “Dad, the faces (and colorations) on my dolls are different!” She is correct. We brought her dolls to the stores, and compared. (My daughther kept her dolls away from sun, away from lights, and in their original boxes) and sure enough…

      The American Girl dolls melanin pigmentation IS darker across the board, (read, less White) and the Barbie dolls look less ‘nordic’ and more ‘Sara Jessica Parker’… if you know what I mean.

      Oh, no…. Commerce is not ideologically driven… much.

      • Midoria

        There are way more white dolls than Asian/brown/black. So even if they axe a few white ones, there will still be way more white dolls than “ethnic”.

  • The paranoia of libtards is on display in a case where a profit decision is called racism. Alternatively, the libtards are just pushing buttons to show that they rule the roost and can make a company do what they wish.

    This is a company which will now be targeted by Eric Holder, the IRS, and Obama. As Obama interjects his fat mouth in the situation, he might say, “If I played with dolls, they would look like Cecile. And Trayvon, of course.”

    • If Obama played with dolls it would be a major improvement over his playing with my country. I’m voting for him licking up breadcrumbs at an African game park.

  • ncpride

    Good grief…. more accusations of racism when the fact is, black dolls DO NOT sell. It’s that simple. When Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ came out, the merchandise was a complete failure….all of it. The clothes, dolls, bedding, none of it sold. It ended up on clearance racks within a matter of weeks. Floor and shelf space is valuable and expensive in retail stores, and it’s all about the money. The idiots complaining obviously don’t understand that.

    • Anglokraut

      That is very true; I worked at a popular New England discount store for almost a year. It was a great job and I was very upset to resign, but there was one thing that I noticed very quickly: if I wanted to increase sales in my department, I had to put the “right” merch on the aisles, and it wasn’t The Princess and the Frog, or anything at all that showed a non-White. If I had any “Tangled”, I always put that on the aisle to draw the kids into the book department. Same for when I got a shipment of classic literature, or Boston history and local interest books.
      The illiterate Indians in my department kept moving things around though, with no understanding of why books on pregnancy and childbirth were not appropriate for the children’s section. In their minds, there was a picture of a baby on the cover, so it must be a children’s book.

      • M.Magog

        Reminds me of a story I heard years ago. When the “boat people” first started coming here there was a tale going around that a family bough a large tin of crisco expecting to find fried chicken inside.

    • TruthBeTold

      The film disappeared overnight. I don’t even hear blacks make reference to it.

      • Anglokraut

        Wasn’t it released in 2009? To be fair, that was NOT the best year to ask people to spend money on things like movies.

        I’ve seen parts of it on Disney Jr., but I’ve never been able to catch the whole movie. It doesn’t look bad, really, if you just take it at face-value–I think that anything that has Keith David doing a voice is going to have some redeeming value.

    • A year or two ago, my niece was watching that movie and I wondered if she really cared about a black “princess.” Fortunately not. I asked her who her favorite “princesses” were and she said, “Cinderella, Aurora, Little Mermaid.” In fact, she still adores those three and dresses up like them on special occasions, but I’ve never once heard her mention the black one. When we went to Disney World a couple years ago, I don’t even remember seeing the black girl walking around. My niece had her picture taken with pretty much ever other female Disney character, though.

  • Mason Gull

    Regardless of “racism,” the Asian doll is a pretty terrible doll. The jawline is too masculine and the clothes are boring. In fact, the clothes aren’t even distinctly Asian aside from the Mongolian boots. The color scheme is awful too. All they had to do was make it look like the Asian girl on the booklet, and it would have sold better.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    Since these American Girl products were called “historical dolls” and were dressed in period clothing, and since we’re constantly reminded, such as in the piece today by Ta-Nehisi Coates, that blacks were once enslaved in this country, shouldn’t the black doll have been in chains with the scars of whip lashes down its back? Maybe the white dolls can be portrayed as the daughters of the plantation owners and can be depicted as laughing cruelly as they oversee the whippings.

    • M.Magog

      The “aunt-jemima” and the “Kareem O’Wheat” dolls

  • LHathaway

    It’s always about race and even the presentation of these fictional characters is important. Perhaps we should note that as they remove more and more of even these European sounding names from streets and buildings and businesses and rechristen them in honor of people of color.

  • A Freespeechzone

    In the end having a business is ABOUT MAKING MONEY.

    Obviously minority dolls don’t sell and are a DRAIN ON THE COMPANY RESOUCES.

    Unlike government, the bottomline trumps PC nonsense.

    • M.Magog

      NO doubt it was an AA hire that came up wif the idea for those lines in the first place.

  • OhWow

    Sniff sniff…

  • jim b

    So…a company that makes dolls is subject to accusations of racism. A company that makes dolls….Sorry, I’m trying to fathom the depth of stupidity pointed out in this article.

  • Hal K

    I don’t believe they are the only dolls “of color.” American Girl is too PC for that.

  • IstvanIN

    Why explain anything? Companies alter their product lines all the time. So they discontinued a doll? Big whoop.

    • I will never forgive G.M. for discontinuing the Saturn auto line.

      • IstvanIN

        For me, Mercury. Although I was always fond of Oldsmobile.

        • Oldsmobile was a pity, too. The Olds Cutlass was a good car. G.M. deliberately starved the whole division.

    • TruthBeTold

      They discontinued a BLACK doll! Don’t you get it? Don’t you see the racism? Don’t you see the hate?

      • So why weren’t black parents buying these for their daughters in sufficient numbers to justify continued production? The ones who are now complaining have only themselves to blame for not supporting the product.

        • model1911

          Perhaps American Girl does not accept EBT cards.

  • freddy_hills

    So why doesn’t Okrah Winfrey contract a Chinese manufacturer to make some colored dolls?

    • Why? Because it is easier for her to gripe about how awful whites are.

    • TruthBeTold

      Oprah makes her money of liberal whites. She knows there’s no profit in products that appeal to blacks.

    • M.Magog

      she needs a tax write off, she knows they won’t sell.

  • M.Magog

    Reading the headline of the story I was expecting a story about a controversy over a girl pretending to execute her black and asian dolls in a youtube video. That would be fun to watch.

  • M.Magog

    They should come out with the “ghetto lobster doll”, a doll that you boil, throw boiling water at or leave in a hot car. Another one could be the “rockfish doll” you throw it into the tub and it sinks to the bottom and expels air bubbles.

    • How about a pregnant teenage crackhead doll? She would have disheveled hair, glazed eyes and come with a glass pipe.

      • M.Magog

        or the welfare mom doll, it bends over and shakes it “booty” then rolls over and spreads it’s legs. It’s voice says, “you know you want some of dis”

  • LIBERTYSINCURSION

    Absolutely nothing is off limits to the diversity seeking race pimps these days. Their level of comedic dumbness never fails to out do itself year after year.

  • Ngati Pakeha

    They really want it both ways don’t they. “Make more black dolls” on one hand and “get rid of lawn jockeys” on the other! I don’t know.

    • They always want it both ways. When police use “Stop-Question-Frisk” tactics to reduce urban crime, it is instantly “racist profiling”. When they stop doing that and urban crime rates rise, it is “de-policing” by uncaring racist whites. Blacks complain about the large supermarket chains pulling out of their neighborhoods because of the crime, but when Arabs and Koreans set up small grocery stores in these same areas, they are “exploiting” blacks. Why should this issue over dolls be any different?

  • Andy

    Of the eighteen historical American Girl dolls, at least six are pointedly “diverse”. America’s make-up would put the proportionate number at two to four.

    Kaya: Amerind
    Felicity: white
    Elizabeth: white
    Caroline: white
    Josefina: Hispanic
    Marie Grace: white
    Cecile: black
    Kirsten: white
    Addie: black
    Samantha: white
    Nellie: white
    Rebecca: Jewish
    Kit: white
    Ruthie: white
    Molly: white
    Emily: white
    Julie: white
    Ivy: Asian

  • Viv J

    There are still plenty of “dolls of color” in the American Girl store. When I took my 4-year-old there, she didn’t even glance at those. She chose the doll that had light brown hair, pale complexion, and blue eyes because she was the “pretty one.”

  • M.Magog

    Ok, so we have ONE, so far. Hmmm. can anyone even COUNT the number of businesses created by whites?

  • none of your business

    Those dolls are a real ripoff. The dolls cost about $150.00. Buying a sister and friends costing the same is pushed. They have a newsletter encouraging the owners of these dolls to nag for more of them until there is a whole family and classrooms of them. They have numerous outfits that can be purchased like barbies. But whereas the extra barbie outfits cost about $3.00 to $8.00 the American Girl outfits cost $30.00 to $50.00 apiece, more than a comparable child’s dress or coat costs at Ross, Walmart or Target. The company is disgustingly PC
    with all its black and brown dolls. Only parents who have a lot of money or want to sacrifice other things buy those dolls. Really, you can buy new bikes for 2 kids at Christmas for the cost of just one American girl doll.
    I think another reason is that girls just absolutely adore barbies. Not the cutest baby doll or the most elaborate princess/bride type beats a barbie.
    Feminazis hate them and many adults scorn them, but barbie rules the doll world as a perfect example of the free market and supply and demand.

    Barbie rules

    • That is a crazy price! Back in the happy days of the 1990s, I used to get good bolt-action Mauser and Enfield rifles for that much! The reel for my fly fishing rod was only $25 from Cabela’s.

      I have some injection-molding tooling in the basement, and made my daughter 1/6 scale action figures that look like the family’s “Neverwinter Nights” swords & sorcery characters. Sayaka sewed their costumes. I made a die for hammering out helmets from aluminum can metal, and a convincing chainmail substitute out of nylon butterfly netting with the individual fibers thickened up with the careful application of metallic grey spray paint. These might have cost $3 each to make; most of the materials that went into making them was scrap. It was time consuming, and at times frustrating getting something to look right, but as someone who ties fishing flies and makes fishing lures, I’m used to that.

      I’ve been thinking of knocking out a set of the adventurers from “The Hobbit”. We have the extended version of the first movie in that series on DVD, so I’ll just use that as a guide to getting their appearances correct.

    • r j p

      American Girl is conspicuous consumption marketed to 4-8 year old girls.
      The building I used to work in was also a train depot. Granddaughters and daughters would come back with full shopping bags. My sister asked me to go to Water Tower Place around Christmastime and see if they had some doll. I was completely disgusted, even more so than the time when I cut through it in the middle of summer to get out of Water Tower Place.
      Stay at home moms should learn to sew if their daughter’s want those dolls.

  • PvtCharlieSlate

    I read the title over several times trying to guess what it could really be about before I realized “American Girl” might be the name of a company.

  • MoreEveryDay

    🙂