When I was a kid, all my friends had American girl dolls who they could dress up, play with, and most importantly, imagine were like them, their children, their look-alikes. After months of begging, Molly McIntire arrived in my Christmas stocking, a doll who had long brown hair like me, glasses like me, and freckles like me. I was obsessed with having a doll who looked like me, a doll that I could feel attached to, who I could pretend was like me. This was common among my friends—we all wanted the dolls that looked like us.
On the left: Molly, Source: American Girl Doll website, On the right: Me, around the time I was playing with American Girl Dolls
However, this wasn’t always the case. Before I got Molly, I had Kaya, a Native American doll from the mid 1700s. I wanted Kaya for months, and loved her stories, her accessories, her hair, and everything about her. I got Kaya first, before my friends had other American Girl dolls. However, I realized after I got Kaya that people were supposed to want dolls who looked like them, which was why I began to desire Molly, who looked like me. When we were talking about dolls in class last week, I thought a lot about American Girls, and why I chose to have the dolls that I had.
Kaya, Source: American Girl Doll Website
One comment really got me thinking- I took a class in the fall called “Sociology of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction” with Liz Raleigh, in which we talked a great deal about what it means to create and have kinship, and how racial differences can cause a disruption in the production of kinship. Since dolls exist to teach girls that motherhood is the expectation for them, the expectation that a girl can have kinship with her doll is crucial. For many people, race is essential for creating kinship with children, and therefore dolls, thus the idea that a doll that does not match the ethnicity of the doll-owner disrupts what it means for girls to be playing with dolls as a mean to learn mothering ideals.
When we first began talking about American Girl dolls, I kept thinking about how great it is that they have dolls of multiple races, many backgrounds, and with many different stories. However, the more we talked about it, I realized how problematic this tokenization is of these girls as a representation of the entire Native American community (Kaya) and a tokenization of the entire African-American community (Abby). We watched a clip from the show “Blackish” in class, in which a young black girl goes into a doll store to find a black doll, and is shown a wide variety of white dolls who have different diseases, achievements, and other aspects, but there are only two black dolls- one who is a runaway slave (meant to represent Abby) and the other who is involved in the civil rights movement (meant to represent Melody).
Source: Yahoo! TV
This issue of racial representation is not unique to American Girl dolls, and in the Jezebel article “Black Barbies: A Question of Representation,” author LatoyaPeterson highlights a statement from the designer of the new line of black Barbies, who said, “three dolls can’t represent the whole African-American community,” which the LatoyaPeterson accurately criticizes, saying McBride does not realize “her statement is the root of the issue.” These American Girl dolls of color, despite being a step in the right direction, are still marginalizing women of color in the United States, and inaccurately representing the vast range of experiences of women of color in the United States.
Source: Her Campus
 “Black Barbies: A Question of Representation,” Jezebel, last modified December 3, 2009, accessed May 21, 2017, http://jezebel.com/5418165/black-barbies-a-question-of-representation.