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The making of Addy Walker, American Girl’s first black doll | addy american girl doll
February is Atramentous History Month. Here, an HG contributor reflects on the barbed acceptation of Addy Walker, the aboriginal Atramentous baby alien by the American Babe company.
As a Atramentous babe growing up in Connecticut’s white suburbs, seeing myself represented in media and my ambience was fleetingly attenuate at best, and absurd at worst. When I stepped alfresco my door, the town’s demographics were anon alienating, and alike if my elementary academy aeon hadn’t commented on my accessible differences, I still would accept accepted their accurate animosity about my Blackness. Their thoughts about me embodied in the way they stared, in their coded language, in their abandoned actuation to blow my beard and analysis if it was “real.”
Like abounding girls my age at the time, I capital an American Babe doll. Most of the dolls in the “Historical Characters” collection, such as Victorian-era Samantha Parkington or Swedish immigrant Kirsten Larson, were white. Again the aggregation alien their aboriginal Atramentous American Babe doll, Addy Walker, in 1993. On the awning of the aboriginal book in her collection, Addy is an backward 9-year-old babe with inquisitive, aphotic amber eyes and a candied half-smile on her face. Her atramentous beard is pulled aback into a low bun and covered by a harbinger bonnet, its dejected award angry neatly beneath her chin. She’s dressed in a ablaze red and white-striped dress and amber covering boots. She carries a ample satchel-type bag. A chaplet that looks like a baby carapace threaded through a allotment of bond hangs about her neck.
It’s accessible why a little Atramentous babe belief the assorted American Girls would appetite an Addy doll; she looked like all of us who coveted her and took her home. I was beholden to assuredly accept representation in Addy, but seeing myself in her fabricated me accompanying adequate and uneasy.
While there is annihilation about Addy’s actualization that alike alludes to her trauma, the one American Babe baby for Atramentous accouchement like me was additionally a 9-year-old babe built-in into slavery.
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Her agonizing backstory set in the Civil War, she had able a acreage with her mother. Alike at that adolescent age, the weight of her anecdotal was not absent on me.
Other “Historical Characters” like Samantha and Kirsten did not accept identities heavily founded aloft their oppression. This isn’t to say that the white American Girls’ belief didn’t affection acquaint in racism and bigotry or advantage and classism, but Addy’s adolescence was the alone one that had been shaped by the baleful abandon of white supremacy. Her backstory was the alone one that aboveboard accustomed America’s ugly, blood-soaked bequest of bigotry and hatred.
I captivated Addy’s books with awe and abashed wonder. I still bethink all of them. In Meet Addy, readers are alien to Addy and her family, active on a North Carolina acreage in 1864. Her ancestors is breach up by the acreage master, who sells her earlier brother and father. Addy and her mother accomplish the accommodation to abscond the acreage and seek abandon in Philadelphia. In one appalling scene, Addy is affected to eat worms from the tobacco leaves she’s been “assigned” to pull. In addition scene, Addy assemblage her ancestor and brother in chains afterwards they’ve been awash by the acreage overseer. Refusing to leave her father, Addy is whipped. Yet while it was viscerally advancing to apprehend these incidents as a child, I didn’t appearance Addy’s agony as a assurance of her weakness or inferiority.
Addy’s adventure took the aching affair of bullwork from the whitewashed pages of academy textbooks and removed the ambit created by indifference. Her faculty of chastity was continuously and relentlessly tested. Her adventuresomeness was admirable, a alarm of hope.
Addy is accounted a fighter and a survivor in her books—the apotheosis of animation in the face of alarm and institutionalized racism—but she additionally reminded me that my ancestors had been dehumanized and murdered throughout American history.
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In her article for The Paris Review, “Addy Walker, American Girl,” columnist Brit Bennett credibility out, “For 17 years, Addy was the alone Atramentous actual doll; she was the alone nonwhite baby until 1998.” This accommodation wasn’t an blow or a controllable oversight. According to Aisha Harris autograph for Slate, the architect of the dolls, Pleasant Rowland, anticipation that initially introducing an African American baby was a chancy best for the company’s basal line. The above elementary academy abecedary and arbiter columnist told the Washington Post in a 1993 interview, “I acquainted that the aggregation initially bare to get accustomed financially, afore we could booty the accident that may be inherent in presenting a baby via absolute mail into the African American market.” Rowland continued, “Because typically, common atramentous consumers do not acquirement abundant from direct-mail catalogues.”
I accept I shouldn’t be afraid by Rowland’s remarks. The bodies in my boondocks were consistently bold what Atramentous bodies did and did not do, basing a person’s ancestral “authenticity” on how they accommodated to these expectations. Abounding white people—liberals and conservatives alike—assume that Blackness is bedfast to a academic analogue abiding in abhorrence and disbelief of “the Other.”
When the Addy Walker baby was aboriginal appear in 1993, she was not absolutely welcomed. In the Washington Post article that appeared about the time of Addy’s launch, critics claimed that the doll’s assuming did not absolutely represent Atramentous people. Connie Porter, a Atramentous woman and biographer who authored the Addy books, dedicated the anecdotal and beat decisions. She said, “Some bodies don’t appetite to see a appearance in slavery—that’s ridiculous…You can run the accident of actuality so politically actual that you can lose accomplished periods of history. Accouchement are added accessible to allocution about these things than some adults are.”
At 9 years old, I don’t apperceive that I was necessarily accessible to allocution about slavery, racism, and discrimination.
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Although they absolutely weren’t adopted concepts to me, I don’t apperceive if I bedevilled the ability or alike the affecting intelligence to accept a aboveboard altercation about the nuances of such evils. Yet, on the added hand, I’m additionally not assertive that Addy’s actuality was a abhorrent mistake. Perhaps after Porter’s words and skill, Addy Walker would accept been annihilation added than a apathetic acknowledgment for the past, an accomplishment abiding in acceptable intentions and catastrophe in failure. America’s history should not be sanitized, bankrupt up, and able by a faculty of absent nationalism, and Porter knew that.
Moreover, white supremacy and systemic racism do not advance in a vacuum. Their poisons ability into assorted facets of ability and society—and that includes dolls. Racist caricatures of Atramentous people, such as Golliwogs, were normalized through dolls in America’s Jim Crow era. In the 1940s, amusing psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted their acclaimed “Dolls Test,” which was a absolute acknowledgment to academy allegory and the cardinal of “separate but equal.” Application dolls, the psychologists approved to prove that such a action was mentally and emotionally harmful—even dangerous—for Atramentous children. Kenneth Clark would action the adolescent a Atramentous baby and a white doll, again ask the adolescent to point out the “nice” baby and the “bad” doll.
In a 1985 account with Clark for the PBS mini-series Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965), he said, “The Dolls Analysis was an attack on the allotment of my wife and me to abstraction the development of the faculty of self, self-esteem in children…We asked these alternative questions in which a majority of these accouchement awfully alone the Atramentous or amber doll, and [ascribed] absolute characteristics to the white doll—not all, but the majority did.”
One could altercate that Addy challenged this racist history. She was not physically crafted like the Jim Crow era dolls seeped in anti-Black contempt. She doesn’t accept the over-exaggerated, about angled appearance associated with aberrant stereotypes of Atramentous people. She is declared as a hero. But is that enough?
Now that I’m 30 years old, I can alarmingly appraise what it meant to accord a adolescence baby the role of the martyr, to accomplish her a attribute of broad-mindedness acquired through suffering. I accept to admiration if business a Atramentous baby as a delinquent bondservant was the band-aid to diff representation—but like Beloved or Their Eyes Were Watching God, Addy Walker and her anecdotal do not belie the atrocities that white supremacy has affected aloft Atramentous people.
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The actuality is that introducing Addy to the “Historical Characters” accumulating was not a abracadabra fix that would instantly abolish decades of misrepresentation. There was no accessible way she could be aggregate for everyone.
We could not accept accepted her to be some accepted analgesic for racism’s wounds. I can still feel beholden for Addy while acquainted the barbed complication of her acceptation as a doll. Ability is absolutely power, and Addy imparted her adoring adolescent caretakers with ability and accuracy over adamant benightedness about America’s history. Although Addy is a fabulous character, her accomplishments and ancestral character do not accomplish her a victim or a adverse heroine—but thoroughly and assuredly American.
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