We didn’t change the world. Now what?

5 Feb

After my daughter asked, “Why aren’t there two brown girls together?” about her pages and pages of stickers of American Girls playing and reading and living their lives … after I agreed that it wasn’t right … after she set her lips in that way she has that’s new and disturbing, I had a few choices to make:

Call her on her attitude? No. Not this time. Leave it alone? Let things be as they are? Again: No. Then what do we do?

Write a letter? Write an email? Make a call? Enlist the help of friends – her friends? my friends? Who starts it off? Me, the mom? Her, the kid? Me, the ally? Her, the one whose life is not represented by her favorite brand? And then – what if it doesn’t change? Because probably, it won’t.

We wrote a letter. Mostly, I wrote it and she sat on her iPad nearby, jumping up to add her commentary and make a few edits over my shoulder before we printed it off to stamp and send. She didn’t want to sign it, but she wanted it written. She wanted to be heard.

Here’s what we said:

Dear American Girl,

I am the mother of a ten-year-old who loves your dolls. She loves them. She lobbied my partner and me for one of your dolls for two years before we granted her wish and when we finally did visit your store to choose her doll, she did cartwheels in the aisle. She selected a brown girl that looks like her – from your historical series – the girl most like her in color and facial features – and she has played with her American Girl Doll with love and enthusiasm, over and over and over again.

We have your books on friendship and self-care and puberty, and both she and I appreciate the approach you’ve taken, the stories you’ve chosen to share, the facts, and the tone you take with your readers. We also like the pictures. A lot.

You’ve done a very good job with many things.

A couple weeks ago, though, my daughter and her friend and I were making cards and badges and crafts with your scrapbook sticker set and we noticed something upsetting, especially in the middle of our country’s overt and strong racial tensions. We noticed that while brown girls were shown in a variety of activities, there were no brown girls together. When your brown girls were social, they were social only with white girls. We also noticed there were hardly any Asian girls. And we wondered:  Why is that?

Respectfully …

I took a picture before we mailed it. Then we left town to visit family for Christmas.

wpid-20141221_101753.jpg

By the time their response arrived – and it didn’t take long, really – we had both forgotten about the letter we sent.

But then I saw the return address, the logo, the postmark, and called her over. “American Girl wrote back. Do you want to hear what they said?” She gave me that guarded look again – not entirely cold this time, still hopeful. I could almost hear her heart beating in her chest. Or maybe it was the heart in my own chest I heard. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Here is what they wrote back:

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with American Girl. We appreciate your feedback and are happy to hear how much your daughter enjoys her doll and our books. At the same time, we’re sorry to hear about your disappointment with our recent catalogue.

Our mission is to ‘Celebrate Girls’, all girls, so we’re committed to having diverse options within our product lines and marketing efforts. While we do not always have the luxury of reshooting catalogue pages to create better balance, one edition may have a better balance than another. However, we believe being a girl, any girl, is great and that the girls we inspire today will become the women who make the difference tomorrow. You have our word that American Girl will continually strive to maintain our reputation for inclusiveness.

We appreciate your interest in an Asian American doll. With the re-launch of the historical collection, we’ve decided to move away from the friend-character strategy within the line, which means we no longer offer Julie’s best friend of Chinese-American heritage, Ivy Ling ®. However, we’re constantly exploring various time periods and cultures to add to our line. We believe the Asian-American story is a very important one to share with girls and we hope to have the opportunity to do so at some point in the future.

In the meantime, we currently offer dolls which are considered Asian American in appearance: Bitty Baby ® (DFN00), Bitty Twins® (F4991-GF1A), the My American Girl® doll (F1253). In addition, our 2006 Girl of the Year® character, Jess®, was of Japanese American heritage. Each of these dolls has light skin, dark brown or black hair, and dark brown or black almond-shaped eyes.

Ms. … we value your opinion and hope this information is helpful. Customer comments are important to us as we strive to make our products as appealing from as many vantage points as possible.

Sincerely…

I couldn’t get through the letter without commentary. Hers. Mine. Kelly’s. Reshooting? Inclusiveness? 2006? Julie’s best friend?

“That’s stupid!” my daughter finally said, and I agreed. Again.

But again – now what?

When you try to change the world with a few tiny words and you’re not really heard and there is no change, what then? What’s next? What do you do when your child is watching, waiting?

“Do you want me to post it on my blog?” I asked her. “To see if anyone else has an idea?”

“Yes!” she said. “Do that.”

And she nodded. Decision made.

I took out identifying info ’cause that’s just how I am, but here are the letters in their original form:

AGD letter 12 21 2014

AGD response 1 8 2015

Our letter wasn’t perfect. Neither was American Girl’s.

But I’m posting them here and now I’m asking – I really am asking – in case one of you has an idea that sticks:

We didn’t change the world.

Now what?

What would you do?

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7 Responses to “We didn’t change the world. Now what?”

  1. DeCaf February 6, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Theirs really sounds like a form letter.

  2. goodfamiliesdo February 6, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    I’m upset they didn’t have anything better to say and didn’t address the actual issue of underlying racism. I am jaded too. I wouldn’t expect much more than what they gave. You could start some social media campaign to try to really get their attention. It would likely be well received and lots of girls have probably noticed the same thing. I am wondering why they pose POC dolls only with white dolls and not other POC dolls. My guess is that some marketing team told them they wouldn’t sell. Thing is that they could really be doing more with their POC line but they aren’t. How about a japanese american girl who was in an interment camp? Oh right, we pretend that doesn’t exist…

  3. traceybecker February 6, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    While they didn’t change their line up YET, I believe that, with enough voices, there can be a sway to how things are done. Perhaps she can start an online petition for the consideration of her key desires?

  4. Shannan February 6, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    The response was disappointing, but I’m so glad that you spoke up, both because of the lesson for your daughter and the message you sent to AG. You got their attention, as the rather prompt response shows. They clearly read your letter. Using your voice is a step towards changing the world. I think you can also teach her about the power of the purse. If AG’s response was stupid, is it a place you want to spend your money? I think making her feel empowered is important.

  5. Marj February 6, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Good for you for speaking up! Only ~10% of consumers give companies feedback, so we all need to.

    What about making a short video of your daughter sharing her feelings about this and post it to AG social media (and/or send it to them directly)? You could ask her what *experience* she is looking for in having the brown girls play together–why is this important to her? and why she’d like to see more Asian AG dolls? They need to better understand the play patterns and wishes/desires of their customers.

    You could also reach out to Mighty Girl for ideas or post a video or your blog post to their FB page: https://www.facebook.com/amightygirl?ref=br_tf

    • goodfamiliesdo February 6, 2015 at 10:34 am #

      Posting it on the facebook page of a company usyally gets a lot of attention (from them and others). I believe that is because it is public and so easy to share.

  6. verilp February 6, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    Change usually comes very slowly but speaking up as you did was a wonderful lesson for your daughter. Even if no further action is taken. Perhaps you can have a discussion about possible actions and the likely outcomes of each. Learning what you can control, what you can influence, and what you have little or no influence over is important in today’s life. On the other hand, we are sometimes pleasantly surprised about outcomes.

    I like the video interview idea, but posting it could be more revelatory than you want for her right now.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and actions on this issue. Way to go!

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