American Girl is releasing a new doll to celebrate its 30th anniversary: Melody Ellison joins the lineup of dolls with unique stories from different periods of American history. She will also be the company’s third black doll.
According to Buzzfeed, Melody is a 9 year-old living in Detroit in the 1960s. She loves to sing, and naturally, she loves Motown music. Civil rights activist Julian Bond was reportedly consulted for Melody’s story.
Melody joins Addy, Kaya and Josefina as three non-white dolls in the current BeForever line. Previously, the collection included Cecile Rey, who came from a wealthy black family in New Orleans, and Ivy Ling, a Chinese American girl who loves gymnastics and is very “lucky.” Both have since been discontinued.
Designing dolls with some sort of historical tie-in is necessarily going to be a precarious task when it comes to making dolls of color. For most non-white people in America, history has not been kind to them, with a former slave as the only black doll in the collection for many years.
In Addy Walker, American Girl, Brit Bennett explores the legacy of black and white dolls and their place in America’s racial history—going back to golliwogs and pickaninnys.
For seventeen years, Addy was the only black historical doll; she was the only nonwhite doll until 1998. If you were a white girl who wanted a historical doll who looked like you, you could imagine yourself in Samantha’s Victorian home or with Kirsten, weathering life on the prairie. If you were a black girl, you could only picture yourself as a runaway slave.
Bennett also noted the usefulness of Addy’s story, which no doubt helped introduce the horrors of slavery to many young girls. Still, it is an onus not carried by any of the white American Girl dolls.
Within the complicated tradition of black dolls, Melody seems like a great inclusion, and I hope she sticks around. There’s no perfect way to quantify diversity, but it will be a good day when little girls and boys of color have as many options to see themselves in their dolls and toys as white children.
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