The American Girl doll company recently released its newest doll Cecile Rey, the second black character in the historic doll collection. Cecile Rey comes 17 years after the company’s first black character, Addy Walker, the run-away slave.
Cecile’s story has been more welcomed than Addy’s. Growing up in New Orleans in 1853, Cecile is excited about Mardi Gras and the upcoming parties in her town. She is most excited about attending the Children’s Ball, and she is on the search for the perfect costume. Cecile’s story is accompanied by another doll, Marie-Grace Gardner, her new (white) friend. The story of the two girls challenges the boundaries of race and class in friendship during this time period.
The author of Cecile’s story Denise Lewis Patrick told American Girl what she hoped young girls would learn from Cecile.
“I hope that girls learn from Cécile that sometimes, true friendship finds you even when — or especially when — you’re not looking for it. It comes when you need it. She discovers an ability that all girls have — to bravely open their hearts to a bigger world than the one they’ve known.” (source)
Shelly Walcott, news reporter for the NBC-affiliate in Milwaukee, said in her blog that she had always been concerned that the only African American doll was a slave.
“Now don’t get me wrong — I believe learning about the history of slavery in America is critical, and should in no way be hidden from our children. But for the longest time I just wished the folks over at American Girl would create another black doll that celebrated a more positive time in African American history. Why wasn’t there a doll based in the Civil Rights or Jazz eras? ” (source)
A mother to a young daughter, Walcott, said in her blog that she was happy to see that young black girls would have another option.
“As a parent, I find Cecile’s story a lot more appropriate for play time than plantation scenes and a bullwhip-cracking slave master.
Much of African American history is painful. And I’m glad to see the folks at American Girl have introduced a new doll that can allow children’s fantasies to be… less intense.” (source)
Jamilah Lemieux blogged for Clutch Magazine about her thoughts on the friendship of Cecile Rey and Marie-Grace.
“I’m side eyeing the paring a little bit…why couldn’t Cecile been enough on her own? Oh well. At least she’s not Marie Grace’s maid.” (source)
I remember being 5 years old when I first got my Addy Walker doll. As a young child, I didn’t think too much about Addy being a runaway-slave. I was just excited to have a doll that looked like me. Now that I am 22 years old, it saddens me to think that it took American Girl 17 years (in the company’s 25 years) to come up with another narrative for young African American girls.
I agree with Walcott’s sentiments on American Girl not creating another doll from another era that celebrates African American history. While children may not fully understand the cultural messages behind products and advertising, I think that it is unfortunate that the only image American Girl could think to provide young black girls was that of a slave. I welcome Cecile Rey with open arms, and I hope that she will provide a new generation of black girls a more positive image of themselves. I think that Lemieux makes a great point in questioning why Cecile could not have her own narrative, but I think that addressing issues of race and class with children are very important. Maybe this will open up the door for parents to have these conversations outside of playtime?
Please share your thoughts…
How do you feel about Cecile Rey being the newest American Girl doll? Was Addy Walker’s narrative really that bad? What messages do you think we send young children through toys?