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An article in the New York Times about the latest American Girl doll caught my eye in the blog Anti-Racist Parent. (I subscribe to their RSS feed because I aspire to be that.) It’s an interesting story — the latest in this line of historically-based dolls is Jewish.
Just to give you the background, if you don’t know: American Girl dolls are not generic baby dolls for open-ended play, nor are they fashionable ladies to act out being mathematicians or mommies; each doll comes with a pre-written background historical fiction. The dolls alone sell for $95. Accompanying story books, sold separately, place the characters of each of the dolls in her time and region of the United States, and there are also accessories for each doll that may be purchased separately. (This is the kind of racket that makes me really happy to have a little boy.)
The New York Times piece discusses how previous African-American and Latina dollies attracted criticism. Which you can understand, I think — you don’t want to give children the message that their ethnic identity is bound up exclusively in oppression, and choosing to have the one African-American doll be born in slavery could be seen to do that. As a Jewish parent I do want my child to know the history of anti-Semitism, of the Shoah and the pogroms and the expulsions. But it’s not the first thing I want him to learn about himself, that he’s a target. I’d rather have him learn that musicians and scientists he admires are Jewish, first, and that there are Jewish people, who look different from each other, living all over the world, and then Jewish food and Jewish songs and Jewish jokes. There’s plenty of time to learn about the other stuff. In any case, the company went to great lengths this time to get it right, including consulting with, among others, Jewish historian Paula Hyman at Yale.
If you were going to write a story about an American Jewish girl set today, what would she look like and what would her story be?
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