Does the doll above look like she’s a native Hawaiian to you? Me neither. Yet, she’s American Girl’s doll of the year, Kanani. My spouse, Collateral Damage, has a few choice words on this today:
In Hawaiian Kanani means”the beautiful one.” Apparently the beautiful one in Hawaii is Haole. While her last name, Akina, may sound Hawaiian it is actually Japanese (another group known primarily for black hair and eyes and a distinctly non-Caucasian skin tone). So American Girl™®© just decided to appropriate some ethnic sounding names, put a flower in the doll’s hair and call it Hawaiian. Aznuts, as the Hawaiians say. Hell, even Disney – which has a very long history of messing up on ethnic issues — was able to do this right.
I’m surprised to not find more uproar about this on the interwebs. Instead, it would seem that the state is embracing the doll as a way to promote tourism. From USA Today:
The Kauai Visitors Bureau is doing a traditional blessing on the beach for the doll and I’m sure hoping this sparks more interest in the island. Back on the Mainland, girls can take part in Kanani-themed activities at AG stores, including hula lessons, learning about Hawaiian crafts and food. For more information, visit americangirl.com or call 800-845-0005.
If Kanani brings more tourism to the Islands, and creates greater awareness of indigenous Hawaiian culture to the Mainland, then more power to her. But I’m still creeped out.
Full disclosure: My grandparents retired to Hawaii in the 1970s, my parents own real estate there, and I’ve probably spent about a year there over the course of my lifetime. So I’m a Haole too, and a regular visitor, but the fact that I’ve enjoyed poi and spam maki doesn’t make me Hawaiian.