So, today I’m going to go out on a limb here a bit and talk about something that I’ve found a lot of people like to sweep under the carpet or run and use their PC dictionary. I’m going to talk about race.
Specifically race and fairytales. This might take more than one post.
Race is something I’m very comfortable talking about. I’ve lived in three foreign countries, grew up on the West Coast of the U.S., went to school in Ohio and fell in love with a boy from Memphis, Tennessee. He’s a southern U.S. African American. I’m Celtic on my father’s side and early America era British colonist on my mother’s.
Or to put it in over-simplified and heavily stereotyped jargon:
And we live in Japan.
As you might guess, race comes up rather frequently. Both my husband and I enjoy talking about it. Things would be a little bit weird if we couldn’t talk about it.
So, today I was thinking about what to write about and I mentioned to my husband that I had a bone to pick with people who complain about so many of the Disney Princesses being white. My reasoning went something like this:
- Most of the Disney Princess stories come from European mythology. For example, Sleeping Beauty would be white, because she comes from a Germanic fairytale, in an era where just about everyone there would have been very white. The culture in the fairytale is European nobility, with European tools and European traditions. Thus the princess should be white. That is the story.
- It would be as equally unsettling to me if an historical fairytale Nigerian ruler’s daughter was presented as white as if someone made Sleeping Beauty black.
- If our culture- I’m referring to the United States as a collective culture, though ‘mixing pot of cultures transported from other places and held within this political territory of the U.S.’ would be more correct – truly desires to have heroines that are skin tones other than Caucasian in our fairytale lexicon, then we should start telling stories from other traditions
- It’s actually more damaging to people’s racial identities to be changing just the skin color on Disney Princesses and posting altered images of them online than to simply have white heroines. We can love and seek to embody ideals found in people of all races and backgrounds. It’s not necessary to tell little girls that they need to be looking for women who look like them to be properly entertained.
*My husband interrupted me at one point to say that people should be complaining more over the fact that there weren’t very many heroines out there anyway, before getting hung up on race but we laid that aside for another conversation. *
Here’s the biggy for me. It’s not the color of one’s skin that designates who somebody is. In the U.S we are way to hung up on skin tone and forget much of everything else that makes up what someone is. Boiling it down to skin color is a nice way to make statistics simple. There’s only so many skin colors out there, but it really is even more destructive in the long run. By making a big deal out of the color of Disney Princess’s skin, you’re brushing under the carpet that the architecture, the traditions, the values, the legends that are incorporated into the story of those princesses are just as culturally and ethnically centric as what they look like, if not more so. Throwing paint on a Germanic fairytale does not suddenly make a little girl with skin color darker than Sleeping Beauty’s identify with her. She’s still wearing a western Victorian era inspired dress, with Victorian era inspired jewelry, living with European noble family and servants.
You just changed her skin color. She’s still…..dare I say it….white.
Does a black girl have to be culturally white to be desirable? Totally remake the storyline, set in the Serengeti, within the setting of an African tribe, wearing African clothes, with the traditions and values of the historical and local people proper to the region and I’ll buy that she’s black.
Actually, I’d pay to see that movie.
But getting back to the little girl viewer, what if the little girl doesn’t want Prince Charming to come for her? What if she’s attracted to girls and wants to be Prince Charming? How about an altered picture for that?
The point is we need to start telling more stories, different stories. We need stories from more of the many traditions that make up the U.S. We need to tell stories about girls who aren’t princesses, girls who are wonderful princesses, girls who rescue princesses, girls who never heard of princesses and girls who represent and remind us, who ever we are, of what we’re proud to be.
And there are many of these stories out there. So go enjoy those stories. Do the work to find them, and please, please, let Sleeping Beauty stay white. She’s just weird when she’s black.