Yes, Representation Still Matters
Why are so many white folks bothered by Black people on screen?
A while back, I wrote that the battle for representation starts in childhood. That that's the time when we first notice we're left out. And it can also be a time to notice when we're included.
I’m late writing about this, but reactions from little Black girls who saw the trailer for the latest iteration of The Little Mermaid all had a couple of things in common: delighted amazement from the girls and emotional tears from the mums who see their kids having an experience they themselves were denied. Halle Bailey is awesome!
As a former little Black girl, I too welled up a bit because I never saw anyone who looked like me in a lead role when my age was still in single digits. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, I waited a good couple of decades for that experience.
Casting Halle Bailey in that role is important because it tells those little girls that they can be anything, and that's a message Black kids need and often don't get.
It's why I'm glad I raised my daughter in a Black majority country because whatever its enduring problems with white supremacy, she saw Black people filling all the important roles in society and even in a place that has it's fair share of patriarchal norms, many of those roles were held by women.
Of course, as usual, there was a backlash against a Black girl playing a fictional character. Even in fiction, it seems, we must "know our place", and for many that place isn't in a lead role.
There were many who pointed out the absurdity of the pushback, and others who highlighted that the original mermaid came from African lore. And of course the fact that the unwillingness of certain white people to see a Black girl as Ariel speaks to their desire to always make whiteness central and the default, when if we're talking global numbers, it should never be.
Honestly, I'm tired. Tired of the pushback against Black people as fictional characters, colour blind casting, Black people celebrating Christmas, tired of all of it.
For centuries, white people played all the roles, some of them in blackface, some of them whitewashed. Nobody seems to have had a problem with that. (Well, Black people did, but the white world didn't care.)
However and wherever Black people show up, there is some white person waiting to tell them - us - not to be there, or be like that.
It's time for it to stop.
It's time to learn some history (a lot more Black people in it than you'd think, in every location and throughout the centuries).
It's time to give credit where it's due.
And it's way past time to let little Black girls see themselves on screen without a single racist rant.
Thanks for reading my perspective,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.
I am an anti-racism writer, educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.
Yes, Sharon. I’m tired, too.
I’m looking forward to seeing Tinkerbell this year 😍
It's not often that your writing has me seeing red. I know this is a safe space, so I will monitor myself.
The ENTIRE culture of ignorant people having the opportunity to spew their vitriol every. time. Black. folks. show. up. is so, very tiring. We are magnificent magnets, yet we just seem to attract the smallest, vile iron filings and they just won't leave us alone!