Rachael Quinn Egan questions what kind of message kids are getting from entertainment that excludes people of color.
Dear fellow white liberal, parent:
You’re not a racist, but are you parenting nice kids with racist white conditioning?
Please let me explain.
I am a white Irish woman who grew up all over the world in places such as Egypt, Malaysia, and Ireland. Even though I saw the world, and always tried to be nice to everyone, I was afflicted by racist white conditioning. Adopting children of color kickstarted my recovery from that. Part of that recovery is this letter to you.
For many parents, there were two themes that dominated the summer of 2014 — our kids dancing around, singing the wonderful songs of the animated movie Frozen, and the unnecessary killing in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown, a young black man. What if I suggested to you that there was a connection between Frozen and Brown’s killing?
Entertainment like Frozen is conditioning you and me and our children to expect a white-washed world where people of color are ‘the other’. I know it’s hard to fight Hollywood, but did you talk to your children about how that movie did not fairly represent people of color?
When I think about the police officer who killed Michael Brown, I wonder how his parents raised him? To be fair, he was simply the guy who pulled the trigger; we all killed Michael Brown.
At its root, Brown was killed because being black in America is being ‘the other’. In Frozen, and too many of the movies that our kids and ourselves are influenced by, black people are not even the other; they are often not even represented. Now, many white folks might wrack their brains, thinking I am wrong, and might try to remember the black faces they saw in Frozen. Trust me, apart from a few guests at the ball who never appeared again, they are not there, certainly not in any valid way.
When I complain to my white friends about Frozen, and about movies such as How to Train Your Dragon 2, where all the characters were white (except for the bad guy) my white friends defend the movies with cries of “historical accuracy”. This is simply not accurate. These movies are fictional fantasy; we all know dragons are not real, and snowmen don’t talk. A person of color with a speaking part, should not be such a stretch.
Frozen is not even historically accurate in representing the population of Denmark (where the story was based) as white. There were people of color in Denmark at the time this story draws its origins from. You will find this excellently proven with documented fine art at medievalpoc.tumblr.com.
We are all conditioned from birth in matters of such things as equality, beauty, design, comfort, and tradition. We are all affected by what we see around us. Whether we like it or not, our world conditions us all from a point of white dominance. To actively exclude people of color from children’s entertainment, is especially racist and destructive to our society.
I grew up with Enid Blyton books full of fabulous white children and black golliwogs.
Television shows were mostly white and male dominated, Santa Claus and all his elves were certainly white. Even God was a white man. While my brain was developing, all of my environmental stimuli, were conditioning me to accept a white, male-dominated world in which most depictions of people of color, were intensely negative.
Beauty in commercials and magazines was catered to men with a passion for skinny white women, the art world was dominated by crazy white men, and the world was run by rich white men and at least one brutal white women. Some of my musical influences were black, but then Elvis died, and Michael Jackson changed his face. I realize things have changed a little, but not nearly enough.
I was raised to be a nurturing and giving child. I was taught to have pity for the plight of the poor people of Africa. I picked rose hips by the millions, collected pennies in a box for the black babies, and donated my dolls and my golliwog (inherited from my grandmother) to charity.
Very subtly and powerfully, my young brain had imprinted; beauty, power, wealth, charity, and goodness with being white. Criminals, famine victims, the desperately poor, and the receivers of charity, as black and brown and other than me. Of course there were exceptions, but this was my general environment.
Being a nice white liberal woman, I rejected racism and inequality. In the 1990s I moved to New York City, and I began working to help underprivileged youth, who were mainly people of color. I dated people I was attracted to, regardless of their race, and I socialized with a very diverse group. I was never a racist, but I had racist white conditioning that I could not even see.
Mortified and disgusted by racism and inequality, many nice white liberal people are still complacent. Our white movies, commercials, TV shows, news reports, and all the other racist white conditioning keeps on coming, and we keep on buying it, as if it’s not killing people of color.
Adopting my dark skinned daughter, whom I had waited for a decade to meet, forced me to shine a light inside my white-conditioned brain. It was like a cluttered basement, full of toxic rubbish, that you don’t remember having put there.
Now I’m in the trenches with other mothers of children of color, trying to protect my kids from racist white conditioning. I am asking that you help us.
Please, look around your home and at your life right now. Are you allowing racist white conditioning to creep in to your children’s minds, or are you working hard to beat racism?
If most of the toys, dolls, and books, in your playroom fail to represent a diverse world, please work harder.
If you have a children’s birthday party in your house and all of your little guests are white, please work harder.
If almost all the music that you listen to in your house is white (even if you have a Jay-Z or Beyonce album) please work harder.
If you really really want to join that Golf Club, and feel that it’s OK because there is one rich black family there, please work harder.
If you chose to send your children to a school which only has one rich black family, one Hispanic child with a scholarship, and three Asian kids, please work harder.
If you think that none of the above matters because you give to charity and you have a couple of friends from another race, please work a lot harder.
My list could go on, but finally, if most of the movies and TV shows that you and your children are watching do not represent people of color fairly, please talk to your children about race and about how it is represented in their entertainment. Find the shows with a fair representation of people of color.
Certainly do watch Frozen, it is a wonderful movie, but do also talk about how it failed us all.
If you don’t work on conditioning your kid’s brains, the world will simply continue to perpetuate the mindset of racist white conditioning, which creates the type of societal structures that allows police officers to kill young black men with impunity.
At the very least it kills the hopes and dreams of children like mine, to reach their full potential.