Last month, we took my five year old daughter to see Disney on Ice- princess style. The show featured several different princesses from the various Disney movies. All the big names were there: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine, and even Mulan, who is only a princess by association.
So where were the dark skinned princesses? Where was Princess Tiana? And Pocahantas? (Yes, I know that Jasmine is darked skinned but we'll ignore it for the sake of this argument.)
This question was brought up on my moms group listserv the day after the show. One mom was disappointed in Disney for excluding the only African-American princess. After all, the mom had waited for a long time to see herself represented among the Disney Princess elite. Disney ushered in Princess Tiana with much hubbub and excitement, yet she was excluded from the Disney on Ice show.
Another mom commented that Disney is running a business, and they are only making decisions that will help their bottom line. So we have to speak by choosing how we spend our dollars. After the show was over, she added, there wasn't a single little girl who didn't have a great time. All those little girls embraced all the princesses they saw that evening and loved it. She ended with a clincher: we should stop looking to Disney for validation.
(Both moms are African-American.)
Little Miss S told us it was her "best day ever!" High praise from a 5 year old.
When Princess Tiana was introduced to me and other attendees at Blogalicious 2009, a blogging conference connecting women of color, I was thrilled, along with many other bloggers at the conference. Many African-American women had been holding their breath with excitement when they caught wind of a black Disney princess. I tried to sell Little Miss S on Princess Tiana.
My daughter was excited about Princess Tiana because I was excited. I even tried to say, "She looks a lot like you." (I am Vietnamese-American and her father is African American.) Mostly I focused on how Tiana had a dream and worked hard to become a business woman. She is an independent woman-a trait I personally value highly. When it came time to see the movie, Little Miss S was less than thrilled. With its voodoo theme, The Princess and the Frog was a very dark and scary movie for my daughter. She was frightened and wasn't enraptured by the story. In fact she wanted to leave the movie because she was so scared.
That's when I took a step back and saw what I was doing. Once again, I realized I was pushing my perception of race onto Little Miss S. It didn't matter to her what color skin the princess had. She was in love with the princess' personal story. Her favorite (and mine) is Princess Ariel because she's a mermaid.
I know there are many girls of many different skin colors who adore Princess Tiana. They love Tiana for who she is, not the color of her skin. Heck, I love my husband for who he is and not because of his chocolate skin.
Are we attempting to make up for the lack of childhood role models whose appearance is similar to ours? The lack that we didn't notice until some kid at the playground laughed at me for having Japanese eyes or dirty knees?
When we tell our girls that they should love a princess because of her skin color, is that reverse racism? Are we pointing out that darker skinned princesses are better than the lighter skinned ones?
Those are big questions, I know. It's a tricky path to take when we educate our children about race and culture.
I'm glad that my daughter has such a wide range of Disney Princesses to choose from. I want her surrounded by different skin colors and different cultures. I'm totally ok if she doesn't pick the Asian or the African-American princess.
I want her to choose with her heart. Not her eyes.
Mother of two biracial children, Thien-Kim is also teaching her children to speak Vietnamese as well as English. She muses about parenting biracial children, multiculturalism and her addiction to books at her blog I'm Not the Nanny. She also shows off her crafty and foodie side at Cup of Creativi-Tea.