Tag Archives: black

What Disney’s Lack of a Black Disney Prince Reveals about America’s View of Black Masculinity

We’ve got Aladdin. We’ve got Kokoum. We’ve got Shang. We’ve got Kuzco. We’ve got Naveen. We’ve got Maui, who is technically a demigod. But where’s the animated black Disney prince? Inquiring minds want to know, but inquiring minds also want to understand why the majesty of the black man has been erased from Disney’s range of thought.

Disney has had some explaining to do about this issue, but the problem became glaringly apparent with the development of The Princess and The Frog, which included a belabored creation process for the prince character that would eventually become Prince Naveen. Originally, the prince character was going to be, from what I remember, a charismatic “Cary Grant” type. According to the old, old description from The SuperHeroHype forums:

[PRINCE HARRY] A gregarious, fun-loving European Prince, in his early twenties. A young Cary Grant. Charming, witty but irresponsible and immature. Loves jazz. Dialect: British upper-class.

This was met with criticism, because why couldn’t a black prince be created? The other princesses get princes of their own races—why not Tiana? Disney met this criticism by changing Prince Harry to a beige, non-white, but also non-black Prince from…Maldonia? Needle scratch.

Let me already say that this statement goes against the fact that this film, despite its flaws, is a representation of interracial marriage, something that is rare in entertainment. But The Princess and the Frog reveals how Disney failed even that narrative. 1) Why make Naveen from a made-up country? Why have the love interest for the first black Disney princess, a character set in a real place, literally be a person who couldn’t exist in our world (because where is MaldoniaNowhere.) Wouldn’t it be easier to just make a character from an actual country if Tiana’s from New Orleans? 2) If Disney set out to create a film focusing on an interracial relationship, it would have been nice for them to include such a focus in their marketing plan. The creators never focused on the type of impact such a story could have on its audiences, so they never showcased it in any interviews or press information. They were only focused on marketing the film as the first black Disney princess film. This is not to say that value can’t be taken from The Princess and the Frog having an interracial relationship, but it would have been fantastic if Disney had actually recognized the story they had on their hands (and thus, the story they could have fleshed out and made even better and more meaningful).

The questions I’ve always had are 1) what prevented Disney from creating a black Disney prince, and 2) why have they not created a black Disney prince before? Why are we still relying on The Lion King for the closest thing we have to a black Disney prince?

I thought I’d take to Twitter to ask this question. Here are the results.

https://twitter.com/smoothfuego1/status/764126650879672321

https://twitter.com/NilesAbston/status/763870650486317056

As it turns out, that while there are some men who aren’t particularly moved by the lack of a black animated Disney prince, there are many others who are upset, to say the least, about the lack of a black Disney prince.

Disney’s silence on not creating a black Disney prince reflects how America at large views black men, black masculinity, and the desirability of black males.

1. Black masculinity is still seen as dangerous: It is telling that the only black man that exists throughout the entirety of the film is Doctor Facilier. If you recall, Tiana’s father, the black man that is a good father, good husband, and all-around upstanding guy, dies during Tiana’s childhood. First, there’s the question of why Disney would even hire a big name like Terrence Howard to say just a couple of lines. But the more serious question is why does Disney feel more comfortable seeing black male villainy on screen rather than a positive portrayal of black fatherhood and manhood?

Despite the fact that Doctor Facilier was designed to be scrawny (and that Disney decided to hire their former long-time animator and Jambalaya Studios creator Bruce W. Smith to oversee his design in order to give the film representation behind the scenes), Doctor Facilier still embodies latent ideas that could be in the subconscious of the film’s white creators and are definitely in the collective consciousness of America at large. On the whole, America still treats black people, uniquely black men, as inherent, born criminals. There’s still a dangerousness that people expect from black men, which explains why so many black men have been stopped by police no bogus claims, thrown in jail for petty crimes (or no crime at all), or killed at the hands of police, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. This idea of “dangerousness” is also inherent in the amount of Latino and Native American men killed by police; there seems to be an “us against them” mentality with some police officers, and that’s not how policing is supposed to be.

The idea of dangerousness goes all the way back to slavery. I wrote in my Michael Brown post that Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others like them have been killed at the ages that they would have been sold for the highest price if they existed during slavery times. That age range is also the same range that they would be (and have been) considered the most dangerous.

Even much of the language used to describe Brown, Martin, and others depict a stereotype of savagery and fear in the mind of the killer. Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, called Brown a “demon” and as someone who was basically hulking up the more he got shot. George Zimmerman described himself as being in fear for his life. That narrative goes back to the idea that black men are brutes that need to be broken like horses, otherwise, they provide a danger for “good” people.

If a black man is considered dangerous by America, then could America accept the idea of a black prince? Could a positive portrayal of a black prince exist in a culture that still fears a section of its citizens? I implore Disney to disrupt the stereotypes facing black men by creating such a character.

2. Black wealth is a buried secret in America: Like how outsiders simply view Rio’s black population as living in favelas, America itself still views its black people as living in poverty. Such an idea is clearly not true, but it’s an idea that still resonates with America’s racist view of black Americans. Just look at how Donald Trump is trying to win over black Americans–by telling them they’re in poverty, they have no jobs, and they’re surrounded by crime. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he asks. A LOT.

But if we look at American history as a whole, there has been black wealth. Take for instance Greenwood, the area of Tulsa, OK called “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century. That area was then burned down in 1921 in what is called the Tulsa race riot, which was started by neighboring white citizens who felt Greenwood was growing in status and political clout. They felt that to secure their own hold on American wealth and politics, they had to burn down a positive representation of black success.

African-American culture is also removed from pan-African culture, which holds the history of many black princes, generals, etc. The richest man in the world of all time is 14th century African prince Mansa Musa. However, such history, including American history such as the Tulsa race riot, aren’t taught in school.

With such representations of black wealth destroyed, the myth has persisted that black wealth–and therefore, rich black people–doesn’t exist. Such thinking could have taken place when it came to the idea of creating Tiana’s prince. Did the team behind the film not consider the fact that there have been and are, indeed, wealthy black people? Or did they think that was impossible?

3. Black men are seen as unfeeling and emotionless: Again, to go back to slavery, black people were considered to have no feelings at all, thereby partially justifying slavery in the minds of white Americans at the time. Stereotypes like the smiling Sambo and the brutish, hypersexual creature who lives to take white women portray black men in two dynamics, both of which being untrue; either they’re cartoonish buffoons without realistic cares, or they’re an insatiable animal.

There’s also another reason black men are seen as emotionless: the emotional toll some black families put on their black men. Many boys are taught growing up that it’s not okay to show emotion, especially cry. To “be a man,” it’s thought that bottling emotions is the way to go, because showing emotions is “girl stuff.” However, the double whammy of society and familial pressures affects black men in a way that I feel is still unexplored in modern media.

In Disney animated films, we often see princes with a wide range of emotions. Aladdin’s entire story focused on his emotions about being a “streetrat” hoping to impress Princess Jasmine. Tarzan’s story is a classic coming-of-age tale. Shang, a captain in the army, has to deal with the pressures of leading a battalion to glory while processing the death of his father (a moment that probably happens too quickly in the film). Kokoum, who doesn’t express much emotion (which is also a stereotype of the Native Brave), shows reverence for Pocahontas, concern over her safety, and eventual anger at what he thought was John Smith taking advantage of Pocahontas. Even Eric, who is possibly the most wooden Disney prince of all time, has a couple of moments of feeling, even if it’s just confusion as to who rescued him. If Disney created a black prince, would they be able to give him the emotional beats he deserves?

Which leads me to the final point:

4. Disney’s think-tank doesn’t understand the black male experience (and of course they wouldn’t): John Lasseter and his crew have an inclusion issue that must be addressed. Why is it that there isn’t a person of color in these higher ranks? Why is it that Disney acts like Silicon Valley in how they exclude POC voices in its animation ranks? ABC, Lucasfilm, and now even Marvel seem to have a grasp on the idea of including diversity to meet audience demands. Disney, the parent company, still lags behind.

Do I think Disney would eventually make a black prince? Perhaps. But do I think they could really make a black prince that speaks to the black experience on a macro-scale? No. I recommend for Disney to hire black male animators into their ranks, and specifically hire thinkers and, as they call folks, “dreamers” who can be given carte blanche to direct films, much like how they give themselves carte blanche to create films. If a Cars franchise can be created, then an animated film starring a black Disney prince, a film created with sensitivity, intelligence, and a root in the black experience, can be created as well.

What do you think about this? Give your opinions in the comments section below, and if you give your opinions in Twitter, use the hashtag #BlackDisneyPrince. The more people who comment and hashtag, the higher the chances Disney might actually see this post and our hope for a black Disney prince might come closer to a reality!

My Journey with AncestryDNA, Part 1: Why I’m Taking the Test

AncestryDNA/screengrab
AncestryDNA/screengrab

“Are you Indian?” “Are you French?” “Are you Filipina?” “Are you from the islands? You’re from the islands, right?” How many of you out there have come up against questions like these? I have, and it’s annoying. However, this aggravation is also the start of a journey that I have wanted to take for years. I’m getting the AncestryDNA test.

Why am I doing the test? Well, I’m tired of not knowing my history. More importantly, I’m tired of carrying around the baggage of being seen as an “exotic” object, something that’s affected me since childhood. I want to officially arm myself with the knowledge of my cultural heritage so I can feel a lot more confident in my own identity.

I’ve already talked about my personal difficulties coming to terms with identity, which you can hear on the No, Totally podcast. But just to be brief: I have often been made to feel like I’m in the middle of blackness and…something else.   Dealing with that is tiring, especially when you don’t have knowledge of your own background apart from what your skin can tell you. In short, I’ve let other people control my identity; because I’ve practiced not being in total control of knowing my own identity, I’ve basically become a mystery to myself. That’s a problem, and it’s a problem I intend to fix.

Keep in mind: none of this is about escaping blackness. As I’ve said in my podcast episode, I love being black, and I strongly identify with my blackness. With that said, it would be nice to have some closure about my complete identity. Throughout my childhood, especially when I was wearing chemically relaxed hair, people would always assume I was something else other than a black girl from the south, which is what I have always been. However, I don’t want to have my identity decided for me by some random people who feel like I can’t be black just because I don’t look like how they think blackness should look. On the flip side, I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity to learn more about myself, including what’s in my bloodline.  It’d be nice to be able to feel in control of my own identity, regardless of what that identity entails. I want to be able to celebrate all of me and defend all of me from persecution and ignorant “exotic” comments. If I have a varied ancestral background, I want to feel whole in that knowledge and honor all of those parts of myself. That’s what’s really at the root of this: this is a getting-to-know-me process on my own terms, not terms set by other people. I no longer want to carry shame for looking some way that others view as “acceptable blackness” or “exoticized blackness”. I want to be proud of myself and the group (or groups) I represent.

Regardless of that issue, though, I’ve often personally been curious about tracing my ancestry, and I feel a DNA test is the start of that, since I’ll know what ballpark I should be looking in for my ancestors. Tracing my ancestry has been a project that I’ve never fully had the time or money to engage in. I have always imagined myself to one day be like Alex Haley, having full knowledge of my lineage and the people who have shaped my history. I’ve always wanted to know how my experiences reflect those whose blood run through my veins. Knowing my personal history is something I’ve always felt needed to be done.

As a late birthday present to myself, I decided it was time to take the first step towards tracking my ancestry and ordered the AncestryDNA kit. The kit itself is simple; according to the instructions, you just provide a saliva sample and send it back. In six to eight weeks, you are sent an email linking you to your results page. Also, it’s $99, which is far cheaper than my first choice 23andMe. It also doesn’t check for stuff you don’t want, unlike 23andMe, which provides you with information on what health factors and health risks you could have. That information is useful in another setting, but it’s not particularly useful to me, who just wants to know what ethnic makeup is in my DNA.

The thing that sold me on AncestryDNA was this testimony from their site:

ancestrydna-who are you

Look, this is not a sponsored article for AncestryDNA, so I have full rights to say that I don’t know if this woman is a real case study and if her testimony wasn’t just something made up by Ancestry’s PR to attract people like me, who are tired of being told they look like “something.” But regardless, it worked. I saw myself in that woman, and thought to myself that if she could find some answers, I sure could too.

For now, this post will act as the first in a series of posts about my identity journey. We’ll see what I find together! If you’ve been thinking about taking the AncestryDNA test or some other heritage DNA test, discuss in the comments section. If you’ve felt like you’ve been labeled “exotic” by others and are sick of that title, talk about that too. I’d like to read what you have to say about your own experiences with identity, identity questions, etc.

6 Questions You Might Have About Magic: The Gathering’s Kaya, Ghost Assassin Answered

Wednesday, Aug. 3., was a fantastic day; I was finally able to reveal a secret I’d been carrying since late last year. I was consulting with Magic: The Gathering to bring a new Planeswalker character to life! Kaya, Ghost Assassin is now a member of the Planeswalker cast of characters.

Kaya is the brainchild of Magic: The Gathering creative writer Kelly Digges, and I’d say that if it’s allowable to call Kelly Kaya’s proverbial father, I’m like Kaya’s proverbial mother. Together, we helped develop Kaya into the character she is today, and like parents, we couldn’t be more proud of her and the reception she received online.

Yesterday, during the release of the character, I was flooded with congratulations and questions. Some of which I’ve compiled in this article that folks can come back and reference.

1. Who am I?

In case you are a new Twitter follower or new to my site because of Kaya, I’m Monique Jones, an entertainment journalist who’s written for several outlets, most notably Entertainment Weekly’s Community blog. I’ve also written for culture/entertainment sites like Black Girl Nerds, Nerds of Color, Racialicious, and The Tempest (then known as Coming of Faith). Technically, my journalism beat is “entertainment,” specifically TV, but my main focus is covering how representation occurs in entertainment. My focus on representation is something that helped me a lot when conferring with Kelly about Kaya.

2. How was I chosen to contribute to Kaya’s characterization?

It’s all thanks to my relationship with Black Girl Nerds as a contributor and to Black Girl Nerds’ creator, Jamie, who helps us writers find opportunities when they arise. This was one of those moments.

3. Who is Kaya?

Kaya is awesome, first of all. She’s a ghost assassin, which is quite cool because people think ghosts can’t die because they’re already dead. I could go on, but I’ll quote Magic: The Gathering’s official bio for Kaya.

A confident, roguish duelist with a mysterious past, Kaya has the ability to become partially incorporeal—allowing her to slip through solid items and physically interact with ghosts and the spirit world.

Kaya is a firm believer that life is for the living. The living should make the most of their lives and pursue what they want while they’ve still got time, and find their own peace before death. If you die with unfinished business, well, that’s probably your fault. And if it’s not…perhaps she could help you…for a price.

In Paliano, she accepted a contract from Marchesa to assassinate the city’s previous sovereign, King Brago. Her actions catapulted Marchesa to power and caused the current chaos in the city—but also opened the way for others to make their claims to their throne and shake up the Paliano’s ancient political order.

4. I’ve already read the introduction story and I love it! Tell me everything there is to know about Kaya!

Sorry, I can’t. You’ll learn more about Kaya at Wizards of the Coast’s discretion.

5. What did you talk about when creating Kaya’s character?

We talked about a lot, much of which is confidential. What I can tell you though is that we discussed Kaya’s origin story, her home plane, her family, and possible future appearances. We also nailed down that swaggy, snarky personality she has. I can also say that we discussed how to make sure Kaya was a fully rounded character, not just a token character. There were lots of aspects of the black experience that went into creating Kaya, one of which—the process of hair styling— was alluded to in Kaya’s introduction story, “Laid to Rest”:

Kaya lit a candle, yawned, and splashed her face with water from a basin. She rolled out the building plans and studied them one last time, humming an old ballad and unwinding the knots she’d put her hair in to sleep.

6. How do you feel about Kaya?

I love Kaya. I knew she had the potential to be a knockout character, and according to the humongous reaction I received the other day, my hunch was right. Kaya is a character in her own right, first of all. But in the macro view, Kaya gives black women and girls who love Magic: The Gathering a character they can identify with and see themselves in. The Magic: The Gathering crew has been working hard to create an inclusive world, and Kaya’s part of that. Despite the current cast of Planeswalkers including humans and alien types of all sorts, including master monk Narset and time-altering sorcerer Teferi, there weren’t any representations of black women. With Kaya being the first, not only is she a very welcome addition to the cast of characters, but she’s history-making. For me to be a part of that is very humbling and I’m honored to have helped bring Kaya to life.

So now I turn it over to you. What do you like about Kaya? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

For Lisa Turtle: On Being Black, Beautiful, and Still Not Enough

I’ve suddenly come to a realization. I am Saved by the Bell’s Lisa Turtle.

I’m not her in the sense that I’m fabulously wealthy. The way I’m like Lisa Turtle is that on paper, I have what every guy is supposedly looking for (or so they say): brains, looks (if I may say so myself), talent, and likability. I’m nice, caring, goal-oriented and respectful of my elders. I’m the woman that, supposedly, every guy would like to find to take home to their mother. Even better, I think I’m a pretty good role model, something Lisa also was to many black girls who had never seen a rich black girl portrayed on television and felt represented by this new portrayal of blackness.

The only problem is that the guys haven’t been knocking down my door. Like Lisa Turtle, I am dateless. Perhaps unlike Lisa Turtle, I actually wonder why.

Urban legend has it that Lisa was actually written to be a snobby Jewish (read: white) girl, but Lark Voorhies impressed the Saved by the Bell folks so much they gave the role to her. After learning that tidbit, I have to wonder if the writing department then decided to change other aspects of Lisa’s characterization, such as who she’d wind up with in the dating department. For a show that came on in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it wouldn’t surprise me if they then decided that Lisa wasn’t the right kind of girl to end up with someone like Zack or Slater. As a black girl, she might work best with another outcast, like the terminally nerdy Screech.

“But Lisa dated Zack that one time!” Yes, that was that one time, a time so brief I don’t even remember it; I read about it online. Apparently it was only for one episode, and the reason they split up was to save the fragile emotions of Screech.

Instead, Lisa —fashion-forward, stylish, popular, cool, rich Lisa—was fated to always become Screech’s main crush. And even then, it would seem that Screech actually moved on from Lisa to a little-seen character named Violet Anne Bickerstaff, leaving Lisa officially the only character on the show who had never had a long-term relationship.

What was Lisa missing that denied her the opportunity to be a part of an It Couple like Zack and Kelly or Slater and Jessie? How come Lisa couldn’t have a relationship that showcased her femininity, vulnerability, and otherwise humanness? Why was she relegated to just being the rich snob?

I have to assume that race played a role in the writers’ inability to see Lisa as anything beyond just a joke character. I assume that because not only does it play a role in how characters are designed, but it also plays a role in how we choose our own potential partners and how we see ourselves in relation to said partners.

In an earlier article about Sleepy Hollow‘s Abbie Mills, I wrote about the trope called the Strong Black Woman. You can see many characters that fit this trope, even in a character like Lisa. So what is the Strong Black Woman? Allow me to quote myself:

the Strong Black Woman trope that became associated with positivity happened in the late ’60s and early ’70s, with a prime example being Caroline Bird’s 1969 New York Magazine essay on black womanhood. Alternet rightly calls the article “flawed” since, as the site states:

[The essay] deems black women capable and independent (read: strong) by necessity. Black women fight, Bird says, because they have no one to fight for them, unlike white women with proximity to white, patriarchal power. “Whatever the reasons, the fact is that Negro women in America have escaped some of the psyche-crippling education of white girls. They haven’t been carefully taught how not to fight. On the contrary, some of them fight hard and develop a personal style of fighting that suggests that ‘grace under pressure’ which is supposed to be the essence of courage.”

Bird’s piece spins allegedly distinctive black female strength as a powerful weapon, giving African American women an edge over white women and black men–a dubious message. It also paints black women as possessing a durability that is nearly inhuman. For instance, Bird asserts that “The absence of Negro fathers hurts growing boys more than girls, and saved Negro girls from some of the dissatisfactions with their sex that brought many white women to psychoanalysis.” Abandoning black girls does not hurt them, this suggests; instead, it makes them stronger.

This article by Bird means well, but it basically does a good job of reinforcing the original Strong Black Woman stereotype from slavery times; that black women don’t have feelings and are immune to the societal and familial pressures others are. Somehow, they are more powerful than everyone, yet they are still the mule of the world because going by this analysis, the black woman still takes in society’s ills and is still burdened by them. However, the burden, according to Bird’s essay, is the pressure that makes the diamond form. In Bird’s words, the burden is necessary, not something that should be alleviated by society coming to grips with itself and uplifting black women as women and human beings.

Lisa has shades of the Strong Black Woman because, despite having everything a character could ask for and despite the fact that she would be seen as desirable because of it if she were white, Lisa’s instead relegated to being an emotionally invulnerable character.  Despite being neglected by potential suitors, broken up with by Zack to save his friendship with Screech, or denied any other position other than “that black girl,” she’s somehow never broken up about the role society has given her. She doesn’t get hurt. Instead, as Bird suggests, she becomes stronger, more Lisa Turtle-y than she was before. She becomes the invincible rich girl who doesn’t need anyone because she’s going to become a fashion superstar.

I mainlined Saved by the Bell growing up, and I believe much of that subconscious Strong Black Woman programming triggered me. I saw myself as Lisa, as the girl who had everything going for her, but for some reason, couldn’t get the boys to like her. I wasn’t like Kelly or Jessie, who were white, therefore seen as more desirable. I was as smart as Jessie, so I wondered if I, as a Lisa, would ever get a guy like Slater, who was apparently into smart girls who wore mom jeans. However, what if the one thing Jessie had over me was her race? To be fair to Jessie and Slater, their relationship meant a lot to me because I could actually see that interracial dating was possible. Maybe it wouldn’t happen for me, but it was, at the very least, possible. But I still wondered how much more work than Jessie I’d have to do to get a Slater. Once again, white privilege allows you to be seen as more attractive than you might actually be. Case in point: the many black male athletes who tote their white trophy wives around. The most egregious example of this: Tiger Woods liking no one but white, blonde women.

I definitely had no illusions about being a Kelly; I knew I would never be America’s vision of an “All-American Girl”; I’m not white. I immediately saw someone like Zack as the unattainable fruit growing  high on a tree I wasn’t allowed to pick from. Even still, I wondered if Lisa would ever truly get with Zack, since they always seemed to vibrate around each other (apparently, Voorhies and Mark-Paul Gosselaar were dating in real life). But despite their off-screen romance, Lisa and Zack would never date on the show, save for that one time that hardly anyone remembers. Even in that brief dalliance, Lisa’s heart had to take a back seat to Zack’s supposed deep friendship with Screech. Even then, Lisa is thought of as the Strong Black Woman, whose emotional state is never considered because, as a Strong Black Woman, she’s thought of not having any.

Lisa and Zack’s unrealized potential as a couple also taught me something else: that racial divisions were still alive and well when it came to on-screen relationships. Seeing Lisa never getting a Zack or a Slater-type character made me worry about my own well-being in the dating department. Lisa was my avatar into the world of Saved by the Bell; if she, who had the money, style, glamour, popularity and rich-kid access to any and everything, couldn’t get the guy of her dreams regardless of his race, then what hope did I, a glasses-wearing kid who felt self-conscious about her weight have? I might have been as smart as Jessie and heck, I was just as lovable as Kelly, but if my black sister-in-arms wasn’t seen as desirable, what did the world think about me?

The first time I distinctly remember seeing a black girl with a white boy was on Boy Meets World, when Shawn dated Angela. Even though Angela annoyed me at times, I viewed their relationship as something that reaffirmed what I’d been taught about loving all people (back in the ’90s, the buzzword we were all taught in elementary school was “colorblindness”). It made me think that I was finally seeing what had been preached to me —about love knowing no color –actually being put into practice. The actress who played Angela, Trina McGee Davis, wrote about her Boy Meets World experiences to the Los Angeles Times in 1999. She wrote that most of the responses she received, particularly from the younger audience members, were positive, with many young viewers asking her when Angela and Shawn would reconcile.

“My character, Angela, has intimately kissed Shawn (Rider Strong) a number of times, and the show’s creators have never made an issue of our race,” she wrote. “…The black kids are not asking, ‘Why are you with that white boy?’ When I attended the NAACP Image Awards, a black girl lamented to me that Shawn and Angela are a perfect couple and should be back together. The next day, a white girl in a mall begged to know if Shawn and Angela are still in love…They are the new face of tolerance. These kids are not looking at race; they’re absorbing the love story.”

Shawn and Angela’s relationship was revolutionary not just in the interracial dating department; it also positioned Shawn as just a guy, not the unattainable white guy that all non-white girls would have to work hard to get. If there’s one thing that was taught early in ’90s television, it was that The Beautiful People were white, despite some of the Beautiful People also being black, like Lisa Turtle. Lisa could use her popularity to become a satellite of the group of chosen ones, but the true chosen ones were the white ones, the ones who would immediately be crowned Prom King and Prom Queen.

Kelly and Zack exuded that classic white teenager trope of being good-looking, desirable, congenial, popular, and amenable to everyone while still having an invisible, bulletproof shield of white privilege surrounding them. In fact, it was white, able-bodied privilege that made them seem desirable. Because of that intangible privilege, they had a leg up on the nerds of all races and the minority kids like Lisa and Slater. Kelly—the head cheerleader and volleyball, swim, and softball captain, and Zack—lovable class clown—were the highest recipients of of this intangible privilege, allowing them to rule the school without having to work hard for respect; it was just given to them. As Lisa Turtle, I’d have to work twice as hard just to be seen as competent.

Developing this mindset at a very young age has left me paranoid in the love department. Sometimes I do wonder if race plays any part in why I’m not with anyone. I distinctly remember a high school classmate of mine saying, as if it was the most normal and self-empowering thing to say, that she wouldn’t marry a black man because she wanted her kids to look like her. I didn’t say anything, even though I was furious, and the guy I did like—who was basically Zack Morris—did his best to try to get her to shut up for my sake. But I wondered since she could say that out in the open, for my ears to hear, if a guy, particularly the guy I liked, felt the same about black women. I wondered if too many guys felt that way about black women. In fact, I limited myself from my chance to tell the guy I liked that I actually liked him for fear of being rejected—either because of my inflated idea of my own nerdiness, my weight (which wasn’t bad in hindsight; I was a size 10), my emotional sensitivity or —the big reason—because I was black. I saw myself as Lisa Turtle, and Lisa never got with Zack Morris.

Sometimes people don’t realize how sneakily racial discrimination can worm its way into a child’s mind. They don’t get how truly menacing white privilege can be. When you see images of yourself constantly alone, you begin to think that that’s what you should expect. Nowadays, it’s even worse; not only are young girls afflicted by the white privilege happily flaunted by the Taylor Swifts and Gigi Hadids of the world, the It Girls who have magazines falling on themselves to cover every moment of their lives, but they are seeing how people treat actresses like Leslie Jones, who was actually removed herself from Twitter for a short time to escape trolls sending her demeaning comments solely because of her dark skin.

Girls growing up today not only worry about how their race affects how people view them, but how their bodies are being judged as well; everyone wants a Kim Kardashian-esque big butt, and you can read how I feel about that. The pressure on girls is immense, and the pressure they place on themselves is even bigger. Thankfully, there are more examples of black women in relationships of all kinds than there were when I was growing up. But there need to be more. There needs to be enough examples of black women being treasured to stamp out the persistent question many black girls have growing up: “Am I enough?”

So what can I say to the other Lisa Turtles out there? I actually wish I could give you the step-by-step of “Here’s what I did to get over my self-imposed stigmatization.” The truth is that I still struggle with my dating paranoia. I still imagine what it’s like to be a Lisa Turtle that actually gets the guy. But perhaps, I can say this: You are not what society deems you to be. Dating sites can make all of the studies they want to “prove” how black women and Asian men are deemed the least desirable to prospective dates, but do your best to let none of that affect you. No matter what anyone or any site says, you are a beautiful, vibrant, complex, vulnerable, emotional, and loving black woman. You have everything you need to have. Keep being you, because you are everything the man or woman of your dreams is looking for. America—and for that matter, the Western World at large—might not realize it, but you, Lisa Turtle, have earned your right to be here.

#RepresentYourStory: The Unicorn Effect: Finding Self-Love and Acceptance as a Disabled Black Woman

By Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

I am Black.

I am physically disabled.

I am a woman.

It has taken me almost 30 years to embrace all of my identities at the same time.

Growing up, I never felt fully included within any of the three groups.  Being in a wheelchair made me stand out in the Black community like a sore thumb – people were friendly, but never knew how to approach the “little disabled Black girl in the chair.”  In school, I was in mainstream classes, & was dubbed “the smart disabled girl.”  This meant that I was separated from the other disabled children in my schools because I wasn’t “like” them; I was treated as a super cripple – cute, sweet, well-mannered kid who was incredibly smart despite being in the chair.  And as a girl, the boys didn’t date me – they didn’t want a disabled girlfriend, but thought that my crushes on them were funny.

Within each identity, I had battling roles to overcome:  felt outcasted as black and disabled; to those able-bodied I was the “right” kind of disabled that allowed me to not be seen as “useless;” and I wasn’t deemed attractive or dateable by the boys I liked.  However, there were dynamic moments and connections that reshaped how I viewed these identities, & how I grew to love the woman I saw in the mirror.

The first was the fact that I was incredibly fortunate to have been raised by a Grandmother who acted as a buffer for me against the ignorance – my Grandmother loved me unconditionally, and I knew this with every fiber of my being at a young age.  She was my carer, my advocate, and I was (and still is) the apple of her eye.  The bond was further strengthened by the fact that I had part of her name, which is something she adamantly wanted that my mother obliged.  That connection, plus her love for me, showed me that I was loveable, special, and valued, even in a society that tried to say otherwise.  It was her example that taught me what being a Black woman was about, and as I grew into my own womanhood, I used her as a model for what I could become, but as a disabled version.

In addition to having my Grandmother’s unwavering love, I learned what I was good at:  excelling in my classes, and writing.  The praise I received as a honor roll student soothed the exclusion pain I felt in school – I was “good” at something someone my age was expected to be, and I liked the attention I received from the adults, and enjoyed watching my able-bodied peers get envious that the “girl in the chair” was better than them.  In a twisted sense, these strengths laid sturdier bricks onto the foundation for my self-esteem and confidence as I navigated an ableist, ignorant world.

Though those bricks solidified the foundation, they also made me feel like a unicorn:  there were not a lot of disabled people of color around me in my classes.  The attention I received for doing well in my classes was positive, but it also created pressure for me to be “perfect.”  I knew that I was representing two main groups of my identities, being disabled and black.  Because there were not many of us in these settings, I knew that I couldn’t “mess up” or misbehave as other students (plus I knew what would happen to me at home if I did… Grandmother did not play when it comes to acting up in school).  I have always felt a sense of weight from the identities I carried; I never thought of it as a burden, but having eyes on me and knowing the opinions of others about my existence was the burdensome I felt.

It was when I ventured off to college that I began to meet other disabled people who understood my plight, and who also carried the unicorn weight I held up.  Those friendships allowed me to see that my life mattered greatly, and so did my voice.  Though I enjoyed my friendships, I noticed one thing:  I had not befriended many disabled people of color, or women of color with disabilities like myself.  Not having individuals who understood the unique challenges of being of color and disabled left a gaping hole that needed to desperately be filled.

It was not until 2013 when I created my self-advocacy organization that I finally began connecting with disabled people of color, and finally, disabled women of color.  Being of color is a huge part of who I am, that exceptionally grew in definition when I undertook African American Studies (AAMS) in college to learn more about my history as a Black American.  It is only fitting that connecting with disabled Black women, and other minorities, would make me feel complete in this experience.  What I found from meeting and befriending these women was that we were all desiring to meet each other, and struggled to find women who looked like us in the disabled community, in our schools, and in our communities.  They shared similar issues with feeling accepted in the racial group they were members of, struggled with embracing their sexuality and femininity, and worried about finding a partner who would love them – basically all of the matters I had been concerned about all of my life.  Connecting with each other had a powerful effect on validating our struggles and achievements.  These are my disabled Sistas – no other friendships come close to what I experience when I reach out to them.  They “get” me, and have closed the hole that previously existed.  I finally felt accepted for who I was as an African American disabled woman because I saw other women who looked just like me – I no longer felt like a unicorn, or an outcast.

The triple jeopardy hand I have been dealt with in life has not been easy by any means, but quite frankly, I would not change it either.  I am proud of the reflection that stares back at me in the mirror; I am fearless, I am strong, and most importantly, I am perfectly imperfect.  The experiences I endured along the journey to embracing my three identities greatly shaped how I view and interact with the world around me – I would not hold the strong levels of compassion, understanding, and empathy I possess if I was not born the way I am.  My differences are my strengths, not weaknesses, and at almost 30, I understand that to be fervently true.  I am strong enough to live this life because it is who I am meant to be.

When I go out into the world, I hold my head up high because I have no reason to doubt my worth – I am fearlessly and unapologetically me.

About Vilissa Thompson

Vilissa Thompson is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) from Winnsboro, SC. Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization focused on promoting self-advocacy and strengthening empowerment among people with disabilities. Being a Disability Rights Consultant, Writer, & Advocate affords Vilissa the opportunity to become a prominent leader and expert in addressing and educating the public and political figures about the plight of people with disabilities, especially women of color with disabilities. Being a disabled woman of color herself, sharing her life experiences, and tales from the women she has encountered during her advocacy work, has empowered her immensely because it validated the struggles and successes she endured in her young life.

Ways to connect with Vilissa:

Website:  http://rampyourvoice.com

Email:  Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com

Facebook:  /RampYourVoice

Twitter:  @VilissaThompson & @RampYourVoice

Do you want to participate in #RepresentYourStory? Share your story of self-acceptance at monique@colorwebmag.com, or fill out the #RepresentYourStory questionnaire! Read more about #RepresentYourStory here

 

Celebrate Father’s Day and Fatherhood with “Daddy Don’t Go”

Father’s Day is coming up, and if you and your dad are looking for something meaningful to watch together, try Daddy, Don’t Go, coming to Vimeo On Demand June 19.

The film, executive produced by Malik Yoba and Omar Epps and directed by Emily Abt, follows fathers as they journey through the experience of fatherhood amid social and financial pressures. Here’s more about the film.

In New York City more than half of African-American children and over 40 percent of Latino children are growing up without fathers.

Fatherlessness is one of the most urgent social issues currently facing American families and is linked to alarming rates of child poverty and incarceration.

Fatherless children are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school and nine times more likely to break the law than their peers raised in two-parent homes.

DADDY DON’T GO follows the lives of four young fathers – Alex, Nelson, Roy and Omar – as they struggle to navigate parenthood. For disadvantaged men, parenting is a daily decision. Filmed over the course of two years by acclaimed filmmaker Emily Abt, DADDY DON’T GO illuminates the various socioeconomic pressures low-income fathers face and provides compelling portraits of men who persevere. Epic in scale but intimate in focus, the film shows viewers how men can still be present fathers despite having limited means and facing certain obstacles. By allowing the viewer extraordinary access into the daily lives of its subjects, DADDY DON’T GO removes the negative lens through which underprivileged fathers are currently viewed and offer audiences a new image of the American family.

Filmmaker Emily Abt was one of Variety Magazine’s “Top 10 Directors to Watch,” and has produced and directed documentaries for PBS, OWN, MTV, Showtime and the Sundance Channel. Abt earned her MFA from Columbia University, receiving a Fulbright fellowship for her thesis film. Her documentary features include TAKE IT FROM ME (2001 POV) and ALL OF US (Showtime’s 2008 World AIDS Day film). Abt’s first narrative feature, TOE TO TOE, premiered at Sundance 2009 and was released in 2010 by Strand Releasing. AUDREY’S RUN, Abt’s most recent narrative feature which she wrote and will direct, is currently in development with Paula Patton (Duncan Jones’ WARCRAFT), Mike Epps (Lee Daniels’ RICHARD PRIOR: IS IT SOMETHING I SAID?) and Pablo Schreiber (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) starring. Abt’s latest documentary DADDY DON’T GO will have its world premiere at the 2015 DOC NYC.

Take a look at the trailer below. It looks like it’s going to be a tearjerker. You can pre-order your digital viewing of Daddy, Don’t Go for $6.99 on Vimeo.

Daddy Don’t Go from Pureland Pictures on Vimeo.

“Sleepy Hollow” Post-Mortem: The Death of Abbie and the Painful Erasure of Black Women

The formulation of this post started at some point between this tweet:

And this tweet:

with some final conclusions coming in at around these tweets:

Indeed, several TV critics on Twitter were aghast at what happened:

And several online recaps had the same theme throughout the post: If Abbie and Nicole Beharie are gone, then what’s the point of even watching the show? Just as important: Why on God’s green earth would the writing team as a whole (including the showrunner) go out of their way to lead the fanbase on and act like they were going to give the fanbase what they wanted (which is a final say-so on #Ichabbie) just to turn around and destroy the only thing that made the show worth watching? To quote Vulture’s Rose Maura Lorre, “The latter statements [of Pandora stating in her dying breaths that Ichabod loves Abbie] lead me to believe that, intentional or not, this show’s careless disregaard of its Ichabbie ‘shippers has been fucked up. Make them just-friends or make them more-than-friends, but have a conversation about it and stick to your decision. Don’t keep stringing the ‘shippers along with your hand-kissing and your ‘be still my beating heart’ (which no person has ever said platonically) while you know Abbie’s imminent fate full well.” And as The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen wrote, “I’m not sure if there were behind-the-scenes issues we are privy to, but Beharie’s a crucial element of the series. Tom Mison is a fine actor, but without the two of them together, what’s the damn point?”

The chemistry between the two leads, Tom Mison and Beharie, was the only thing that kept mostly everyone tuned in. (I say most, because somehow, there are folks out there who think Sleepy Hollow is just Ichabod’s story of time travel. When was he the only lead on this show? I have a lot more to say about this later on in this post.) Sure, the creative elements that made up the show, like the lighting, the set design, the creature makeup and stuntwork, and the time travel/Christian apocalypse madness were amazing and really gave the show its creepy edge. But the glue that stuck all of those disparate parts together were the grounding forces provided by Ichabod and Abbie. Without one or both of them, the show’s just a bunch of junk, to be quite honest about it. So I ask again: Without Abbie, what the f*ck is the point of watching a fourth season?! 

I don’t even like using coarse language, but how else am I supposed to get this point across? How much more plainly can I say it? Abbie was the show. Even Mison would agree to that, I’m sure, since he was never without a kind word to say about working with Beharie and being able to share the same breathing air as her. Mison has always stuck up for Beharie and looking back on it, it makes a lot of sense as to why neither Mison nor Beharie have done a lot of press for this season. It’s slowly come out that Beharie was deeply unhappy during S2 and wanted out of her contract, and I don’t blame her for wanting to leave, because as I’ve written before, Abbie was made to be a house slave for Witchy White Feminist Katrina.  As far as Mison is concerned, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Mison eventually leaves as well. If someone decides to interview Mison about his thoughts on everything, I betcha he’ll reveal his true emotions over this, just like how he did with Ichabod fawning over Katrina in S2. (To paraphrase him from an earlier interview, he had a serious disagreement with the writers about how Ichabod was acting out of character. We already know how he felt about Katrina from some of his DVD commentary, in which he shades Katrina for only being able to lift a stick even though she was supposed to be a powerful witch.)

I could just go on rambling, but I’m going to use my favorite writing tools—bullets—to boil down my points into easy-to-follow chunks.

3 Reasons Why #Richonne is a Black History Month Gift

Hip hop hooray, Richonne (Rick and Michonne) is now officially canon in The Walking Dead! And, as luck would have it, such a development has happened in one of the most hallowed of months, Black History Month. This didn’t go unnoticed by many on Twitter:

So why is this the Black History Month gift we didn’t know we were going to get? Three reasons:

1. Finally, the truth is acknowledged

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Richonne has been a long time coming. Probably too long, according to some fans. The purpose was for the slow build, but with that slow build came dull love interests for Rick. Finally, Rick has figured out that he needs to be with Michonne, someone who is at his caliber of zombie-killing as well as a viable, intelligent leader.

2. Richonne made racists mad

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Now, let’s just say for the record that #notallRichonnehaters are racists. Some just genuinely don’t like it, and that’s cool. However, some don’t like Richonne (or The Flash‘s WestAllen or Sleepy Hollow‘s Ichabbie) purely for the reason that it’s a white man with a black woman. 

I’ve written before about the multiple viewpoints surrounding black woman/white man interracial relationships on television (and an article outlining more viewpoints around interracial fetishism is in this month’s issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine). But overall, a relationship like Richonne is progress. For example, Richonne shows that: 

  • The Walking Dead reflects its audience. Sure, the show still has a problem with killing off black guys. But at the very least, the inclusion of Rick and Michonne’s relationship (along with Glenn and Maggie) represents a large quantity of the audience (and America in general) who are in interracial relationships. They want to see themselves represented on screen, and what better power couple is there than Richonne?
  • Michonne is treated as any other woman on The Walking Dead. That is to say, she’s treated like a love interest. More detail on this later in the post.
  • Most audience members want to see diversity in all forms, including in their love stories. For the longest, The Walking Dead‘s only interracial love story has been Glenn and Maggie. For them to be the only ones out of all of the characters that have been on The Walking Dead (well, the only ones that are still alive, anyways) is quite astounding and, demographically speaking, doesn’t make sense. Richonne adds some much-needed diverse realism to the proceedings.

But, despite all of the positives that Richonne have going for it, there are some folks in the fandom who are pissed because Michonne is a black woman. There’s still a color barrier when it comes to relationships on television, and that color barrier seems to get even tougher in genre television. But Richonne has helped break that barrier, and those who are mad about it for the wrong reasons can fall back. 

 

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

• Black women are shown to be viable love interests for the white male lead

Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

 

Black women have had a history of either being desexualized or hypersexualized, and both depictions act as reasons why they aren’t seen as viable love interests for the main character, especially if that main character is a white man. For example:

  • Julia Baker from the 1970s show Julia is an example I use a lot for everything, but the character is perplexing in how chaste she is. First, it’s written that her husband was killed in the Vietnam War; writing out the husband and portraying a black family without a two-parent household is an issue in itself, but Julia herself is portrayed as being the perfect black woman, a woman who is “clear” enough in attitude and personality that she can be accepted by her white neighbors, but in order to stay outwardly virtuous, she must remain unwed. She’s a symbol of black respectability rather than just being a multifaceted black woman. Diahann Carroll herself, who played Julia, called her character a “white Negro” with little to do with the black experience.
  • Grantchester featured a troubling storyline in one of its episodes. The episode featured an American jazz group that was touring England, and the jazz singer, Gloria Dee, falls in love with Sidney and sleeps with him. However, the next day, Sidney comes to regret the decision, since he only slept with her to forget about the love he had for his best friend, Amanda, who was marrying a rich jerk. Gloria’s heartbreak is touched upon, but it’s also portrayed as if heartbreak for her is par for the course. She was also depicted as being a stereotype of a black woman jazz singer; every line was hilariously cartoonish, her voice had a Mae West lilt, and her persona was that of the “bad girl.” Sidney’s disgust with himself for sleeping with Gloria gets so bad that he throws out his jazz records; while his character was throwing them out because it reminded him of his personal and moral transgressions (he’s not one to just sleep with anyone), the act could also be interpreted as him believing that jazz (a black medium) and the singer herself led him astray, not his own actions.
  • Michonne herself has been touted by some as a “strong black woman,” even though such a stereotype-laden description strips her of her roundedness as a character. There are pockets of people who feel that, in order for the show to have a feminist angle, Michonne should stay the silent warrior. But these demands aren’t placed on other women (usually white women), like Carol (who is just as deadly with weapons as Michonne) or Maggie (who is, as has been written earlier in this post, in a relationship).

The reason for this distaste and exoticism of black women has its roots in the slave trade. As Paula Byrne wrote in her book about the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, many sailors and sea captains would rape African women and girls on the ship, later claiming that black females’ supposed hypersexuality made them do it (instead of taking responsibility for a lack of morality). The myth of hypersexuality continued throughout slavery, with white plantation owners blaming their victims for their own sexual abuse. Slave owners also helped with desexualization (and a slave’s further removal from personhood) by employing slaves as caretakers, which led to the “Mammy” stereotype. Today, the remnants of both stereotypes make it hard for black women characters, and black actresses, to exist in a fully realized way. Either black characters are “tough” (desexualized), a “Mammy” or caretaker (“desexualized”) or they are a Jezebel (hypersexualized). Hardly ever have they been portrayed as human beings.

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The feeling of bias towards black women in television, especially when it comes to black women characters possibly being the love interest for white male characters, also has antebellum roots. One of the many excuses for slavery was that it kept black men in line and kept their “prey,” white women, safe. Black women were also seen as threats, but the threat was based on a black woman gaining the same rights and status as a white woman. White women during this time benefited from this white supremacist view by being uplifted as genteel prizes.

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White supremacy is a dirty word today, but white women characters (and actresses, to a certain extent) are still lifted above other characters (and actresses) for no reason other than race. The fear of a black woman “stealing” a white man, especially the white male character, still holds true for some viewers of The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, The Flash and other shows that have a black female lead who shows interest in the white male lead. Because of unresolved historical issues, which has led to us seeing mostly white men/white women pairings in the first place, a black woman character with a white male lead might seem to some as a black woman not knowing her station. If Michonne wasn’t who she is, there wouldn’t be any problem.

Sharon, a guest post writer for Black Girl Nerds, summed it up succinctly:

Here’s what it comes down to: if Michonne weren’t a dark-skinned black woman, many of the people who were so surprised by Richonne would have expected it a long time ago. Were it a white actress (the kind we’re used to seeing as love interests on TV and in movies) playing the role of Michonne, sharing intimate scenes with Rick, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have been a case of if Rick and Michonne get together, but when.”

The thought that white goes with white and black goes with black is dying, thanks to the rise of black-white interracial relationships. But television still shows that pockets of this ideology is still alive and well. There are still moments when the media decides to portray black women as objects or obstacles instead of people. But thankfully, Richonne isn’t one of those moments. Richonne does the opposite; it turns the trope of the “strong black woman” on its head. Not only can a black woman be strong and kickass, but she can also be nurturing (like how Michonne is to Carl) and woman worthy of love. Basically, a black woman can be a human being.

As Rick himself, Andrew Lincoln, told TV Line:

“When we [shot it], we wanted it to have a feeling like these two great friends just looked at each other and realized, “Of course.” It was natural…and Michonne has been a mother figure and best friend to Carl for so long. And she saved Rick’s life and Carl’s life on countless occasions. There’s something rather moving about these two warriors getting together.”

So there you have it.

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What do you think of Richonne? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Native and Black Solidarity: Why Mykki Blanco Is Right

James Baldwin is quoted as saying, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” If that’s true for black people, I’d say the same has to be true for Native Americans, particularly since they were the first non-white people of America to be brutalized. It’s for this reason that I’ve always thought Native and black people should work together to help end each other’s strife, and it’s also this reason that I was confused as to why people were getting on rapper-turned investigative journalist/activist Mykki Blanco’s case.