NewBlackMan: An Unmagical World: Challenging the Princess Paradigm

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Unmagical World: Challenging the Princess Paradigm

by David Leonard | NewBlackMan

When my daughter was about 3-years old, while on a vacation, we ventured into a Disney store where we purchased a set of princess figurines (I still feel compromise about our collective relationship with the world of princesses some 4+ years later). We quickly returned to my parents’ hotel so that she could play with them. When it was time to leave and return to where we were staying, I noticed that three of the princesses were missing. Pocahontas, Mulan, and Jasmine were all nowhere to be found while Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and Cinderella were in plain sight ready to go with us. Determined, I searched high and low for her newly purchased toys. After a few minutes, I realized that the three figurines of color were strategically placed under the bed. It was not as if she was playing with them and accidentally placed them under the bed; they were far back, to the point that they were almost out of reach. Not to worry, super-Dad rescued them, only to be told by my 3-year old that she didn’t want them. The horror. Overcoming my sense of failure and dismay, I asked her:

Why don’t you want them?

Her: I just don’t

Me: But why?

Her: Because they don’t have sparkly shoes

She was correct; whereas the 4 figurines of white characters had dresses and sparkly shoes (even though you couldn’t actually see the shoes on all of them), the 3 figurines of color lacked all of the traditional markers of princessdom.

However, much more was at work because in this instance, the daily lessons she had learned about beauty, race, gender, and desirability came into clear view. As a scholar of race, an anti-racist advocate, and someone committed to media literacy, I was immediately distraught, wondering how I had failed to convey these fallacies within contemporary culture. As a parent of a mixed-race daughter (I am white and my wife is Chinese), this moment also concretized the powerful messages being delivered about beauty and racial identity.  Notwithstanding the immense problems with the princess trope (and happiness coming from being saved by a prince), it was clear that my daughter was learning the incompatibility of beautiful glamorous princesses and girls of color.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: An Unmagical World: Challenging the Princess Paradigm.

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