Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not Snow White

In case there's anyone reading this blog who doesn't know me, I'm white.  My hometown is a very 'pale' little town, and there were very few people in my high school who weren't of European or Asian descent.  Race is not something I've had to think much about, and I think the same is true for many of my friends and family back home.  For those of you more versed in racial issues, what I'm about to say is old news, but it's something I've only personally encountered recently.

Disney has been criticized for only recently featuring a black princess in one of their movies.  Neither princesses nor race being a big part of my world, this was nothing big to me.  Most of the US is white, black girls can still enjoy a movie with a white heroine, and anyway, there's now a black princess, so all is well.  Right?

Dominicans (most of them) are black, in various shades.  The lighter shades are considered more attractive, and the darker shades are associated with Haitians, who are viewed very unfavorable in this country.  In all the billboards and TV shows, most people are very light-skinned, as are the politicians.  Movie stars and celebrities are imported from the US, and are all white.  My 10 year old host sister has a skirt with a girl stitched on the side...the girl is white.

As an unofficial side project, I brought a book of fairy tales in Spanish, and I've been reading it with neighborhood kids.  The 7 year old next door is living with her grandparents (her parents are divorced and living in separate provinces.  Family structure is really severely lacking in this country), and nobody ever reads stories to her.  She works hard (at a lot of household chores), seems to be pretty smart, and stays friendly and cheerful most of the time, except when her mom forgets to come visit her.  I love her to death, and I only have a few weeks here in town, and there isn't much I can do for her except read. So we read La Sirenita (the Little Mermaid), in which the beautiful princess is white.  We read Cinicientas (Cinderella), in which the beautiful girl is white.  We read Blanca Nieves (Snow White), and it told how extremely beautiful she was, and how extremely white she was, and I couldn't help but look at the dark skin of my friend and wonder what she was thinking.  And suddenly, it mattered to me that there was only one solitary dark-skinned princess.  None of the stories say 'dark is ugly' in so many words, but if all they ever say is 'light is beautiful,' there is a large population receiving the message that they are 'different than beautiful.'

If any of you have daughters or sisters, imagine if all popular media constantly told them they were 'different than beautiful.'  Imagine also that the education system was beyond pathetic, and the standard 'family' model that they see is unwed teenage mothers.  Suppose the only affirmation they got of being beautiful was when men made crude comments as she walked down the street.  Welcome to the DR.  The situation for black girls in the States is often better, but still has its problems.

As a white male, this didn't even enter my radar until I became emotionally invested in the well being of these Dominican kids.  I don't know how well I've expressed myself here, but hopefully it's enough to get people thinking.

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