Thursday, April 23, 2009


I hear we are post-everything these days. We were once "Post-Cold War," but now we're "Post-9/11." Soon, but not soon enough, we'll be "post-recession." Today, we live in the era of the Obama, but we'll be "post-Obama" one day too. A friend recently wrote on Twitter: "I'm really sick of people pretending we live in a post-homophobic society."

And of course, we claim to be "post-race."

We're not, in my opinion, but that does seem to be the consensus ideal goal: for our society to be "blind" that is, to the color of another one's skin. I'd like to believe that at least, but there's evidence that we're not nearly at that point yet. And thats okay!! We'll get there! It's just going to take time.
Are you, "color-blind"??

One sign that we are making some progress will appear in an upcoming film, "The Princess and the Frog." The Washington Post just did an article about this movie that I think is well-worth reading. In the 72 years of Disney, the Post explains, there have been eight Disney princesses that star in their own film. Two of those princesses have been non-white (Mulan and Pocahontas), the rest of them have been white. Tiana will be a first - she will be black.

Is a black Disney princess necessary in today's "modern" American society?... a society that sometimes claims to be color-blind, or post-race? These Gentlemen had a similar debate last month about the representation of minorities in the entertainment media through two essays. The first essay by John Oz discussed how writers/producers are usually white, and how that may explain why many television characters are white. The second essay by B. Graham followed Oz's article with an essay criticizing the entertainment industry for not more frequently casting color-blind. Also be sure to check out the discussions that followed in the comments section.

In my opinion, that we need to go out of our way to cast minorities in tv/film proves that we are not post-race. Do others agree?

The Washington Post team featured a series of opinion essays in their Outlook section the other week. The series was about Spring Cleaning - they compiled a list of ten things it's time for this country to toss.

The List:
  • Academic Tenure
  • The Term "Muslim World"
  • The NAACP
  • The Nobel Prize in Literature
  • The Prom
  • Larry Summers
  • Television
  • The Vice Presidency
  • West Point
  • The White House Press Corps
It's a fun read. One of those essays is about tossing the NAACP. It's humorous and makes some good points; the NAACP has grown somewhat archaic rather quickly. Author Jonetta Barrass suggests perhaps redefining and loosening the restrictions of "colored-people" to include more than just African Americans, but to scrap the organization altogether is to accept something I don't believe to be true yet, that we are "post-race."
I believe the NAACP still has a role in today's American society for the same reasons that I believe in having a Black History Month - for the same reasons I'm okay with affirmative action - for the same reasons I think a black Disney princess is not just a nice idea, but a necessary one - and similarly, because I believe America didn't just vote in a dark-skinned President, it needed one.

In the era of the Obama, black Americans will be in the spotlight more than any other time since the Civil Rights Movement. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though; progress does not mean instant success. We're not post-race yet, but at least we're getting closer.


David Pratt said...

Let us not forget the ridiculous controversy which arose when Tiana's prince was unveiled. A huge outcry was raised over the fact that the black princess didn't have a black prince. If Disney is making strides to be multi-cultural, why does their black princess have a white prince?

Taking a second to ignore the idea that it's somehow racist to have an interracial couple, the prince isn't white. He's Latin American, probably modeled after a Brazilian archetype.

Go, post-race world.

Jason Heat said...

I'm still waiting for my Disney animated version of Fiddler on the Roof, or 'Esther - the Jewish Princess.'

Waiting fearfully.

Alex said...

What about Jasmine?

AZ Winer said...

Good point about Jasmine. the Washington Post article puts her in the "being white" camp.

You be the judge:

Anonymous said...

Disney's efforts for representing racial diversity are obviously a step in the right direction, but sadly the "white" princesses are still the cash cows:

...where do I go to buy my Pocahontas pjs?


Jason Heat said...

To be fair, independent of any race issues, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast are just better movies than Pocahantas.

Jackie said...

The thing is with most of those Disney Princess the movies were created in a different time. Cinderella was made in 1950, Snow White in 1937, the newest of all of them was in 1992 [Aladdin]. So yes, most of the princess are going to be white. If we're not post race now then we certainly weren't post race in 1937.

The real way to tell that we are not post-race as a society is the fact that we are constantly having these discussions about being post-race. You don't walk down the street pointing at each person and saying what their race is then why do we do it for every other thing. "Oh the President is black. Oh Tiana is black." Why can't we just say "Oh the President has a Kenyan father and his mother is American. Oh Tiana is African American." At least the second way were telling about the person's culture. And if we really really feel the need to describe someone by their skin color then why white and black? Like we're opposites or something. How about pale, honey, light, dark, chocolate, tan?

Alex said...

Honestly, I feel awkward using the term "African American." That would be like calling myself a "European American." That's not really much of a cultural descriptor. Unless, of course, someone is actually from a country in Africa, in which case I think "Kenyan American" makes as much sense as "Italian American." But otherwise, it's a qualifier. One of my friends is offended if someone calls her an "Indian American" because, while her parents were born in India, she considers herself to be simply "American."

And so I guess, in a sense, I'm actually agreeing with you, since I think the problem is that we feel the need for these additional labels to begin with.

Ozkirbas said...

Just wanted throw this out there:

Wasn't there a significant amount of controversy concerning the Pocahontas' design concept?

Jasmine Marcus said...

I just realized that I can comment even without a blog.

1. Princess Jasmine is definitely not white; she's Persian/Middle Eastern. I think the Washington Post is twisting things around to make a point.

2. I agree with Alex about not wanting to label people as "African Americans." Most other people aren't labeled [Something]-American, and not all people who are described as "African-American" are even of African descent. When I covered racial incidents at Cornell and Ithaca, most students simply preferred to be called "black."

Jason Heat said...

The google add that came up in my gmail while reading the comments to this post -

"dangerousNEGRO - - Empowerment Apparel The Style's In The Message!"


David Pratt said...

For some great - and occasionally hilarious - commentary on race and racism today, I recommend

Damo said...

@Jason I just got this google ad: "minoriTEES - - Colorfully, Conscious T-Shirts Quality Cotton, Hot Styles $14.99+"

I blame (and thank) you.

Max Nova said...

Glad someone else saw the spring cleaning articles last weekend. The Larry Summers one is both amusing and spot on.

B.Graham said...

@John - Yes there absolutely was, because Pocahontas does not really look like a Powhatan, or a Native American in general. Also she's highly, highly sexualized.

Chris Evans said...

Yeah, and the non-white princesses usually LOOK white even if they're not supposed to. As Brittany pointed out, Pocahontas did NOT look Native American.

that we need to go out of our way to cast minorities in tv/film proves that we are not post-race.Yes, THIS. I interned for a talent agency, and it was amazing to me to look at the breakdowns from the casting agencies. If they need a black actor, or an Asian one, or a Latin one, they would specify. And it was usually something stereotypical like a drug addict/maid/wise-cracking ghetto black guy/etc. That made up maybe like...5% of the roles. Everything else did not specify a race, and that meant you were supposed to assume they only wanted you to send white actors. We don't necessarily need more "black shows" or "asian shows", what we need is for people of different races to be integrated into the television and film world of white people. Grey's Anatomy is a good example of this. The black and the asian and the latin characters aren't just random sprinklings of color on the sidelines while the white people are the main focus. Everyone is just throw into the mix equally.

The way women in general are portrayed in Disney movies disgust me, and the fact that out of the top 20 grossing G-rated movies ever, there are only 4 four with female leads. Also, while I personally do prefer Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, saying they were better movies is subjective. I don't think the success of the movies and how it relates to race is irrelevant.

As a final note, I'd like whoever said to your friend on Twitter that we live in a post-homophobic society to please speak to the mothers of two 11 year old boys who recently hanged themselves because of the gay bullying they received at school. Two little children, in the past month. Words like "gay" and "faggot" have been shown to overwhelmingly be the #1 terms children use to insult each other in both the U.S. and the U.K. by a number of different studies.

....Sorry that comment was REALLY long and I don't expect anyone to actually read through it. lol.