Mermaids Aren’t Real, But the Racism Is

I’m 32, and I’ve never grown up with a Black Disney Princess

Michelle Saahene

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The past several days my timelines have been flooded with racism towards Disney’s decision to cast a Black girl, Halle Bailey, as Ariel the mermaid. That decision instantly set of anger and rage from an alarming amount of white women…over a mermaid. It’s as if they are tying Ariel to their actual identity, and now that she isn’t white, it’s completely shattered their dreams of becoming a mermaid in real life. Maybe there’s been a surge of fluoride in our drinking water that’s causing irrational behavior. It’s most likely a serious case of white fragility. Off the top of my head, I can count six white Disney princesses. I can count only one black princess, and this is after 49 films Disney has made since 1937. We finally were blessed with Princess Tiana in 2009, when I was 23. Little white girls have been represented far more than little black girls from hair, to makeup, to Disney princesses and beyond.

My favorite Disney princesses growing up were Pocahontas and Jasmine. I’m Ghanaian-American and dark skinned, so even though I couldn’t necessarily look at these characters and see myself, it was the closest thing to representation little me was going to get. Growing up in nearly all white Palmyra, PA, not only did I not see myself represented on TV when it came to my Afro-textured hair or my skin tone, but I didn’t see dolls my color or any makeup my color. I didn’t learn how to do my makeup until adulthood when my shades were finally available. Products for my hair were always in a small section, the “black section” of stores, away from all of the other hair care products. (Yes, black hair care products are actually segregated in stores.) Very rarely did I see a black Barbie in the stores, so I was forced to play with a lot of lighter-skinned dolls. It made me feel like I wasn’t as important as the white girls. What other conclusion was I supposed to have drawn? For every shade of white girl there was makeup. The hair care aisles were lined with products for their texture, all in one section. There was no shortage of white-skinned dolls at the toy stores. And of course, they had almost all of the Disney princesses! Pocahontas and Jasmine meant the world to me. It felt like we were only a few movies away from making a princess that…

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