It’s likely not a coincidence that the 4th of July in the U.S. was heralded online by racist hashtags/words trending, such as the use of the word “colored” in a Global Times tweet.
The other trending hashtag had to do with what Global Times was using the word “colored” to tweet about — Disney casting a Black girl, Halle Bailey, as Ariel in their live-action adapatation of their animated hit “The Little Mermaid”.
Those same people who shrug when articles discuss children in cages, unarmed Black men gunned down by authorities, and other destructive racially motivated acts, lost their collective minds at learning a Black girl was going to play a fictional character.
Their responses centered around two connected, main points. The depiction is “inaccurate” and destroying their childhood and if the situation was reversed and BIPOC characters were portrayed by white people it would not be acceptable, so those of us espousing diversity are hypocrites.
Despite the origin being a fake account for one of the viral tweets, the responses sadly were not all bots and trolls.
Fake accounts or not, whiteness complained, liked and retweeted in droves about the trauma they feel because Ariel is not going to be played by a white girl and how unfair it all is for them.
Firstly, since the creation of films in the late 1800s and later with the advent of television in the early 1900s, white people have had ample representation both on the silver and small screen. For almost as long as cinema has existed, there have been remakes. With every remake, white people continue to see themselves depicted on screen.
To see generations of Black, Latinx, Asian children who only saw stereotypes and negative depictions of characters with their skin color, race or ethnicity and the self-loathing internalized owing to that, should not be dismissed or scoffed at.
Using the argument that they should make an original movie for a Black lead, given Hollywood’s propensity for remakes and playing it safe, ensures that we will be waiting a long time.
Many of us growing up saw ourselves in Ariel (my favorite was Belle — bookworm, yes!), her humor, her curiosity in spite of her looking nothing like us. Now you can do the same. If your racism is so ingrained that you can’t connect with the character that just shows how low you’ve fallen.
Regarding appearance, it doesn’t matter what Ariel’s skin color is because mermaids are not real. Oh, Ariel had red hair? Many actresses dye their hair for roles in film. Does that suddenly become impossible because it’s a Black girl?
The reason this comical argument falls flat is because a) white people are cast in every role including inaccurate whitewashed depictions of real people (anyone remember Aloha?) and b) the character’s defining trait isn’t white.
Pocahontas’s (a real person) defining trait is that she is Indigenous. The entire story is wrapped in Europeans attacking Indigenous people. Her character’s focal point is her Indigeneity and Indigenous culture. So yes, people should rightfully be upset if a white person, the ones who attacked Indigenous people, were cast to play an Indigenous person.
With Ariel, the two characteristics that define her are that she is a mermaid and her voice i.e. singing. Those two aspects are not solely white.
The other reason this argument is ridiculous is because there is no such thing as white cultural appropriation.
White and whiteness have forced and continue to force assimilation. And many aspects of white people’s “culture” was appropriated from other cultures they sought to destroy because it made forced assimilation easier.
A society that forces assimilation, from language to clothes, can hardly claim appropriation.
This is also why a BIPOC can play a broader range of roles than a white person could. Because of forced assimilation, we understand whiteness — we drown in it daily.
However, our culture from hair care routines to washing (washcloths!) is not something whiteness is overly familiar with.
The reason they’re mad is because of anti-Black sentiment in this country. There is no other reason, despite the barrage of excuses they are clasping on to. Black people, whiteness has been taught, is the metric to measure their own success. If Black people are doing worse than you, that means life is good. If not, there must be something wrong with this country.
That’s why we are seeing these complaints now. It’s why the birther movement began when President Obama was elected. It’s why any time a Black person succeeds in what whiteness feels is a “white role”, they lose their minds.
If you feel this way, you should be analyzing what racist beliefs you have, but whiteness’s krytonite is self-reflection.