More than just a fairy tale

Marchaé Grair

There was a beauty who loved a beast, a mermaid who wanted to be human and a servant who lost a glass slipper.

Growing up, I loved the classic Disney cartoons and the heroines they produced.

It took a little age and a lot of curiosity before I asked my mom about the one spark missing in Disney magic.

“Mommy, why aren’t there any black Disney princesses?”

Of course, she didn’t have an answer and neither did anyone else.

I haven’t stopped asking that question ever since that moment more than a decade ago.

Imagine my surprise when I was browsing the Web recently and saw Disney’s next 2-D project, The Princess and the Frog, which will hit theaters in 2009.

The heroine of the tale is a black girl who lives in New Orleans during the 1920s. She will be the newest member of the official Disney Princesses brand, which markets everything from children’s backpacks to clothing.

It took Disney nearly 80 years to realize what the American culture doesn’t quite understand – black women deserve to feel beautiful too.

What does a Disney character have to do with my self-esteem as an adult black woman?

Disney Princesses are to little girls what magazine covers, television shows and movies are to me.

Popular culture is very resistant to promoting the beauty of women who do not see white skin when they look in the mirror. Entertainment media that are not particularly geared toward black audiences seem to lack the presence of black women in general.

Many media images I see of black women are ridiculously stereotypical or degrading.

Sometimes, it is difficult to separate my own identity from the negative stereotypes constantly perpetuated in entertainment. I have to remind myself constantly that the black woman is a gentle creature who is often misunderstood and undervalued.

Why do I care so much about a cartoon? I am a strong-minded adult who figured out who I am and what I represent.

But there are thousands of little black girls who do not know who they are yet. They are my primary concern.

No matter what their mothers teach them, they will still look to entertainment to validate who they are.

I have a little cousin who is 8, at a tender level of impressionability that I do not always realize.

We were about to play with some of her dolls, and she wanted to have first pick of her favorite. She picked a fair-skinned doll that could have been mistaken for white. I asked her why she wanted that particular doll.

She told me it was prettier because it was not dark like the doll I was going to use. This answer startled me because many of our family members, including my cousin, have a dark complexion. She lives in a city where she sees diverse people day to day, yet she still has a skewed view of true beauty.

If children are a microcosm of our society, I fear we are not doing our job.

Kudos to Disney for giving black girls a chance to feel beautiful. Hopefully, as they watch the new Disney princess, they will realize they also deserve to be treated like royalty.

Marchaé Grair is a sophomore electronic media productions major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].