We’ve had quite a lot of excitement this year with our first black (ahem… bi-racial) president. Regardless of politics and politicking, the event moved me to tears. It says something about our nation that we can reach a point where a black president could even run for office, never mind be elected.
But, and I am almost embarrassed to admit this, I am almost equally moved by another historic moment that has taken place this year. Disney introduced their first black princess, Tiana. I don’t recall ever dreaming about being a princess or wishing for a fancy gown and tiara. I’m sure I had my moments, but it didn’t define my childhood. In many ways, it makes the moment all that much more poignant, because I often wonder how the lack of women of color in childhood media imagery impacted me.
As a bi-racial child raised in an all-white family, I was profoundly aware that I wasn’t white, perhaps even more so than children who grow up in families of color. I wasn’t just aware that I didn’t look like most popular movie stars or politicians. I didn’t “look like” the person who was most important to me: my mother (in reality, we look quite a bit alike). As with most kids, my mom was my hero, my inspiration, my idol. Yet, we were visibly different. From the earliest moments I remember, I remember struggling with that and with what it meant for my own future.
When I thought about the things I wanted for myself, I was certainly impacted by skin color. Despite my love of theater and acting, I generally avoided that path because most of the roles I saw were for white characters (it never crossed my mind that many of them could have just as easily been played by a black woman). I stuck with more generic occupations like teaching, television repair (an aspiration of mine when I was 6) and, finally, Imagineering. Yep. I didn’t dream of being a princess. I dreamed of being a Disney Imagineer and of creating Disney magic from behind the scenes. And that’s how kids’ minds adapt.
But what if there had been a black princess when I was a child? Would I have pursued different dreams? Perhaps. Maybe I would have become an actress or gone after “girlier” aspirations than engineering, science and math. I can’t possibly know. But I’m happy with my life path so far, and so I celebrate having a black princess now, when I’m totally ready to embrace my girly side. And you know the irony? My daughter doesn’t look like she has any African blood at all (except for some wildly curly hair). She can happily enjoy the various other princesses without seeking out one to match her own skin color. As for me, I’m donning my imaginary tiara and strutting my stuff.
Spunky Princess Tiana has already made her debut at the Disney Parks, but you can catch her in The Princess and the Frog starting on December 11.
Oh, and by the way, I decided to veer from the engineering path and my husband refuses to move to Florida, so my Imagineering journey is currently on hold, but… To the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering, if you ever need a quirky, techie gal in the Boston area (or for telecommuting) with an anthropology degree and an M.Ed. and who has a background in non-profit and tech work, give me a call. I’m fabulous, trust me.