“Mommy, is it true that there’s no such thing as a black princess?”: Nine-year child is introduced to white hegemony through the words of a blond stranger
By Marques Travae
Today’s story is one that hits home for a number of reasons. It again shows that Brazilians are keenly aware of the privileged position of white hegemony in the media. And as media vehicles such as TV and film are such powerful tools that shape not only our reality, but also our imagination, we cannot ignore what these images reproduce in the minds of our little ones. Since I became a father myself, I think about this even more.
A few days ago, I learned about a situation experienced by a nine-year old black girl in the city of Anápolis, located in the state of Goiás of the Brazil’s central-west region. Anápolis is about 55 km from the capital city of Goiânia. On January 1st, Ana Luísa Cardoso Silva was playing in one of the city’s parks in the children’s recreation area with one of her friends. Her family had decided to go to the park for picnic and the two girls were playing castle and princess.
Sometime during their playtime, Ana revealed that a blonde woman, sitting on a bench near the recreation area, told her that “there’s no such thing as a black princess.” Ana also remembered that there was also a man who was also there who told the woman that she shouldn’t address children in this way. With that, the woman stood up and went to sit somewhere else in the square. The damage had been done.
The woman’s comment saddened little Ana but she didn’t share this incident for several days. Five days passed before she got up the courage to tell her mother what had happened that day. She did so in the form of a letter. “Mommy, is it true that there’s no such thing as a black princess? I was playing, (and) the woman said (this). I was sad and afraid to tell you. She said there’s no such thing as a black princess. I cried, mommy,” the girl wrote in a she left on her mother’s bed.
Ana’s mother, the humorist Luciana Cristina Cardoso, 42, was immediately saddened after having read her daughter’s note. “I noticed that she was sad since that day, but she didn’t want to tell me. When I read the letter, I cried a lot. She’s a child and doesn’t understand yet,” said Luciana.
Talking her daughter’s interests, Cardoso says that children stories about princesses are her favorite. “She is very fond of watching movies with this theme,” she said. Luciana also says that her daughter loves the Elsa character in the film Frozen.
Since the stranger’s comment in the park, the Luciana revealed that her daughter doesn’t want Luciana said she would file a report of the occurrence as an act of racism committed against her daughter, but not knowing who the woman was, one has to wonder what telling the police would do. These types of incidents happen in Brazil every day, and it’s hard enough to expect some sort of action to be taken by agents of the law when they know who the perpetrators are let alone when they have no way of knowing.
This story struck me for a number of reasons. Number one because my own daughter wanted to see the film Frozen and I just ended up taking her and her two brothers to see it last Thursday. This even though I take issue with the marketing of a desire for a child to watch such forms of entertainment in which only characters of a European appearance are shown. Every child should being able to dream, imagine and fantasize, but parents of white children will never have to sit down with their children one day and explain why all of the cool dolls, cartoons and movies rarely have people that look like them. It’s a conversation I know I will have to have one day. The second reason that I can relate to this story is that it reminded me of the special connection I felt with seeing black characters on television shows growing up in Detroit.
There’s no way around it, if you want to watch film and television in the United States, you have no choice but to watch white people as they are vast majority of people appearing in the media. Even as a child and not knowing what I would learn years discover was racism and white supremacy, I remember always wanting to see Arnold and Willis on the series Diff’rent Strokes and how the guys on the basketball series The White Shadow looked like the older guys who lived in my neighborhood.
I couldn’t explain it. Like anybody else, I watched my share of the Brady Bunch, The Flintstones and Happy Days episodes, but for some reason I felt a stronger bond when I watched Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and Soul Train. The reason is of course, kids pick up on these types of things and they can easily decipher which people look like them and which ones don’t.
This was the case back in December when the story of two-year old Maria Alice went viral on social networks. A video of Maria watching journalist Maria Júlia “Maju” Coutinho became an online sensation we she was recorded saying, “This here is my hair! It’s looking like my vestido amarelo (yellow dress), yellow,” said the girl in the video, first in Portuguese and then saying English term for amarelo. Maria Alice was talking about Maju, who is known for her stature, brown skin, bright smile and natural afro textured hair.
You see, in Brazil, just like in the United States of the 1970s, it isn’t common to see a lot of black people on television. And when we black folks DO appear, they have to fit into the standard of how Brazil wants to present black people: subservient, ridiculous, walking stereotypes. And until recently, that standard included straightened hair, which is precisely why little Alice Maria reacted to seeing someone with hair similar to hers on television.
After having seen the video of little Maria Alice recognizing her hair on TV, Maju tried to hold back from sharing it but ended up giving in and sharing via her Instagram. “I held back from re-posting, but I couldn’t resist,” she wrote.
The producers of another Globo TV program, the morning talk show Encontro com Fátima Bernardes arranged to fly little Maria Alice and her mother from the city of Floriano, in the south of Piauí state (northeast Brazil), to Globo TV’s studios in São Paulo to meet Maju. The journalist made it a point to dress in yellow for her special meeting with her little fan.
During the program, Coutinho mentioned that her own childhood was marked by a lack of representation on television and because of this, there was a time when she considered straightening her own hair.
Maju clearly understands the importance of her presence on television for millions of black girls and women who are accustomed to seeing people that look like them appearing only in situations of poverty, as maids and cleaning women or half naked Carnaval dancers. Brazilian society knows it too. Ever since Maju moved from being a reporter covering news in the streets, to becoming the first black weathergirl on Globo TV’s top news program, to becoming an anchor on the same program, she’s been the target of racist vitriol on the part of spectators and scrutiny on the part of her colleagues. Wonder why?
Another public figure who understands what her mere presence means for the Afro-Brazilian public is singer IZA. The pop star who recently collaborated with American singer Ciara has made a number of appearances for her little fans who look up to her.
Back in July, IZA made a surprise appearance on the variety show Hora do Faro to surprise a young fan who had always dreamed of meeting her idol. Eight-year old Luara had already won several awards for her dancing before one of her videos dancing to IZA’s song “Brisa” went viral online. The little one has already earned 71,000 followers on her Instagram which is managed by her mother. Luara is already working as street dancer and model.
Her following and talents led to her meeting IZA, an experience that tears of joy and emotion displayed what representation meant, even for a child. Her skills would lead IZA to presenting her “mini-IZA” to the audience where the singer performed during the popular “Rock in Rio” festival last July. Luara’s appearance grabbed the public’s attention as she danced and was dressed just like her idol.
The point that I’m making here is that when people deny the existence of racism and white supremacy, they aren’t even considering, thinking about or maybe just not admitting what their own eyes verify. The woman in that park knew that in the mainstream media, there are no black princesses. But why?
Well, the answer is quite obvious.
When an oppressed people don’t see themselves represented in the media, symbolically, they don’t exist. In Brazil, the stated goal has been the slow disappearance of the black race, and as such, the media plays its role by making black people invisible, non-existent. Or when presenting them, making the characters so ridiculous, subservient and unimportant that no one who looks like them will want to identify with them.
In Brazil, this practice has worked well for decades. But with rising calls for black representation, it’s getting more difficult to get away with (see note one), which has lead to a slight increase of black faces on the small screen. But for those of you who insist on simply disregarding denouncements of racism and white supremacy because you believe “we are all equal”, just think of how Ana Luísa Cardoso Silva felt in the park on that day. Maybe then you’ll understand why “representatividade importa”. Representation matters.
With information from MT Notícia, Diário do Nordeste, Observatório de Música
- It’s amazing to hear how so many black girls in Brazil grew up desiring to be a Paquita, the all-white girl song and dance troupe of popular TV host Xuxa. One director directed a short film on the topic. Singer Larissa Luz recorded a music video that asked “where are the black dolls“, while one woman in Rio created her own line of black dolls after seeing how much her son identified with a black character in a Star Wars film. These are but a few of the actions people are taking to discuss the necessity of seeing black people/children as a part of popular culture.