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Posts Tagged ‘multiracial children’

“Mom why are they all black?” My oldest daughter said with a confused and concerned tone. “Not brown like us but just all black, and no faces?”

The 1941 version of Dumbo in its day was an animation masterpiece. A feature length film with talking animals. Today we can see it for all its flaws. From questionable lyrics, to racist crows. Dumbo comes with a lot of baggage.

via Disney

My daughter’s question started a discussion about animation, technology and even our country’s racist history. It’s not new to her. It’s a topic we’ve talked about many many times. Whether during homeschool, during our tour through the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. or while reading various books. We talked about how there wasn’t much diversity in movies in the 1940s, and when people who looked like us were in movies they weren’t always depicted nicely.

I get some people who ask me how we as a “Disney family” either 1. Can watch these old movies with racist undertones or 2. How I discuss them with my kids.

The post I had planned to write today was a review of the new live action Dumbo. But screw it. Let’s get a little dirty. This is important and something I’d love to chat with you about.

Mother daughter Disney Bound. Dressed as Mama Jumbo and Timothy the Mouth and a baby girl as Dumbo.
Photo by HeyTeamKelly

Wait, Dumbo is racist?

So first off, if you wandered in here and are thinking “Dumbo is racist? What?!” And are feeling a little sheepish right now, don’t. It’s ok, you’re reading this and taking the time to learn and that’s what’s important. What we are willing to do now. Not forever being ridiculed for our ignorance of the past.

Also, honestly, growing up I was clueless too. Not that Dumbo was on our most-played list or anything. But I was either bored with it, confused by it, or more in awe of seeing babies come from storks than anything else as a kid.

Questionable Lyrics

As an adult I was more clued into the racist undertones but since this movie wasn’t on our regular rotation it was more thanks to articles. For instance I didn’t know what in the world the men were saying as they build the circus tent. Even today I went back and watched it before writing this and I still can barely make it out. I replayed it several times, kept getting distracted by cute baby Dumbo working alongside his mama, so I finally searched to find the disturbing lyrics.

via Disney

Unsure what I’m talking about? When the Casey Jr. train stops chugging along and the animals begin to file out of the “Song of the Roustabouts” has a scene with dark faceless, and featureless men. They look more like boxy robots than real people. And lyrics such as “Grab that rope, you hairy ape!” Lyrics which were wisely not included in the 2019 live action version directed by Tim Burton.

Racist Crows

Later in the movie there’s a flock of crows that find Dumbo and Timothy asleep in the tree.

Also, call me dim, but though I immediately caught the vocal version of blackface (assuming the crows were drawn and voiced by white actors), I did miss that the lead crow is named “Jim Crow” (I don’t believe it was ever said in the movie, I’ve re-watched the scene a few times and haven’t caught it. It’s not in the movie credits but it is listed on iMDb that’s his name.

Image of racist crows Dumbo film listening to Dumbo's sob story.
via Disney

Jim Crow laws were laws that enforced racial segregation in the South. They began after the Civil War and continued through the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. They were finally abolished with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law outlawed discrimination in any type of public accommodation (source).

So Dumbo was released in 1941. Before the Civil Rights Movement began, arguably at the height of the Jim Crow laws. And they decided to name the leader of a jive-dancing, slang-throwing, jazz-singing group of birds Jim Crow and he’s voiced by a white guy. See how this can be seen as problematic?

I personally never saw the birds to be of low intelligence or lazy, as some critics will point out. But they were clearly written in the movie to depict a stereotype of black people at the time, and the main bird’s name is Jim Crow.

If you don’t have the movie and can’t see what I’m talking about for yourself, you may not get a chance. The scene will be cut from the Disney+ version of the film.

racism crows Dumbo help him fly. Clip from the movie.
via Disney

As a child I didn’t see the birds as depicting black people, because the black people in my life didn’t look or act that way. As an adult, I can see where the scene went wrong. But as a viewer, I’m glad that Disney decided to remove it from the streaming services. Kids around the world don’t need to see that without context on how or why it was wrong. As a mother, I’m glad we still have the original version because it’s a really really good lesson.

How can you watch this?

I watched it with Lil’ J for the first time when she was three. We had a nightly routine of twisting her hair and watching a new Disney movie together in my bed. When Dumbo came up the queue she watched the mama elephant with her strange-looking baby. The one quote I remember from her while we watched that first time was during the pink elephants song, when Dumbo and Timothy accidentally get drunk of champagne and start hallucinating. That’s when she said “Mom, this is freaking me out.”

I tried so hard to contain my laughter. I’d never heard her say anything like that before. But it sparked a great conversation about alcohol.

Now, about five years later we re-watched this version after seeing the live-action movie to compare the two. And she noticed the faceless men building the circus tent, and that really bothered her.

I was finally noticing the crows that everyone has been upset about. But my kids didn’t. Big T was asleep by that time (it was a late movie night), and Lil’ J didn’t say anything about it, so I put a pin in that conversation for now.

Let me break down first 1. Why I allow my kids to watch these movies with racist undertones and 2. How we discuss them.

Why I let my kids watch Dumbo

The original Dumbo premiered in 1941. Back then the world was in the middle of WWII. The attack on Pearl Harbor happened at the end of that year. Black people were migrating north where they had the right to vote because in the South we still couldn’t. And even still, some states passed literacy laws to keep people from being eligible to vote. Schools were segregated. Towns were segregated. Interracial marriage was illegal. Things weren’t so nice for us. (source)

When you compare how things were for us then to now, we are sitting pretty. I had the opportunity to attend an integrated public school in Georgia. Go to a public college and private University. Earn scholarships. Work as a television reporter and anchor in 3 cities over a decade. And now I own my own business, working my own hours while raising my three kids and living in our dream house I put half down on. Yes, I have a husband and he helped but I’m just going to own this for a minute ok? I did that. A black woman. Praise the Lord I’m alive today and able to do that.

Mother daughter Disney Bound. Dressed as Mama Jumbo and a baby girl as Dumbo.

I am not going to forget what so many people before us had to do to get us to where we are now. I am also not going to ignore or erase the past or act like it didn’t happen. We can learn from this. Besides, the crows were the only characters that wound up being nice to Dumbo after hearing his story, and I think that is another lesson in and of itself.

Listen, if 2019 Dumbo was a duplicate of the past with all of the underage drinking and blackface I woulda snatched my kids and walked up out of that theater.

But we’ve had 78 years to learn, grow and evolve. And we can look back at mistakes and call them just that. A history lesson if you will. But I’m not throwing Dumbo, Peter Pan, Fantasia, Lady and the Tramp, Pocahontas and… I’m sure I’m forgetting others in my fireplace to burn. But I don’t personally get myself too wound up about it because I’m giving my children context. And we can learn a lot with that.

As Aramide A. Tinubu well in an essay on NBC Think, we can learn from our past.

Unpacking how, why and when these projects were made would provide context for newcomers and those who haven’t seen these films in decades. It would offer an opportunity for growth, conversation and healing. But, by sweeping these issues under the rug, Disney suggests they would rather shut the door on their past atrocities than take the time and space to learn, grow and evolve from them. Sometimes doing what’s best for the generations that follow us means we must get uncomfortable, and expose our past faults and failures to them for us all to evolve.

Aramide A. Tinubu

Now I’m not going to ridicule Disney for taking that part out of it’s streaming service. Without context for those who need it, it could do more harm that good. But let’s hope there’s room for that later on.

How we discuss racism in Dumbo and other Disney movies

This time my daughter’s question started a discussion about animation, technology and even racism.

Normally when we see a live action movie we watch the original first. But this time we went ahead and watch the 2019 version before the 1941 version. I figured one would help give the other more context and open up move discussion that way.

I always ask what they thought of the movie, favorite parts, least favorite parts. And we talk about how the two versions are the same and different. Lil’ J’s direct comment about the men building the tent sparked conversation for us. I ask her what she thought of them, why she thinks they don’t have faces, and why she thinks their skin looks like that. Then I try to do more asking than talking.

I ask if they know how long ago the movie was made (and give the answer if they don’t). Ask if they know what was going on in the world during that time, and how people acted towards one another. Ask if they think artists or writers working on movies may have thought differently or the same as everyone else. And we talk about now. I ask how things are now, what they notice is different. How they think artist now may draw the movie if they could re-do it.

Had she not brought that up I may have asked her what she thought about the crows. Since she didn’t think anything of it, and I wouldn’t expect her to, so I let it go this time. But I do want to There are so many layers to that that would require me to point out things like “white voiceover actor” “the bird’s name is actually Jim… Jim Crow”, “They were created to try to act like black people” all things that aren’t obvious to her right now. So I didn’t feel the need to discuss it this time, but I’m sure it’ll be a conversation we’ll have some day. And I’ll be ready.

Now I have an honest question for you. Did you ever see these scenes in the movie Dumbo as racist?

Mother daughter Disney Bound. Dressed as Mama Jumbo and Timothy the Mouth and a baby girl as Dumbo.

Ok so this got long. Instead of tacking the review of the live action remake to the bottom of this post I’m going to share that on Friday. Along with the glaring difference that stuck out about the two films, and if we think buying the new movie is worth it.

The problem with being an optimistic person is that sometimes the negativity everywhere seems like it could be solved with some BBQs and heart-to-hearts. Or at least a heavy dose of therapy. biracial children identity

It really wears me down. I’m sure it wears everyone down, but as someone who just wants to be happy all the time, bad news and grumpy moods REALLY get me down. So I’ve had to be selfish for my sanity, withdraw and protect myself emotionally. I’ve kept the news off, disabled my Facebook news feed, closed myself off to the world as much as possible and focused on what’s here before me. I’ve planned day trips, shared a lot about potty training, and let my brain relax into jello as I analyzed every Bachelorette episode. I’d checked out, friends. But I’d needed that.

During this exercise I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and you know what? Though I’ve been more removed, I’m still so worried for our kids. Still hopeful, but worried.

There are so many messages out there about minorities, blacks, whites, and so much hatred and I’m so sad that all of our kids are growing up in this mess. We’ve taken huge steps forward and now I feel like we’re taking a giant step back. I truly hope that our children can come out of this more accepting, with a brighter outlook, and more loving than any generation before.

As a mother of two biracial children I have a thousand concerns swirling around in my head. In so many ways I want to (and do) shelter them. But ultimately I want them to be armed and ready for what lies ahead. I want them to have a better childhood than I did. I want them to be confident biracial children that are never ashamed of who they are, or their background. And I want them to be ready to stand up for themselves when necessary.

Lessons for biracial children and their families as they learn about themselves. Discussing biracial children identity.

Biracial Children Identity

These are 10 invaluable lessons for my biracial children

1. Know who you are… on all fronts

If society stays the way it is now you’ll likely be considered black, no questions asked. Own it. Embrace that side of your background like the beautiful badge it is. Don’t feel the need to quickly correct anyone who checks you off for that box. That said, YOU know who you are, and you do not have to allow people to shove you into one box or another. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope to be acknowledged as you are. Anyone who asks you to “choose a side” probably isn’t worth your time.

2. Understand how others will perceive you whether that is right or wrong

As a continuation from number 1, it’s important to know that although you may embrace your entire background, others may still have preconceived notions.

My son, some people will look at you differently when you’re playing rough, wanting a turn with your friend’s water gun, or wearing a hoodie. It’s not right, but it’s important to be aware that it still happens.

My sweet daughter. Some people will see your skin as “too dark” while others call you names for being “too light.” You’re in a precarious position but I know you can handle it. No one knows you like we do. Remember which opinions really matter.

My children, be aware of how others will perceive you so you’re prepared for whatever is thrown your way.

When your biracial daughter says she wishes she was white: How to stay calm and work through the situation. Lessons for biracial children and their families as they learn about themselves. Discussing biracial children identity.

3. Don’t be a victim

Now that I’ve told you how the world seems set up against you, let me tell you this… You are NOT a victim. Don’t ever let your skin color hold you back from anything. You may often find yourself in situations where you’re surrounded by people who don’t look like you, that doesn’t mean you don’t belong. Don’t sell yourself short or think that something is impossible because of the way you look. You may be the first. You may be the only in different paths you take. But you are not less-than or incapable.

If I ever hear you attribute being unwilling to try for something because of what you look like we are going to have some serious problems. Don’t you dare allow others to convince you you’re at a disadvantage and can’t go as far because of the way you look. I’ve worked way too hard to prove you otherwise.

4. You are not required to think like anyone else

I hate stereotypes and though there is one for nearly every situation, we certainly get a heavy dose of it. Across the board, people have a variety of opinions, hair styles, sense of fashion, way of speaking and so on. For some reason when it comes to black people, others want to put us into a box as if we all think the same way and then ask why we’re “different” when we diverge from their assumptions. Some people think they’re complimenting us when they say we are “well spoken” or “so articulate” just because they are shocked we aren’t using ebonics. Not only is it not a compliment, it’s offensive.

Just because you share the same color skin as someone doesn’t mean you share the same collective brain, with the same thoughts, experiences, or opinions.  White people are allowed to disagree with other white people who don’t think like them. We should be allowed to have the same rainbow of opinions.

You are entitled to your own view point. People aren’t always going to agree with you, and that’s life. But you should be granted the same amount of contradicting opinions as anyone else.

Please always remember, you do not speak for all black people. Which brings me to my next point.

5. You are not a spokesperson and don’t have to be

You don’t speak for every biracial/black/brown person. Give others their chance to say what they believe and share your opinions while also respecting those of others who may feel differently.

Also, you don’t owe it to anyone to be a black history teacher. It’s not your responsibility to educate those who are ignorant; to allow people to play with your hair; to ask you crude or offensive questions because you’re a “safe friend.” Trust me, it gets exhausting. That is not your job. Feel free to direct people to their nearest library or paid educational resource.

All that said, people can learn a lot from you. Just being in your presence will inspire and influence people and peek their curiosity. So…

6. Be willing to teach and willing to learn

If something offends you, be open to explaining why. Having a canned response prepared is totally ok. For instance, the “what are you?” question gets really annoying. Obviously you’re a human being and a thousand other things, but people are failing at finding a polite way to ask about your heritage. You could share a more polite way to pose that question so that they don’t prance around offending every multiracial person they come in contact with for the rest of their lives.

Also, you don’t know everything. So be willing to be quiet and listen to others who are different than you. You can learn a lot from them, just like they can learn from you. Leaving this world without moving beyond our own little shells of experience would be such a waste. Go, meet, explore, absorb!

Confronting racist friends and learning to be the change.

7. Don’t mind those who don’t matter

Realize that as much as you may wish you could, you can’t make everyone like you. And you can’t make everyone happy.Please don’t let the opinions of others wear you down. Remember the opinions that are truly important and know how to spot a true loyal friend.

8. Have Grace

No one is perfect. People are going to screw up and offend you. Be forgiving. Especially if they are sincerely apologetic. And if they are not… Ask yourself who is that hurting in the long run? Them or you? Give yourself permission to let things go so that others’ negativity doesn’t infringe on your joy.

9. Learn Better and Try To Do Better

Try not to make assumptions. Rarely have you seen the full picture. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Even if you think they are the most disgusting piece of footwear you’ve ever laid eyes on, just stick your feet in and give it a try. I promise you there will always be something you can learn from someone else that can help you to become an even better person.

Watching my children play is like magic. Raising biracial children. A millennial mom blog.

10. Love Yourself

If I didn’t stress this enough let me drive this point home, there is no one on this world exactly like you. There has never been any other and will never be any other you. Treat yourself as such. Don’t get caught up in trying to be like someone else. Love the beautiful brown skin you’re in and all of your other wonderful qualities. Become the best person you can be, and help others to become their best selves.

When we’re all helping one another to be great, we will all rise to be great, and inevitably make the world a better place… Oh there goes my optimism again.

Biracial Children Identity

When it comes to teaching our kids Civil Rights history, I’ve seemed to have done most of it so far. So I was amused when I overheard a conversation about MLK Day between my white husband and our biracial daughter.

He says: You need to start getting ready for bed, you have school tomorrow.
She says: No I don’t! It’s Martin Looser King Day!
He says: It’s what?
She says: [hesitating to get it right] Martin Luther King Day!
He says: Who was what?
She says: Martin Luther King Jr.
He says: No, I mean what did he do.
She says: He helped make the world a better place. He helped everyone to get a long, and to be more fair.
He says: Oh yea?
She says: Yea, because there were signs that said only brown people.–No, I mean only white people could go in. So we couldn’t go in. Only YOU.
He says [after peering an impressive smirk my direction]: Yea, and that wasn’t fair was it?
She says: NO

White daddy, biracial daughter MLK Day discission

I think my husband handled the sudden jab well, considering. To be honest I didn’t even really know that she put it all together as well as she had. We talked a lot about Martin Luther King Jr Day last year, and continued to read some books about him (we like this one) now and then through the year, but I’m so impressed that she still remembers, and even asked about eating “Peace Pie” again–A tradition we started last year decorating an apple pie and an excuse to eat dessert.

I think it’s important we talk about these topics at an age-appropriate level to help our kids know what our country has been through, how people have–and continue– to change, hopefully for the better.

Today we will definitely be reading more stories, having more discussions, and sharing our thoughts on the holiday. We may even work on a craft like we did last year. But most of all we’re enjoying extra time together off of work and out of school, and grateful for the people who worked so hard so that our family can even exist as we do today.

When I pictured what our daughter would look like I hoped she would have my eye shape and my husband’s eye color. He has very wide, stunning blue eyes. They were the first thing I noticed when I saw him, and still one of my favorite physical qualities of his.

Yours

I like the almond shape of my eyes though, and thought they’d look striking in a lighter color on our little girl.

But what do you know, she got the exact opposite. And they couldn’t be cuter.

Last week I was in a hair shop buying some rollers when another black woman walked in and asked the man behind the counter if they sold color contacts. I stood by and watched as he pulled the case of display contacts out from their hiding space under the register, and watched as the woman looked them over.

She was beautiful. When she looked up I noticed she had lighter eyes than mine. Very light. And based on her purchase inquiry, they were most likely colored contacts. It reminded me of a phase I went through. Starting in high school, and through most of college I wore gray colored contacts. Grey sounds weird but they looked a pretty hazel when I wore them. I didn’t wear glasses, and I didn’t need contacts. My vision is perfect. They were strictly cosmetic.

I liked the way they made me look–Different. I stood out, and got compliments almost daily on my “beautiful” eyes.

I wore them when I met my husband, on television, even at our wedding. He preferred I didn’t wear them, but I liked them so I kept the habit. It wasn’t until I did an internship in Atlanta the summer before I graduated college that I decided to toss them.

There was a reporter I looked up to who took me under his wing. He was the youngest reporter at this powerhouse station, and he also happened to be black. He always told me what he thought straight up, and was never afraid to hold back with me.

I’ll never forget what he asked me:

“Why don’t you do you?”

“What?” The question caught me off guard. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Why are you pretending to be someone you’re not? You don’t need to change the color of your eyes.”

I pointed out another reporter at the station who was doing the same thing but he didn’t take that as an excuse, and told me I should get rid of them.

So I did.

Mine

The next day I went in for the first time in a long time, with the eyes I was born with.

“See, you have beautiful brown eyes,” he told me. “Dark brown eyes, the ones you were given.”

Thankfully, we’ve remained friends over the years and he continues to be a mentor of mine and give me advice when I need it.

That conversation has stuck with me a long time and I often have to check myself and remember to just “do me.”

I’m glad I learned this lesson and came to love myself, and my eyes before my daughter was born. Her eyes were light gray for a day, but turned as black as mine by day two.

Ours

They’re big and wide like her daddy’s and dark like mine. They’re mine and his. They’re beautiful, and perfectly mixed

Hi! I’m Jennifer Borget

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I'm a part-time journalist, full-time wife and mother striving to make the world a better place and inspiring others to do the same. This is the space where I share my journey in making the most of every day.

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