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Posts Tagged ‘multiracial parenting’

“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.

I’m pretty sure third grade is when Barbie dolls were all the rage. I may have even had one stuck in the middle of my cake at my roller skating rink birthday party. Most of my gifts were dolls and rarely did any of them look like me. Did I care? Nope.

I played with the dolls until their limbs fell off, and sometimes even long after. I brushed their hair and styled them in the bathtub. I didn’t realize it at the time but a lot of those toys, along with the people I was surrounded by at school, influenced the way I saw myself.

My curly hair seemed unruly and messy compared to the slick shiny hair of my dolls. My eyes seemed so dark and boring. The “pretty dolls” I was gifted looked nothing like me. Therefore, was I not pretty?

While I didn’t take it to that literal equation (though self-conscious, I was always a pretty confident child) I altered the way I looked to match beauty standards. I straightened my hair, and even wore contacts–not to see better, but to change the color of my eyes.

As an adult, connecting all the dots, and becoming a mother to a little girl, I knew right off the bat we were going to do things differently. She’d see herself represented in books, movies and toys in ways I never did. I’ve made this a priority.

Apple Park Organic Toys Review

I applaud companies that also recognize the need for more diverse toys. Apple Park has long been a brand promising products that are safe for children, better for the environment and always beautifully green. But beyond creating soft baby clothes, and toys made from organic materials, they’re also aware of the importance of creating more toys that represent a wider rainbow of children.

Their newest Best Friend’s doll named Mia has a dark skin tone, braidable pigtails and to my daughter’s delight–a removable dress.

Apple Park Organic Toys New Mia Doll Review

Apple Park sent us one of their new dolls and Lil’ J was so excited to open hers, and a matching one she insists is for her baby sister. I explained how this was a new doll, and their first that looked like her, to which she interpreted to mean it’s a special doll made in her image. I haven’t had the heart to tell her otherwise yet. But I do love watching her embrace dolls, toys and characters who look more like her than most toys I played with as a little girl.

In the 1940s, a study looking into the effects of segregation by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark found that black children not only overwhelmingly preferred white dolls, but they also had negative perceptions of black dolls. I saw these dolls in the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. It broke my heart reading how children didn’t want to play with the dolls with darker skin. The “doll test” was cited in the 1954 Supreme Court caseBrown vs. Board of Education, which led to desegregation.

Apple Park Organic Toys New Mia Doll Review

It’s important for every child to see themselves in a positive light, and to see the beauty in diversity in the world. That begins with the toys they play with and the books that they read. I’ve seen the difference it’s made in my daughter’s life and it gives me hope that we’ve come a long way and that things will continue to get better.

Our little girl on the way also has a super soft and snuggly first baby doll ready for her and I hope it’s a gift she cherishes a long time.

Apple Park Organic Toys New Mia Doll Review

Giveaway

CLOSED– Winner: Entrant #12 Heather

What a week you guys. Not one, but two giveaways for you! First off, Apple Park has a slew of adorable baby and children’s toys and items from books and blankets to dolls and backpacks. Use my code JB20 to get 20% off your Apple Park purchase from May 22nd until May 31st.

Now for the giveaway. One reader will win an Apple Park Prize pack filled with the sweetest goodies. This prize pack has a retail value of $150 and will include these items or items of a similar value:

To enter just leave a comment with letting me know what item you love on their website. Giveaway closes next Thursday night May 31st at 11:59pm.

Big thanks to Apple Park for being today’s blog sponsor.

In 1996 I was lucky enough to attend the Atlanta Summer Olympics. My grandmother got a temporary job working for the Olympics and helped us score tickets to what have become my favorite events at these games: Track and field and gymnastics.

I was only 10 years old and at the time didn’t quite understand the gravity of what I was witnessing.

Michael Johnson broke world records in his gold shoes. I mostly remember his shoes. And the fact that he and I shared a last name.

Dominique Dawes became the first black person to win a gold medal in gymnastics. I just mostly admired her skill but I remember my dad going on and on about a sista doin the dang thing.–Making it a point to make sure I noticed she was a black girl being amazing.–Hoping to remind me that I too could be amazing.

But I already knew that.

I watched from our posh suite white eating bottomless grapes (definitely a perk of being the grandchild of an Olympic employee).

gymnastics-kid

20 years later–this year, I turned on the Olympics with my family and saw my kids’ eyes light up. They dove off the couches into our shag rug and pretended to be racing the Olympic swimmers. They tumbled around imitating the gymnasts. They raced, long jumped, fenced, and volleyballed their way through the 2016 summer Olympics with me. We talked about the different country flags and searched the globe to find where the other competitors lived, and we discussed a little about the tradition of the Olympics that has gone on for hundreds of years.

periscope-social-media-for-kids

A lot of times I’ll talk about things with my kids then wonder if it’s even really sinking in. It sometimes seems like my kids only catch on to the things we DON’T want them repeating. But more and more my daughter is surprising me with something she remembers us talking about.

“Hey! That’s the girl who’s the best in the world!” she exclaimed from the grocery checkout line.

I turned to see what she was pointing at and it was a magazine cover of the USA Olympic women’s gymnastics team holding up their gold medals. She was pointing straight at Simone Biles.

“That’s right baby girl! Her name is Simone.” I told her.

“And she’s the best in the world!” She said again.

We watched the same events but enjoyed them for different reasons.

exercise-hurtle-jump

I didn’t make it a point to explicitly state that so many of the gold medalists this year were people who looked like her or myself.

I didn’t make it a point to explain the significance of Ibtihaj Muhammad being the first team USA athlete to compete wearing a hijab.

I didn’t make it a point to explain why the whole USA Olympic team brought tears to my eyes. All of the beauty of our diverse group all shades and sizes.

I did make it a point to let them watch, and soak it all in. To ask them questions about what they thought, and answer their questions about the rules and events. I made it a point to see things as they see them which quite frankly, is amazing… Yet completely usual.

daddy-and-kids-running

From our diverse Olympic team, and our two-term black president, to a female presidential nominee… These are transcending milestones for us, but all that our children know.

I didn’t make it a point to state the beautiful reality that’s becoming… Well, normal.

In 20 years a lot has changed, and I can’t wait to see what our children do with the world 20 years from now.

Growing up, if I didn’t want to witness or experience racism, I knew which groups to avoid.

You laugh, but it was pretty obvious. People weren’t afraid to be called racists, it seemed more like a badge they wore with pride. I kept my distance from the boys who wore confederate flags, and the girls who clung to them.

My parents didn’t give me a handbook on dealing with racism. I don’t even remember having conversations with them on the topic. But even for me, unarmed with wisdom from my parents, it was just something I’d figure out as a black kid in Georgia.

This, and my painfully optimistic personality made me incredibly naive. In the third grade at lunch one of my classmates gravely told me they overheard another peer call me “the N word.”

“What ‘N’ word?” I asked my white friend, without a clue what she was talking about.
“I don’t want to say it,” she whispered.
“No really, just tell me!” My curiosity was peaked, but she insisted on not uttering the word herself.
“Is it nut?” I asked her. She shook her head.

Eventually I gave up and shrugged it off. It must have been something made up or not that bad if it started with an “N.” The worst words I’d heard of didn’t begin that way.

I never figured out what word she was referring to. Not for years.

I segregated myself to groups based on interests, not culture or race. I liked broadcasting, video production, student council, and cheerleading. My passion, along with church were my sanctuaries.

I knew when people didn’t like me based on my skin color. Well, at least the most obvious. But then there were others who weren’t so obvious. I felt confused when people would tell me “You’re different than other black people” as if it were a compliment. I’m just myself, and what does that even mean? Were black people suppose to all act the same while other groups are free to act as they please, not forced to march to the beat of a stereotype? My eyes slowly began to open.

Somehow, I made it to adulthood for the most part, unscathed. But I’m no fool. I know I’m just one of the lucky ones. I’d be lying if I said my blissful naiveness had nothing to do with that.

But now there’s no hiding, unless you just want to stick your head in the sand. And even then, below the grindy dirt, it will still find you.

I wish I could go back to only knowing a racist when they were physically right in front of me. It sounds silly, but in many ways, I think it was easier then.

Back then the racism I experiences was blatant, and obvious. Now it’s a helpless mix of ignorance, immaturity, and misunderstanding, all thrown in our faces everywhere we turn–Because of the screen that’s in front of us.

Want to see what hateful things people are saying about black people? A quick Twitter search and you’ll find it. Want to see a group of bigots congregating in one place? Read some YouTube comments. Want to know which of your friends just don’t get it or have racist mindsets? Check your news feed after an address from President Obama. Or notice how people react after mass shootings versus mass black churches burning down.

Whether I want to or not, I’m automatically sizing up my friends (and many many acquaintances) based on reactions to news events. And it’s not fair. It’s not. It’s causing what I’m calling Negative Information Overload. And it’s hurting me more than them.

If my daughter’s teacher hates a certain group of people I’d want to know. But if the guy I once took physics with finally shows the world his true colors? I don’t need that in my life.

Growing up the racism I witnessed was personally spat in my direction, or at someone who was dear and close to me. Someone so close they’d share such a horrible experience when we were together. I’d uplift her, and we’d get to the bottom of it hand in hand.

We had a filter of how much negativity we’d experience at any given time based on real life.–Your circle of friends and the community you lived in.

Now, it feels as though the pain of the world is raining down my newsfeed. I want to lift burdens, make a difference, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do that without breaking down from all the weight.

Are things getting better? It’s hard to tell. Before so much went unnoticed or swept under the rug. Now we have a giant magnifying glass on our side. … Or is it?

The poison is around every corner and inescapable.

Racism won’t be cured overnight, but it’s going to take a lot of work to eradicate the problem. Love is the answer. It’s simple. But it’s not easy.

If everyone tried to see one another as the brothers and sisters we are, try to see each other as God sees us… Man, the world would look so much better.

I don’t want my children to grow up blissfully naive like I did. I want them to be aware of reality. And to work with me bit by bit to make it brighter. But I don’t want the painful reality of many, to overshadow what’s good. And there is so much good. It’s a delicate balance, but I’m up for the challenge.

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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