My life is all about home: home birth, home school, and home industry.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Shirley Temple, Racism And Black Americana
I allowed the kids to order the Shirley Temple movie Dimples from Netflix without reading any reviews of it since we've enjoyed several Temple films. We were all surprised by the extreme racism present in this production.
At first I thought maybe the film had dared to be progressive by having two harmonica playing black boys dance along side Shirley Temple, appearing to be her peers. In a few short minutes this notion was erased as it became clear that this movie was depicting Southern life with black servants and white masters. The movie progressively got worse as StepinFetchit's role as a stammering fool is introduced followed by black-faced white actors.
After watching the movie I searched for reviews of it. One review stated that as a viewer, " You basically have two choices: ignore the racism and enjoy the picture in spite of it, or spend the eighty minutes in an apoplectic fit of seething rage."
Though the children and I watched the entire movie, I wouldn't say that we were able to ignore the racism nor enjoy the picture. I think the main reaction we all had to the movie was shock. My husband on the other hand didn't spend eighty minutes seething through the movie. Instead he couldn't stand it and went straight to bed. Maybe I should have had us all do the same.
The real problem is found in the movie's handling of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (and as a feel-good musical at that!). For the finale, we get a parade of white cast members... in jaw-droppingly tasteless blackface. We also get Topsy, a dimwitted blackfaced child who clowns around on stage for a minute, getting a big laugh from the theater audience for eating a flower; it's a moment that would even make Buckwheat groan. Cap it off with a rousing sing-along to "Dixie-Anna" that contrasts the sheer innocence of Temple with the vulgarity of a choir of blackfaced men, and you've got the makings of one long talk with your kids.
Indeed I had a long talk with our kids after this movie. Boy was there a lot to explain. We reviewed slavery, segregation, the civil rights movement and what a mark of change it is that we now have a black president and how blacks, browns, and whites helped bring this about. I shared with my children the slogan of the 60's and 70's "Black is Beautiful" and how my Mexican-American grandma used to tell me that "Brown is Beautiful."
Before watching the movie I had been on the computer and I had read some news headlines. One story about a boy who recently killed himself due to bullying prompted me to blog about it (since this is one reason why we home school our children.) As I wrote I found myself sharing my own experiences with being bullied and my husband's, too. It is interesting that most of the teasing we endured as children were due to race and having ethnic features.
After watching the movie, while googling information about racism and Dimples I came across an article entitled "The Color Bar Of Beauty." It's an interesting article that discusses how people of color often experience internalized racism due to Western standards of beauty. The author Angela Aujila writes:
Western society's fascination with blue-eyed blonds (Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Lady Di, Barbie etal) certainly does not help foster self-esteem regarding beauty among women of colour who may not have other role models to turn to.
I've experienced the Color Bar of Beauty, witnessing how dark skin is considered less beautiful than light skin. We've all witnessed this through the fame of "light-skinned black women with European-looking features. For example Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Halle Barry, and Whitney Houston, " according to Aujila.
Aujila shares in her article how one girl was affected by Western standards of beauty.
In WaysonChoy's book, The Jade Peony, a little girl says, "I looked again into the hall mirror, seeking Shirley Temple with her dimpled smile and perfect white-skin features. Bluntly reflected back at me was a broad sallow moon with slit dark eyes, topped by a helmet of black hair.... Something cold clutched at my stomach, made me swallow."
Although I felt that the movie Dimples was worth watching since it is more than a vehicle of entertainment it is also a vault of history, a window into this country's racist past that should never be forgotten. But maybe I was mistaken for allowing my children to be exposed to it as they may internalize the racism and idealization of Shirley Temple and the other white actors as icons of beauty and success and loathe themselves on some subconscious level.
I am left to wonder what movies exist that provide my children role models that will bolster their self-esteem? What movies will help them to see themselves as successful and perpetuate a love of self as dark skinned, dark eyed, dark haired children with ethnic features?
It is interesting that last week I saw two photos of Michael Jackson in a magazine. I showed it to two of my eldest children. The photos were of him as a child and as an adult after undergoing drastic facial surgeries and skin whitening. My children wondered why anyone would do such a thing to themselves.
I think the movie Dimples is a good explanation. The blacks in this film were portrayed as stupid, evil, lazy, ugly, grotesque, silly, and animalistic. It should be no surprise that people of color would want to change their looks so as to not be included in such stereotypes. Michael Jackson is a byproduct of the racism perpetuated by movies like Dimples as well as Black Americana memorabilia.
I made sure to point out to my children that having a black president is a sign of the people in this country changing their views and being more accepting of blacks and other races. However, they know that racism still exists as they have experienced it themselves. Living in rural America for the past 3 years, where only 1% of the population is Hispanic, one of our children was called "Wetback," and when another of our children was up at bat during a baseball game the catcher sang "La Cuca Rocha."
Yes, despite our the advances in race relations that our country has made, racism and prejudice still exist. How could they be completely eliminated when segregation and the civil rights movement occurred only fifty short years ago? To help educate the public about racism and to help preserve Black Americana images I launched a new blog last week. It is a virtual museum called Black AmericanaMuseum. If you are unfamiliar with this type of memorabilia please visit the museum. Also, watch this video produced by the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University.