Playing the Part – No Harm Intended.

My darling niece, sweet Ava, she loves playing dress up. She loves all things fashion. So do I. Sometimes, she pretends to be a mermaid. Other times, she pretends to be a teacher. Recently, she’s been wanting to be Frozen’s Elsa. So, yes. This happened.

IMG_2965
The dress, the hair…Ava is almost Elsa.

Ava’s mom (my sister) texted me this photo. Though I was so happy to see her dimples and more thrilled that she’s wearing the Elsa hairpiece I gave her, I cringed. Something didn’t feel right. You see, when she opened up this gift, she also whispered to me, “Now, all I need is to be White. Just like Elsa.”

Elsa_from_Disney's_Frozen
Elsa of Disney’s Frozen – Ava (like many girls) wants to be Elsa.

Uht Oh. Oh dear. Did I do what I was taught to never ever do? Did I just implant a serious complex? I thought… my beloved Asian American Studies and Women Studies professors would be so disappointed. Another one who just fell into “Disney’s trap” of  what beauty is. White and make believe fairy princesses. I have been thinking this through. Ava is four. She loves Elsa and is playing dress up and I, like any aunt would do, is just helping her play the part. No harm intended.

Let’s rewind. Twenty-four years ago, I was about eleven. I was in Jr. High and it was History Day. I had to choose a historical figure to play in my monologue. Like Ava, I chose a part to play. I wanted to be Harriet Tubman. It was 1993 and the tension from the Los Angeles Riots in 1992 was still very raw. Despite the racial and political tension, I never thought twice about playing Harriet Tubman. I was so impressed by her courage, bravery and ability to lead, there wasn’t anybody I else I wanted to be for History Day.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman – This image was my inspiration piece for my costume.

I wrote and practiced my script, gathered my props and rallied the support of my teachers. My teachers and I blended body paint colors and facial make-up to make a very perfect dark brown. They painted me brown and I performed. I won first place. It was great. No harm intended.

It’s Think Out loud Thursday, and I can’t help but think about how much has changed. What do you think? Do you think that if today, an Asian American wanted to be the best Harriet Tubman she can be and her teachers helped paint her dark brown, how would this be perceived? How would others react? Would those teachers still have jobs? If this were to happen today I don’t think it would be well received. Thoughts? What’s changed? Have we gone backwards? How did this happen? With social media and its ability to immediately publicize to the masses, have we become sensitive and isolated ourselves? Social media is just one variable. Of course, no harm intended either.

I would like your to hear your thoughts. There is no right or wrong, rather an open discussion.

2 thoughts on “Playing the Part – No Harm Intended.

  1. Yes, it was hard not to flip out when Celly wanted the blond American Girl doll and not the doll that looked like her, but I got over it. Last year, just before she took the stage to perform the Lilac Fairy from Sleeping Beauty, her coach painted two lines down her nose. She looked like a cat. I asked what she was doing. “I’m making her look white,” was the answer. If the teacher hadn’t been half Asian this might have been more offensive. I pointed out to her that the Fairy was a fairy – a fictional character – and as such really wasn’t one race or another. There were probably lots of white girls who identified with Mulan. My daughter knows who she is and is proud of it. I’m over it.

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  2. My daughter too is in love with Elsa, and I have been experiencing the same thing with her. She comments everyday how she wants her hair straight like Elsa. So I am constantly having a conversation about how she’s just a beautiful if not more beautiful than Elsa with her own hair. In a play I think it wouldn’t be a problem to make the actress look the part to the tee including the brown skin but I do believe that they would probably try to get an Adrian American child to play the part first. This would be an attempt to stop a problem from parents before it even starts. Because that’s who’s gonna give the biggest backlash. It’s sad that we can’t just have kids do what they want and be happy because of adult issues.

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