Not long ago, I was at the store gathering balloons for a graduation when two little Black girls walked up to the customer service representative. The girls asked him if the store had any more Princess Tiana costumes. The customer service rep told them whatever they had on the floor was all they had. The little girls’ faces drooped a bit, but then they went away and that was that.
I frowned. I had walked around the entire store not 10 minutes earlier and passed the costume section. Even in summer, the store had tons of frilly costumes for little girls to play dress up. There were plenty of princesses. They were all White princesses.
And that’s what made me sad.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen in such real-time what it looks like to not have representation for little brown girls. This is not anything serious as college entry exams or glass ceilings. No, it’s just the sadness on a little Black girl’s face when she realizes in all of Disney movie history, there is only one character who resembles her.
I have a little brown 3-year-old daughter, and she absolutely loves the movie Frozen. Bean loves Elsa, she loves Anna, and she loves Olaf the snowman. Despite my annoyance with the movie having a plot full of holes, my daughter absolutely does not care. And she doesn’t care that the characters are White.
I love the open spirits of young children, who not only see beauty in the diversity of color, but can easily imagine themselves adorned in that beauty. But I cannot lie, when Bean wears her Elsa shirts I wish Elsa were a Black girl. I don’t want her to one day see Elsa’s luxurious blond mane and think to herself, “I want to wear a hat with a big blond ponytail on it.” I don’t want to tell her “No” with my adult views on race and mar her childhood innocence.
I thought I was alone in my discomfort, but a friend of mine recently shared that her daughter keeps asking her for “yellow hair” to be like Elsa. Another friend expressed misgivings about little Black girls in blond Elsa wigs for Halloween. And maybe we are all reaching. Little Black girls in Elsa dresses are yet beautiful. People wear dyed wigs to finish costumes all the time. Still, something in me wants to shield my little girl from the ubiquitous standard of long blond hair as long as possible.
When Black girls are made into cartoons it can be a magical thing. It happens so infrequently that every little pixel matters. So yes, Black girls rejoiced over Rihanna having a role in the animated film Home. My daughter adores that movie, too. Yes, Black mamas absolutely love Doc McStuffins. Another mother I know is opting for a McStuffins doll instead of an Elsa one. So am I.
There will always be another ivory princess for girls named Ebony to love. But I fear there will not be another Black one. Princess Tiana items were probably few and far between this Christmas because Princess Tiana is the only Black girl Disney princess. White girls, on the other hand, do not have to choose Princess Tiana–because they are nearly everyone else.
You can always see a Black girl with a White princess on her chest. But you will scarcely see a White girl with a Black princess on her chest. That sight would make me smile. The whole world, not just little brown girls, needs to believe that Black girls in frilly dresses, too, are beautiful. Diversity is a wonderful thing. But sometimes, little Black girls just don’t feel like being White princesses.
Am I overreacting? How do Black mothers strike a balance between encouraging diversity and affirming their little brown girls?