Last week we watched an interesting social experiment on the TV show “What Would You Do?” where actors playing a mom and kids went to a Halloween costume store looking for non-gender-conforming costumes. A little boy begged to be a princess and a little girl begged to be Spiderman, while nosy shoppers (mostly) discouraged the kids and their mom from those costumes. So I was delighted to see an actual real-life mom write a piece for the New York Times this weekend about the time her three-year-old son wanted to be a princess. And interestingly, her concern wasn’t that he wanted to be girly — it was that all the princess junk out there didn’t take into account her son is black.
Doreen Oliver writes that her older son is autistic and struggles to communicate. So if her younger son wants to express himself in any way, even by dressing up like a princess on Halloween, she and her husband will support him. And, she adds, “[I]f it turns out Bug is gay, we’d embrace his identity.” The problem wasn’t that Bug wanted to be a princess, though — it was that “his idea of a princess had blond hair and peach-colored skin” and sure enough all the princess costumes had blonde wigs and pictures of “smiling white women.”
There is at least one black princess in pop culture that I can think of — Princess Tiana from Disney’s “The Princess And The Frog” — but apparently Doreen Olivier couldn’t find such a costume. She ended up having to ask her mother if she could borrow a black-haired wig for the little boy. (And the three-year-old, of course, changed his mind and decided he wanted to be one of the characters from “Yo Gabba Gabba”!)
As Oliver explains, it can be a struggle to find black dolls, videos and picture books which include black characters, which, as a parent she would like to expose her sons to in hopes it validates their identity. So understandably she’s frustrated to see that reflected in Halloween costume options as well — which, in their own way, are a thermometer for our culture. This essay raises interesting questions not so much about why her son wanted to be a princess, but particularly why he wanted to be a white princess. He may not have even understood that not all princesses are or have to be white — princesses can look lots of different ways, even quasi-Latina! — but the way he’s been conditioned by our culture has led him to believe that. I definitely recommend reading the full piece.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com.