Monday, December 21, 2009

A white prince isn't always the right prince

Okay, after this post I'm on two-week hiatus...for real...
 
This weekend, Pia of Adios Barbie and Love Isn't Enough sent me a link to Allison Samuels' latest column at Newsweek, where she applauds Princess Tiana of Disney's latest "The Princess and the Frog" for choosing a non-black prince. Now, let me say upfront that I may have too much Samuels-related baggage to properly evaluate the writer's columns. I've been giving her writing the side-eye since Zaharagate. But something in the way she implies that the answers to black women's romantic challenges can be found in the arms of the closest non-black man bothers me.

Since the 1960s, marriages between black men and white women have been steadily increasing—14 percent of all black men are now married outside the race. Yet only 4 percent of black women do the same. Why? Black women, for better or worse, have always seemed to maintain a loyalty to the ideal of the black family unit. That's understandable, even noble, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense when so many black men don't feel the same way. Combined with the disturbing number of black men in prison, that means 47 percent of all African-American women today never marry. With those numbers, I say it's time for many black women to start thinking, and acting, like Tiana. Read more...

Samuels and I seem to agree on one thing: that black women should not let the color of a potential suitor's skin get in the way of making a meaningful romantic connection. Most of the important criteria for a successful relationship have little relation to race. You cannot tell whether a potential partner will be supportive, loving, reliable or honest, based on the amount of melanin in his skin. You cannot tell whether a suitor will make you laugh or challenge your thinking or whether he shares your values or dreams for the future. You cannot tell whether he is smart--someone with whom you can stay up all night talking politics or art or bad "B" movies. You cannot tell whether he will fit in with your family and friends. You cannot tell whether he will be an attentive and inventive lover. Yes, race, class, nationality and other factors influence many of the things mentioned above. But ultimately, whether a love connection turns into a long and meaningful partnership comes down to factors beneath the skin.

The answer for black women--ALL women--doesn't lie in seeing non-black men as romantic saviors. Black men are not deficient. White, Asian, Latino and Native American men are not perfect. The answer for a black woman--one who wants to enter into a heterosexual marriages or long-term relationship--is to value herself and to hold out for a man who values her as well. You won't know Prince Charming by the whiteness (or blackness) of his skin, but by whether or not he fits the criteria above for you and you for him.

One last note: I have not yet seen "The Princess and the Frog," but my understanding is that Prince Naveen's ethnicity is left to the imagination. Most viewers have read the details of the movie to determine that he is not black, at least not in the way we have come to define "black" today. But given the complicated history of race in New Orleans, where the film is set, (and indeed America, period) should people rush to assume that a light-brown skinned, straight-haired, French-speaking man does not have African ancestry? And what does it say that people are judging Naveen as not black enough, based mostly on his appearance? Perhaps someone who has seen the film can enlighten...

8 comments:

Sandy said...

I thought about Prince Naveen's race a few times during the movie (which I really enjoyed - there were problems, yes, but I also think they got a lot of stuff right and that it was visually beautiful and a joyful celebration of New Orleans culture). The accent didn't strike me as particularly French, more Spanish? Maybe? And Naveen is an Indian name. I couldn't decide whether I liked the racial ambiguity, for one reason only: It seemed that he was purposely drawn as halfway in-between the skin tones of Tiana and Charlotte because that way he could be a suitable suitor for either of them, as if a mixed-race relationship is anathema. And while I did enjoy the movie, I saw it over a week ago and am still mulling over quite a bit of it. If nothing, Disney has made me think, which they haven't managed to do in a long long time.

Beckie said...

Sometimes I wish a movie could be a movie, or a hairstyle just a hairstyle and not ALWAYS some sort of racial/political statement. I understand why this happens but for Ms. Samuels' to suggest we need to start being like Tiana is like Connie Schultz saying white women need to be like Barbie. I'm really disappointed Ms. Samuels has such a broad audience. She doesn't speak for me or to me whatsoever.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Tami

First, Allison Samuels is a hack from way back. She maintains her job at Newsweek by taking the crazy position on everything. She's basically the Sherri Shepard at Newsweek. Enough said about her.

My problem with the Black women should date White men meme is that, as you point out, it really should be about the individual and not the race.

I mean really do women of other races who have problems finding a mate then start talking junk about men of their race and say that men of another race are the savior for them?

Anyway, happy holidays to you and you family and have a great 2010!

Rebecca said...

I've seen it. I can't tell what race Naveen was intended to be. At various times, I thought he might be Arabic or Middle Eastern, Indian, or bi- or multi-racial. I assume that this was intentional.

What I do know is that in the town I grew up in, in Florida, he would most certainly not have been considered white. Maybe not black -- it's really hard to tell -- but definitely not white.

Actually, I found it a bit distracting. I kept trying to figure out what kind of background he could possibly have and where his kingdom was.

I must say that, despite its problems, The Princess and the Frog is my new favorite Disney movie. A "princess" who wants nothing more in life than to open a restaurant? Definitely my favorite! (My own restaurant will open its doors for the first time in a week.)

Arwen said...

I really liked the movie, although I went in worried (and cringing) that Tiana was to fall in love with a white man, and it was going to be Pocahontas all over again.

Even still, my two (white) boys are encouraged to respect and enjoy the interests of their female cohorts, and although I'm no big fan of the princess theme and we talk about it, it was important to me to be part of supporting a black princess. Seems like a bloody long time coming.

Naveen is a Hindi name, so I read the Prince as being an Indian child who'd attended tutoring or had gone to foreign schools - but he was prince of something else, I've forgotten what it was. I thought he might identify as brown, and was glad he wasn't the white guy sweeping in to make it all better. And frankly, he wasn't even the rich guy sweeping in to make it all better... Disney surprised me.

I was even mollified in my bone deep princess weariness, in that the Tiana was making stuff happen, working hard, wasn't born but self-made, and was an adventuring partner.

So, overall, I don't have go picket Disney after this one.

Jason said...

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Sapphire said...

Hi Tami!!!
I was so worried about PATF!!! My five year old has never seen a movie before. The most she's done is watched clips of The Lion King (Circle of Life Opening sequence, Hakuna Matata and that's it). However, after an industry friend told me point blank, 'PATF may not be perfect, but if this movie doesn't do well, you can forget about having another bite at the [black princess] apple', I maade up my mind to take my daughter.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I actually enjoyed the movie!!! After seeing the trailer I thought I would hate the snaggle-toothed, cajun firefly, Ray. Instead, I loved him!!
And as far as Naveen goes, he was 'ethnically ambiguous' by design, but I don't care, because it gave me room to define him the way I wanted to. Naveen is the same complexion as my husband. As far as my daughter is concerned (not that she asked about it or brought it up in any way) he's Black just like her daddy!
The movie wasn't perfect, but it didn't present any overbearing Disney agenda that I was uncomfortable with. The biggest themes were the value of hard work, love and family. Everything else was ambiguous enough for parents to fill in the blanks. Most of all, no 'borderline' language like you usually find in Disney movies, like 'idiot', 'shut-up', 'stupid', etc. I hate that!

hsofia said...

I thought Prince Naveen looked like Vanessa Williams' ex husband, Rick Fox. Isn't he from the Caribbean?

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