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Can I See Me?

The Little Mermaid: Representation Matters

When I was growing up, a few things were normal to see. Men were doctors, and women were nurses. Men were principals, and women were teachers. Men were pastors and women, well, did everything else. Then I noticed it in color, too. White women were on magazine covers. Black women were only on Black magazine covers. White women were on beauty products. Black women's beauty products were hard to find. White girls were princesses, and Black girls were not.

That was until 1997 when Roger & Hammerstein gave us our first Black princess, with Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother. It would take Disney a few years to catch up, but I could finally see myself as appropriate for the make-believe screen when Tiana became the princess that saved the frog in 2009 - and by then, I was grown! So it's more appropriate to say MY KIDS could finally see themselves and, more importantly, that their skin was beautiful and worth loving on the big screen.

With the announcement and subsequent blowback of Halle Bailey as the Little Mermaid in Disney's live-action remake, let's discuss why this is important. LaDawn Taylor, the real-life Tiana, explains the weight of representation, "I didn't always see myself as pretty or someone to look up to, but being Tiana showed me I was all this and more. It allowed me to be seen as Black and beautiful and accepted for who I was by people from all different cultural backgrounds and nationalities."

All little girls need this opportunity. To see themselves as pretty. Wanted. Valuable. Smart. Capable. And as a viable member of their communities and the world. Where do Black girls still need to see themselves? Do they need to see Black women on the organization's board you influence? Do they need to see themselves in more of the health industry? Do they need to see themselves leading research in the sciences?

In the words of Ms. Marian Wright Edelman, "You can't be what you can't see." Mrs. Edelman, a Spelman College and Yale Law School graduate, has spent a lifetime working to ensure that Black women and women of all colors can see themselves in areas where oppression has tried to keep us out. She has been a lot of first. The first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. The first Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University. The first woman elected by alums as a member of the Yale University Corporation. She has spent a lifetime helping Black girls and young girls, in general, see themselves in places where injustice has said they do not belong.

We can influence how future generations of young ladies see themselves and if they see a route to fulfilling their purpose in the world. Disney is make-believe. We know that mermaids aren't real. The issue of representation is bigger than the Little Mermaid. It is about what a mermaid of color represents. It represents our progress when children of color can see themselves in spaces and on screens that have historically been off-limits. The blowback represents the miles we still have to go before we sleep.

Let's walk in the direction of resolve. Make plans to see The Little Mermaid on opening weekend when sales matter most. Regardless of your race, your attendance shows support for children who go underrepresented in so many other areas of life. It's a step of solidarity and unity for voices that go unheard. It's making yourself a part of progress.

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