Peter Pan and What Makes The Red Man Red

'Peter Pan's Flight' photo (c) 2009, Loren Javier - license:

Even though I have a major beef with Disney, I quickly learned that there is no way to really avoid it and so I have sought to talk to my children about each movie critically.  The kids recently watched Disney’s Peter Pan for the first time.  I decided to remain quiet throughout the movie to see what they would come up with on their own.  Destruction squirmed as he watched, and I could tell he was uncomfortable, but he did not say anything until the end. As the credits rolled, he looked at me and said, “that’s an awful lot of racism for one cartoon.  What were they thinking?”

He was particularly concerned with the treatment of Native people.  He pointed out that calling them savage is like calling them animals, and that the song What Makes the Red Man Red was one of the worst songs that he had ever heard. He further went on to point out that Captain Hook is a White man and that calling Natives, red men was absolutely racist. Can I take a moment to have a bit of Momma’s pride?  I knew that Destruction understood a good deal about racism as it applied to Black people, but I wasn’t sure if he understood that racism is something that can happen to all people of colour until that moment.  Even adults constantly miss this point, because inevitably conversations about race become a binary in which White and Black are constantly debated, while other minorities are specifically erased from the conversation. Race cannot be reduced to Blackness vs Whiteness, but people of colour versus Whiteness or White supremacy.

As person who negotiates several isms, I am aware of how easy it is to get caught up in the one ism that effects you.  Even people who share the same marginalization face them differently and that is enough to cause a divide, which ultimately benefits Whiteness.  There are some people of colour who will sit and listen as another racially marginalized group is attacked, believing that if they are not talking about their race in particular, that no harm has been done however, that is not the case.

As a Black woman, I am well acquainted with the racial slurs and stereotypes aimed at Black people however, I am less familiar with those aimed at Asians, Pacific Islanders, Natives, etc., because this is outside of my lived experience.  It takes a conscience effort to learn how racism manifests differently by group.  I have not had many conversations with Destruction about the differences, and so I am more than pleased that he noted the issues with the language of Peter Pan on his own.

Even if the racial slur is not aimed at us, as people of colour we are absolutely beholden to speak out,  though the racist language or act is probably manifesting very differently.  If we ignore it altogether, what we are actually doing is supporting the idea that judging others based in race is acceptable, thereby cementing the foundation for our own variation of “othering”.

I am not sure if Destruction is aware of why what he said was so important, or if this is something intrinsic to him.  What I know without doubt, is that our conversations about how and why people are “othered,” have set him on a path of critically consuming, rather than passively consuming, as far too many people do.  Awareness is the first path to decolonizing your mind. You will never know everything about an oppression that you face, because others in your group face it differently based constructed dividers meant to separate us from each other. 

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