So I popped into a stream the other night that I follow but don’t often watch. At one point, the streamer started asking us in chat what our favorite Disney movies were. My answer: “It’s a tie between The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas”. the streamer’s reply:
“You LIKED that movie?! But that’s SO racist! Lol” *uncomfortable laughter, quick change of subject*
In order to try and save face, I wrote something in chat about how both movies had banger soundtracks and let it go because I could clearly see that they were uncomfortable.
Something about that interaction, though, bothered me. It stuck in my craw, and it’s still bothering me now, a few days later, as I write this. Now, I don’t want to be that Casually Racist Karen who says casually racist things and then freaks out on people when they call me out on my bullshit. I don’t want anyone to ever be afraid to call me out on my bullshit, because I know I’m not perfect and I have bullshit that needs to be called out, and that’s how we learn and grow as human beings and become better.
And I know there’s a difference between being explicitly called a racist (which the streamer DID NOT do, to be clear) and feeling like my behaviors have been associated with racism because I admitted out loud that I liked something that is racist. But it was still a very alienating experience.
Also, I think it was a huge missed opportunity to have a really thoughtful and productive discussion about racism, entertainment, and the difference between what is and isn’t problematic. I understand and respect the fact that some streamers don’t want to have such heavy discussions going on in their chat and on their channel. I wasn’t very familiar with this particular streamer, so I don’t know what their stance on that is. But I would have liked to have discussed it further, and I think many people in chat could have ended up a little bit better if we had.
Since nobody wanted to discuss it with me, I’m going to take this opportunity to shout out into the void and see if I can get anyone to talk back. Let’s transition a bit into the accusation itself: that the movie, Pocahontas, is racist. Here’s my personal hot take on that accusation:
Are there racist elements woven into the narrative of the movie? Yes. Anyone who would debate that point is borderline delusional. But if you look at the actual plot of the movie (or if you are fortunate enough to have the free time to go back and watch it yourself), it seems to me that Pocahontas is a movie about OVERCOMING racism and coming together as people, not a movie that’s being blatantly racist just to tell a story that will make white people happy.
Also, let’s not throw the feminist baby out with the racist bathwater. Pocahontas receives a marriage proposal from the alpha of her tribe, tells him “Meh…I’ll think about it” while internally rejecting it, catches the eye of yet another alpha, John-Fucking-Smith, and when he’s too injured to function and has to go back to England for treatment, she stays behind to BE THE LEADER OF HER F%#$ING TRIBE. #Spoilers
As a female growing up in a red state, where they strongly promote the idea that the best a woman can hope for in life is to marry a good man and raise his children and clean his home and be a good little trophy wife, Pocahontas sent me a very different message. And that message was: if you’re a naturally curious, adventurous person, don’t just settle for marriage and domestication. Keep paddling your canoe and looking once more Just Around the Riverbend. That message stuck with me and, for better or worse, has influenced a lot of my decisions in life.
The truth is that I’m not sure where I would be right now if I hadn’t received that message when I was a little girl. I can think of at least two or three previous relationships which could have ended up with me being the barefoot, pregnant housewife in some trailer park in Nowheresville, Oklahoma, stuck in a toxic relationship with an alcoholic wife-beating scumbag if I had not received that message when I did. I will forever be grateful for that, even if that message had to be delivered in racist gift wrapping.
In summation: I wish the streamer in question had watched Pocahontas with a more critical eye. I wish they had been brave enough to have an open and honest discussion about that particular movie, racism and all. And I hope more people are brave enough to engage in these discussions, whether on Twitch or IRL, so that we can all become better humans.