A WORD ABOUT BLACK MERMAIDS
By Awa Gueye
July 16, 2019
When I asked for white people to be passionate about Black people and water I was talking about Flint NOT these virtual tiki-torch marches against the new Ariel.
I’ve spent the past week exaggerating and imagining new remixes of “Under The Sea.” In between my heartfelt hums and fictional riffs my head-bops are interrupted by a chorus I did not ask for. I hear the sounds of the willfully ignorant — whiny and loud, as unsettling as when a fly lands in your ear. I swat the pest away and picture myself at my favorite place, the movie theater, eating popcorn and watching my new favorite Black-ass film: The Little Mermaid.
Since the announcement that Halle Bailey will play Ariel in the new version of the 1989 Disney animated film, there has been a flood of tantrums from three-year-olds with twitter accounts. They make their president so proud :). Of course, Bailey has also received an overwhelming amount of love and support by those not so easily threatened. Unfortunately Disney “purists” have a lot of time on their hands and have taken over the narrative. They’ve attacked the 19-year-old Bailey because they have decided that mermaids can’t be Black. Wait wait wait, it’s okay because the fine print that comes with this decision says “this is not racist.” Hmm.
I wonder, who the first person to say “why do Black people make everything about race?” was? I mean it is a fantastic cop out – they deserve a really nice table in hell for that one. This bullying (followed by gaslighting) of a young Black woman masked in allegiance to a made up story is unacceptable. The racism is so deep, these people have convinced themselves they are just staying true to the original. I agree, let’s talk about the “original” Mermaids.
Last week, with The New York Times, novelist Tracey Baptiste reminded the world that stories of mermaids originated across the diaspora. Her own children’s novel The Jumbies is a gift to kids of the Caribbean, teaching them of Caribbean folklore so it is not lost in history. The denial of Black mermaids that we’ve seen since Bailey’s casting, reminds us why these stories must be passed down. In her piece she writes about the West African idea of the mermaid, one that existed before America did. She teaches us about the origin story of the Dogon people of Mali — one that involves “fish creatures called nommos” and a sky god Amma who “is responsible for creating these half-fish half-people as the first living creatures on earth.” Hold your horses Disney intimidators, here is proof.
The denial of Black existence in history is comical when it is not sad. Every few months we get a public reminder of just how threatened others are by the presence of Blackness. Though the sounds of resistance against us are loud right now, we won’t be able to hear them over the chimes of registers opening for peoples desire to see Halle Bailey revolutionize and revamp an Disney classic. They can say whatever they want, but we get to see ourselves as Ariel. Pretty cool.
P.S. Nemo’s Black too.