While fairy tales can be found around the world, I’ve been focused on the European, especially the Germanic, traditional tales. Typing in “early fairy tale illustrations” gets me a whole bunch of blonde people.
In my focus on the history of communication, I’ve worked hard to include other cultures - the palm leaf manuscripts of Indonesia, the healing scrolls of Ethiopia, the moveable type from China. But for fairy tales (and Marginalia and Malleus) I kept collecting all those blonde images, feeling that casting Snow White as black would be …visually disruptive? Would it turn viewer perception away from “look how the spinners are connected to Mother Goose by that thread” toward a quick snap of ‘oh, it’s multicultural’.
I was grappling with this when I decided to change the baby sitting in Mother Goose’s lap.
Mother Goose has already had quite the makeover. The child in her lap has been shrunk, but I still didn’t like the kid. I began auditioning, an online call for ‘vintage babies, sitting’.
No. None of the above. This is right out of the Dick and Jane books of the 1950’s. I discussed my dilemma with my husband. Yes, Disney has introduced ethnically diverse characters….but they’re the stars of NEW tales, not the classics in my piece.
He reminded me of how Christ (born in the Middle East, with a vast majority of brown-skinned people) is thought of as a blue-eyed white man, BECAUSE OF ALL THE ARTISTS WHO PAINTED HIM THAT WAY. Did I really want to continue that sort of artistic racism??
The final argument is my half-Japanese grandchild: I cannot produce art in which only blondes are shown as beauties.
And it finally dawns on me: I have to change this! If I don’t change the picture, who will? And why the hell did it take me this long to figure this out? At this point, NOW, there’s no question. The sky is blue, grass is green and ALL ART MUST REFLECT A DIVERSE WORLD!
But the hardwired, unacknowledged prejudice that made me even question these choices makes me ashamed of myself.
OK, next week I will have a new, better version of the fairy tales. My apologies for the rampant capitalization. Here are some websites that discuss this: