Disney's black Ariel isn't just about diverse representation. It's also about undoing past wrongs.

It's a predictable scene at this point: Disney makes a character of color. People who value diversity and representation celebrate, while racists freak out about "pandering" and sad little dudes living in their parents' basement toss around the term "social justice warriors" like it's an insult.




But even those of us who celebrate greater representation in children's films may not recognize that Disney creating a black Little Mermaid goes beyond adding more diversity to the princess world.

The issue isn't just that Disney princesses were exclusively white for the first 55 years of its animated film legacy and had no black princesses for 70. It's not just that brown and black kids never got to see themselves in the Disney princess lineup. It's not just that women and girls of color weren't represented in those iconic lead roles.

It's the way black girls were actually were represented in Disney productions—the blatantly racist imagery and messages that audiences consumed for decades—that makes people's arguments against a black mermaid even more ridiculous and adds greater significance to black female protagonists.

In a viral Facebook post, Angelica Sampson explained why merely pointing out that representation is important doesn't paint the full picture, and in fact sanitizes the reality of what black girls have been subjected to in Disney's history.

"Not only did black girls like my mother have to use their imaginations to insert themselves into positive Disney movie narratives," Sampson wrote, "they had to consciously resist being influenced by images like this still from the original Fantasia (1940).

Sunflower was a centaur who existed to serve the white female centaurs

She was small and aside from her brown skin tone, is drawn without fantastical pastel coloring the other female centaurs possessed.

She was a naked child with the lower body of a mule made to serve grown women."

Disney's "Fantasia"/YouTube

"I want to you to fully absorb that she is intentionally drawn without clothing to designate her low social status," Sampson added.

"In an animated fantasy movie for small children, black girls were represented by a pickaninny named Sunflower. She brushes white women's hair and files their nails."

And that wasn't the only example of racist representation of black females in Disney films.

"Black girls sat through the chimney sweep scene from Mary Poppins (1964), where the admiral made a joke that they were being attacked by 'Hottentots,'" Sampson continued.

"It's a line that may go over many of your heads today, but in 1964, it was a hilarious joke.

'Hottentot' is a racial slur used to describe the Khoisan people of South Africa. In the 19th century, Europeans were so fascinated by the high large buttocks and labia of black women from this region that they were routinely kidnapped and paraded around the world to be exhibited at circuses or private fancy parties where the wealthy could even pay for the privilege of touching them.
The most famous of these African women was a girl name Saartjie or Sara Baartman.

She was advertised under the name 'Hottentot Venus' and after her popularity waned, was forced into prostitution.

She died of pneumonia or syphilis at the age of 24.

After her death her body was dissected and her labia and brain were preserved and put on display at a museum in France. This was done in the name of 'racial science.'

They weren't taken down until 1974.

I learned about her when I was 9, because I asked my mommy what a Hottentot was and she told me the truth.

So when you see posts that say black girls have NEVER been acknowledged by Disney, please understand it's not true.

Even in fairytales, white people still imagine black women and girls as beasts of burden.
Even in fantasy, we are degraded.

Even Princess Tiana was the child of a domestic servant. Her happily ever after was securing a loan. 🙃

So excuse us for being excited to see a black child portrayed as a WHIMSICAL MERMAID with GORGEOUS FINS and an ANGELIC voice, and freedom to collect trinkets and sing and have silly boy problems!!"

Sampson also explained the additional significance of having a black mermaid due to the societal assumption that black people don't swim. She pointed out that this is only the case because black people were systematically denied the opportunity to learn to swim for centuries. It started in the slavery era, since a slave who could swim would find it easier to escape. After emancipation, black people were segregated from public pools and housing discrimination prevented them from living in homes or communities with pools—and such segregation was violently enforced by some white people. Even white-centered beauty standards that prompted black women to chemically straighten their hair affected black women learning to swim. Generations of parents were unable to teach their children to swim because they never learned themselves due to racism in America.

"And yet in some circles, even today," Sampson points out, "the tragedy of black Americans avoiding the water is considered hilarious and an indicator of our own inadequacy. And yes, even today, you can read stories about entire black families dying because one child began to drown and one by one, the older children jumped in to save them, resulting in the deaths of a dozen people.

So yes, I'm excited that little black kids are gonna see black Ariel and wanna go swimming. I'm glad a company as influential as Disney is gonna take part in replacing the negative imagery black children have absorbed for the entire history of the US.

I'm so excited about it I'm probably gonna cry several times before this move comes out.
Shit, I'm crying right now. 💕

Let's stop denying black children the luxury of fantasy."

Yes, let's do that. And while we're at it, let's tell insecure white people to stop throwing hissy fits every time Disney does something that disrupts the status quo.

There's a whole lot of historical damage to attempt to undo, and If a black fictional mermaid threatens your existence in any way, shape, or form, you are part of the problem. Take a seat and learn from those who are actually impacted by this character's existence, because their voices are the ones that truly matter here.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.