One day in 8th grade English class, my teacher asked us all to raise our hands if we had seen the Disney movie “Aladdin.” Naturally, every hand in the room went up. He then asked if we had any issues with the outward racism throughout the film.
This question was met with confusion.
At this time, our idea of “racism” wasn’t too much more advanced than “slavery = bad; everybody love everybody.” He began to play one of the opening scenes for us; what I saw next was appalling.
When actually paying attention to the racist undertones of the number in which Aladdin is introduced to the audience (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkbOGaJqJmg), one cannot stop noticing. Aladdin, our hero, is portrayed as a light-skinned young man with very Western-presenting features; the villainous men chasing him, who we are supposed to root against, are significantly darker, with angry faces and heavy accents along with their stereotypical facial hair, turbans, and machetes. Middle-Eastern women are portrayed as either sexy, scantily clad enchantresses, or busty, deep-voiced, dark-skinned older women – there is no in-between.
I found another video pointing out racist lyrics and images throughout the entire movie which I found interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkbOGaJqJmg
After noticing these unsavory details in what was such a beloved movie of my childhood, I questioned if it was the intention of the artists behind “Aladdin” to include these sumbliminal messages or not. Did someone direct them, “Make sure the villains have darker skin than Aladdin, it will subconsciously make people prefer him over them,” or were they as unintentional in their drawing as I was in my original watching?
There is so much inherent racism that we find engrained in us every day; this was just one example that has stood out in my past, but another that comes to mind is the lightening of ethnic celebrities’ skin on magazine covers. Even in my own life – and I like to think I was raised to be as unprejudiced as one can be – I find myself passing judgments that, when I stop to think about it, are far more based on skin color than I consciously think. For example, the other day I saw a person walking toward me on the sidewalk at dusk. I immediately tensed up at the “sketchy” figure coming my way, then realized, would I have described them this way if it had been a white man and not a black one?
While it is not enjoyable to admit that we all have inherent racist tendencies, I think that it is important to recognize them. Only this way can we try to change what was so ingrained in us. I once read a quote that said something along the lines of, “A person’s first thought shows what they have been conditioned to think; their second thought shows what type of person they are.” I try to use this quote to recognize and begin to undo the racist tendencies I believe are inherent in everyone in our society, including myself. When I had this thought about the “sketchy” figure on the street, I realized my assumption may have been based on the color of this man’s skin – I loosened up, and he gave me a friendly nod before heading on his way.