Quvenzhané Wallis, Matthew McConaughey, and How We See Our Children of Color

Jose Vilson Education, Jose, Race

Quvenzhané Wallis on the cover of Entertainment Magazine

Quvenzhané Wallis on the cover of Entertainment Magazine

I have a confession: I’ve never seen Beasts of the Southern Wild. As a relatively new parent, I don’t always have the time or the funds to make it out to the movies very often.

But that’s not the purpose for my essay because, when it comes out on Netflix, I know I have to watch. I, along with thousands of others, took issue with the Onion’s satirical tweet calling Quvenzhané a cunt. I “got” it. She’s such a sweet, little, innocent girl that the joke was made as a reflection of the speaker and not of Quvenzhané herself. In the context of the lukewarm Seth Farlene jokes at the Oscars and Django Unchained, this might have seemed innocuous to some.

It wasn’t. I found it disgusting.

In fact, I found it both sexist and racist, but for the purposes of this essay, I’ll speak to the race piece, especially for my fellow educators still in the sanitized bubbles of ed-tech and, now, anti-testing.

For a minute, it reminded me of A Time To Kill, where Matthew McConaughey’s character has to explain to a jury of his peers why Samuel Jackson’s character had to kill the man mainly responsible for raping his daughter. He does so by recreating the situation for the panel and ending with re-imagning the abused girl as white.

After that, the jury had no choice but to acquit. It was a perfect ending, and honestly, I smiled after having watched it for the fifth time in as many months.

Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if this also works to perpetuate the idea that the girl as “Black” is only three-fifths worth her humanity than the girl as “White.” The notion that a Black girl might deserve to get raped while a White girl should never get touched speaks volumes about where we were and where we are.

Fast forward to this conversation, with people still wondering why jokes like these still have people of color in an uproar. It’s not that people of color are humorless. If anything, we aren’t a monolith just like any other group of people, however you decide to group us.

It’s that we expect the same treatment as the next person when it comes to our humanity. We need to see the Qvenzhane Wallises, Leonard Coopers, Amandla Stenbergs, and Gabrielle Douglases of the world as well as other kids of color as fully human, fully worth your admiration, without prejudgment. Until we can embrace each others’ humanity because of our minimal differences, we will continue to have this deep-seated angst and frustration.

As the apology from The Onion came out, people wondered aloud whether this was racial at all, whether the joke had any merit in the race-o-meter. The people who did attempt at shutting down these conversations often forget that privilege is also the ability to call something not racist just because they said so. In the midst of all this, the joke doesn’t get made about child actors Dakota Fanning or Anna Paquin in their days. Maybe people don’t find jokes that aren’t actually about them very funny whereas jokes about Quenzhané are.

No amount of explaining away the race issue can take that away from people whose life experience has worked in similar fashion. Blessings to Ms. Wallis who looks strong on her own two feet. If we can all look at our children as needing our support, care, and love on their own paths to success, then humanity will come one step closer to seeing as others as equal.

Until then, I propose we delve deeply into our own understandings of the way we look at our kids, and see them for their entirety, and not the caricatures we’ve created for them.

Jose, who has had enough whitesplaining for the day …